Pop music wasn’t always a bad thing. It wasn’t always the empty, vapid mess that it’s become — but strangely, it seems that the more meaningless it gets, the better it sells. Thus the seemingly endless stream of grossly unprepared “pop stars” continues to flow, until they make some horrendous goof on national TV and get wadded up like old newspaper so the next one can step up to the plate and get hammered.
It’s almost as if we’ve traded the need for actual musical enlightenment for the opportunity to witness and ridicule the tragic and short life cycles of “artists” that never stood a chance in the first place. I mean, do the Pussycat Dolls (or any of us, for that matter) actually think they’re in this for the long haul? That the “Academy” will be honoring them with a lifetime achievement award in 20 years? Hmmmm?
So, with this foul smelling mess of negativity in my head, I proceeded to watch the Grammys. And lo and behold, right off the bat, there’s Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers ripping their way through “Roxanne” like it was 1984. It was fantastic. The implications were staggering — how can I complain about how much this is going to suck if one of the bands that was never supposed to get back together does just that, and absolutely kills it?
“Well, this must just be some kind of abnormality,” I thought to myself.
Then Tony Bennett and Stevie Wonder took the first awards of the night. I almost had to pinch myself, lest I might’ve dozed off into a dream of a “better” reality.
The Dixie Chicks basically gobbled up everything else. Not being a huge fan, but well aware of the turmoil they’ve had to endure since actually speaking out against our, ummm ... political peccadilloes, shall we say, I didn’t even realize they were in the running this year. Nor was I hip to the fact that they enlisted Rick Rubin as producer, or decidedly non-country drummer Chad Smith (of the Chili Peppers) and guitarist Mike Campbell to spice things up. But that’s exactly what they did, and a song that painted a very personal picture of their struggle essentially became their saving grace.
When Mr. Wonder returned to the stage and quipped about “...anyone that thinks they don’t make singer/songwriters like they used to needs to check this out,” in reference to Corrine Bailey Rae, John Legend and John Mayer’s upcoming performance, my curiosity was again piqued. And they were all good, with Rae pulling out some much jazzier changes than I’d expected, Legend proving that there is still soul in R&B, and Mayer actually PLAYING THE GUITAR!
What the hell is going on here? I’m supposed to be filled with righteous indignation at this point, but instead I’m being (gasp) entertained.
Christina Aguilera could kick Beyonce’s booty six ways to sundown any day, as evidenced by her stunning take on the late James Brown’s classic “It’s A Man’s World,” further confusing the issue for most cynics. They may be bimbos (and I use that term in the kindest sense), but Aguilera is a bimbo that can really, really sing. Poor James Blunt had to make a half-hearted attempt at following her, but hey, he tried, whining out his deliriously overplayed single, the whole while blinking like a possum in the headlights of an 18-wheeler.
I’m not saying it was all fantastic, but this year’s Grammy Awards did manage to surprise in many more ways than I’d expected, and implied what feels like somewhat of a shift in our collective musical appetites. We still have yet to discover this decade’s Graceland, but if anything, it seems that now we’re actually looking for it, rather than simply consuming what we’re given. Every now and again, it’s nice to be wrong. Sort of.
— By Chris Cooper