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Grammy Awards red carpet scene

Early arrivals got the usual cheers and chats, but as the Chris Brown news spread, the mood changed.

February 09, 2009|Chris Lee

Unbowed by the threat of hair-ruining rains and the worst economic woes since the Great Depression, a cluttered mash-up of bold-faced names -- of disparate genres and generations of pop music -- slipped on bling-bling finery and wide-smiled game faces to brave the tented red carpet of the 51st Grammy Awards, held at downtown's Staples Center.

A little before 3 p.m. Sunday, the attendees began to arrive in a steady flow -- to a tented-in enclosure surrounding the arena adorned with crystal chandeliers and klieg lighting -- ready to smile for cameras and chitchat with reporters.

One unspoken corollary of Grammys red-carpet etiquette seems to be that if you are a semi-famous or a nonmusical celebrity, you should, by rights, arrive long in advance of the actual ceremony, walk the carpet and talk every reporter's ear off.

So early on in the afternoon, nonmusicians dominated the scene. There was the glowering mixed martial arts champion Chuck Liddell, appearing as if he, despite being attired in black tie, wanted to throw a rear naked chokehold on someone. "The Hills" star Audrina Patridge drew screams from a cluster of endlessly excitable millennial kids (no doubt recruited for their ability to scream on cue) seated on bleachers flanking the photographers pen. And reality celebutante Kim Kardashian spent her time beneath the glittering crystal chandeliers fielding a few perfunctory questions from the scrum of hungry entertainment journalists. Her sage wisdom for those nominated tonight? "Let loose, have a little fun," Kardashian said.

If you are a successful musician, however, running the red-carpet gantlet is an optional exercise. To wit: A resplendently top-hatted T-Pain had no problem blowing past the line of anxious reporters, leaving at least one bruised ego in his wake. "T-Pain blew me off a second ago," said "Tonight Show" correspondent Ross "The Intern" Mathews. "He needs a T-Advil." And plane crash survivor/superstar disc jockey DJAM ambled by several members of the fourth estate, nearly unrecognized in a brown pinstripe suit.

Half an hour before the 5 p.m. showtime, the red carpet morphed into a cramped sea of famous-faced humanity. And the number of stars on hand with actual vested interests in the music industry was enough to cause whiplash. There's Neil Diamond! There goes Robert Plant, Sheryl Crow, Natalie Cole and Katy Perry. Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Marisa Miller. Southern rapper David Banner, who had recently returned from entertaining the troops in Iraq, stopped talking mid-interview to get in on some of the celeb-on celeb-action. "I'm going to hug Cyndi Lauper right now. Be right back," he said.

Sunday afternoon's red-carpet crush also provided a revealing look at the social matrix of fame. Paris Hilton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa arrived at roughly the same moment. And while Villaraigosa received a few "woos" from looky-loos and entreaties from reporters as he cruised the carpet, the celebrity heiress threatened to eclipse the star power of any number of pop stars with quantitative talents. Dressed in an iridescent micro-mini, her entrance before the corral of photographers caused a level of pandemonium unrivaled by any other Grammy attendee -- nominees included.

Say what you will about the music industry's financial woes, its denizens still "clean up" in interesting ways. And they do black tie like no other quadrant of popular culture. On conspicuous display at the arrivals line were any number of people with mohawks and faux hawks, soul patches and weird sideburns, the glittering dental jewelry called "grills" and facial tattoos. Hip-hop dudes seemed partial to bespoke formal wear (Ginuwine, Flo Rida, LL Cool J and David Banner, please stand up).

Others admitted to being victimized by fashion choices.

"Am I having fun?" asked British R&B chanteuse Adele, dressed in a flowing black dress. "Yeah. But my feet are hurting!" (Later, she accepted the Grammy for best new artist in her stocking feet.)

But it wasn't all fashion and pithy quotes on the red carpet. News and speculation about the situation surrounding R&B phenom Chris Brown and his girlfriend, pop-soul diva Rihanna, ricocheted around the Staples Center in the minutes before the show started with amazing speed via Twitter, iPhone and Blackberry.

The general reaction from the red carpet, as well as inside the building, was concern for Rihanna and confusion over Brown's alleged misconduct. "I can't accept that claim at all," said nominated singer-songwriter Robin Thicke before the show. "Knowing him, I'm sure there's no truth to that."

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chris.lee@latimes.com

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