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Top-grade, but would you buy the album?

Sure, the talent is great -- these are big-league professionals, after all. Still, the show has its dull side.

February 12, 2007|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

THERE are the Grammy Awards, which are about music, more or less, and there is the telecast of the Grammy Awards, which is about three-plus hours of prime-time television.

As an event in the real world, it expresses the same market forces, internal contradictions and production difficulties as the rest of the Big Five award shows, the Oscars, Emmys, Tonys and Golden Globes -- it is no mean trick to fill that many hours of television in a consistently interesting way. But the Grammys have the advantage of largely consisting of performances. The spaces between are mostly uncomfortable transitions.

The show on CBS got off to a slow, almost somnolent start, with a reunited but not visibly energized Police performing the obvious "Roxanne" and the sound not yet balanced enough to make it seem like the audience cared, or that there even was an audience. Initial presenter Jamie Foxx, telling a couple of flat jokes to suggest the presence of an emcee ("When they said the Police was opening up the Grammys, Snoop left"), fell prey to the same problem. Or perhaps no one was laughing. "Come on, get with it," said Foxx. "Make some noise. We having a good time now." ("Let's get this show moving," said Chris Rock, three hours later.)

The broadcast itself is only the tip of the Grammy iceberg -- awards are given in 108 categories, and for a true reflection of the diversity of American music, you have to wait for the roll call of the past year's dead, which for many of those noted (Arthur Lee, Syd Barrett, Desmond Dekker) will have been their only Grammy nod. The late Ahmet Ertegun was seen on film saying, "There's only one music that travels everywhere, and that's black American music." Iconoclastic saxophonist Ornette Coleman, recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award (given earlier), did make it onto the prime time telecast -- as a presenter. But he did not play. ("Love to Ornette Coleman" read spray-painted graffiti behind Red Hot Chili Peppers.)

With a host of performers skilled in delivering Big Effects, the evening regularly delivered top-grade professional pop music, though it was rarely thrilling in a way that made you reconsider an act or decide to change your life. Nothing as heart-poundingly arresting as Prince's Super Bowl performance the week before. But good value was provided by Shakira, in a top that appeared to have been painted or perhaps poured onto her body, on the Road to Morocco with Wyclef Jean (who executed a nice back flip); Gnarls Barkley, in airline pilot uniforms, achieving liftoff; and James Brown's cape, draped over a microphone stand in a spotlight. Brown also inspired Christina Aguilera's superb "It's a Man's Man's Man's World." She got down on the floor, danced with the mike stand and hit a note that must have had dogs barking in Lancaster.

There was also the question of which commoner, chosen earlier by popular vote, "American Idol" style, would win a princess-moment duet with Justin Timberlake. That this was a manufactured dream come true didn't really matter; we live in a world of manufactured dreams coming true. Winner Robyn Troup acquitted herself well, but the template for this kind of performance is so well established now that any of the three finalists would doubtless have slotted in equally well.

Timberlake, for his part, did not for a moment make his participation seem like an obligation. All in all, he seems like a serious, nice young man who's also established himself as a bona fide pop soul man, his humble sincerity reinforced by his playing an upright piano in one number (the instrument of Neil Young and Coldplay's Chris Martin) and an acoustic guitar (the instrument of, um, Bob Dylan) in another.

The show took place on a Staples Center set of a relentless saturated orangeness that did no one any favors.

Music continued through the commercial breaks. There were "The Shape of Things to Come" for Target, "Hippy Hippy Shake" for Slim-Fast, "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida" for Fidelity Investments, Oasis' "All Around the World" for AT&T, Jimi Hendrix for Verizon, and "Gimme Some Lovin' " for Ameriprise Financial.

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