Some have accused Grammy organizers of celebrating veteran performers at the expense of more contemporary acts. Jay-Z and Eminem have even boycotted in the past out of protest. This year, though, the Grammys gave younger, hipper acts their long overdue due, both in the awards department and in the performances.
Beyoncé, Sean Paul, Outkast, the Black Eyed Peas, White Stripes, Foo Fighters, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera all delivered dynamic stage presentations. But of course there was also a host of older artists performing tributes to their peers and idols. (Click here for a list of Grammy winners.)
But what bridged the old with the new were the collaborations, though they met with varying levels of success and were assembled with various degrees of logic.
The show opened with Beyoncé and Prince performing a medley of "Purple Rain," "Baby I'm a Star," "Crazy in Love" and "Let's Go Crazy." Dressed in a suit with a yellow hankie in the pocket, Prince played his purple symbol guitar with power and finesse, combining shrieking leads with fluid, funky rhythms. He started "Purple Rain" solo, on a stage flooded with purple light, and was joined by Beyoncé for the second verse.
Beyoncé, in a short pink dress, sang with acrobatic energy, pogoing around the stage and joining Prince for the chorus. The horns joined in for "Baby I'm a Star," and as Prince sang the line "Take a picture, y'all/ We ain't got time to waste," a trio of photographers fired off shots while they posed. The duo teased the crowd with the intro of Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love," then launched into "Let's Go Crazy," which ended with a burst of fireworks.
The second major collaboration came less than 10 minutes later when Sting, Pharrell Williams, Vince Gill and Dave Matthews played "I Saw Her Standing There" as a tribute to the Beatles, whose first performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" was February 9, 1964, almost exactly 40 years ago.
A little over halfway through the show came the third big super jam, a hip-shakin' showcase called "Funk Is Back." The pulsing tribute was introduced by Samuel L. Jackson, who preceded each performance with a proselytizing plug. The service started with Earth, Wind & Fire's "Shining Star," packed with colorful outfits, wailing guitars, pulsing organ, blasting horns and velvety smooth vocals.
The steam built as Outkast performed "The Way You Move" with Earth, Wind & Fire, and then bluesy pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph and his Family Band took the reigns on a guitar-blasting version of "I Need More Love." Then, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and other members of funk pioneers Parliament/ Funkadelic took the stage and cranked out "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)." But what should've been a show highlight was lacking in urgency and swagger.
More funk came at the end of the show in what proved to be the standout moment of the night. Going against the theme of big-name collaborations, Outkast's "Hey Ya!" showed an eccentric artist getting creative without the assistance of a star from another genre. Andre 3000, looking like a superstar from another planet, took the stage in sunglasses, a yellow bandana and a green outfit made of fake shrubbery, which looked like it came from the wardrobe room of "Gilligan's Island."
Performing with DJ Cutmaster Swift, who wore a full Indian headdress, and female dancers sporting artificial-plant bikinis, silver boots and feathers in their hair, the display had a definite Native American theme, but it was bizarre and spirited enough not to be offensive, even as a giant teepee sent plumes of smoke in to the rafters. As the song peaked, Outkast were joined by members of the USC Trojan Marching band, and at the end the dancers took Polaroid pictures of the college crew and threw them into the crowd.
While she's never been shy to present a provocative performance, Christina Aguilera, dressed in a conservative dark suit-and-tie outfit, opted to go the classy route with "Beautiful." A choir provided a haunting opening and then parted to reveal Aguilera sitting on a round platform as clouds of smoke swirled around her. As the song progressed, she stood and delivered the goods, her soaring voice carrying her through the number.
Gritty followed grace, as the White Stripes opened "Seven Nation Army" with a booming, down-tuned guitar riff. Halfway through the song, the winners of the Best Rock Song Grammy burst into a hyper-blues workout in the form of Son House's "Death Letter."
Following an intro by Patti LaBelle, Alicia Keys opened a tribute to R&B legend Luther Vandross, who is recovering at home from a stroke. The love flowed as she sat at a grand piano and sang an emotive, swinging version of "A House Is Not a Home." She was followed by Celine Dion singing "Dance With My Father" with the song's co-writer, Richard Marx, on piano, but the production was marred by audio difficulties, which began when the mic shorted and got worse when the voice of a show producer cut in like a blast of radio interference. Apparently the broadcast's much-touted five-minute delay was unable to allow for repair of the glitch.
Returning to the stage, Sting performed his former band the Police's first hit, 1978's "Roxanne," along with Sean Paul, who was only 5 when it was written. Sting started the song with aching, quivering vocals, and after the first chorus he invited Paul to take over as the number shifted into a reggae rhythm. For the last chorus, both sang together.
Justin Timberlake, dressed in a white jacket and a beige sweater with a pink "V," started his medley with a sassy "Senorita" backed by a full ensemble. Then he burst into an equally moving "Funky Child," which featured trumpeter Arturo Sandoval alternating horn blasts with Timberlake's scatting and singing.
Minutes later, Justin returned in a ski cap with the Black Eyed Peas to guest on their "Where Is the Love," which except for the title was heavy on question marks — they appeared on video screens, the drum kit, the band's guitars and were even the shape of the violins. Still, the performance was more of a socially conscious exclamation point as the four performed with energy and urgency, trading off declarative raps with sinewy melodies.
She may not have gotten enough solo love during her show opener with Prince, but Beyoncé's return to the Grammy stage with "Dangerously in Love 2" was nothing short of extravagant. The singer, dressed in a long, glittery turquoise and silver dress, positioned herself between the edges of a giant picture frame and performed as if she were in a living oil painting. She was joined by 17 backup singers, musicians and dancers, and at the end, she held out her hand and a dove landed in her outstretched palm.
Though he's recently been creating thrash metal with '80s underground icons, on Grammy night Dave Grohl took the stage with jazz fusion pianist Chick Corea to perform Foo Fighters' "Times Like These." Corea opened the number with a delicate, twinkling intro, and his fluttering fills colored the rest of the track, contrasting with the up-tempo parts of the song.
The late Warren Zevon was honored by Jackson Browne, Dwight Yoakam, Billy Bob Thornton, members of the Eagles, and Zevon's children, Jordan and Ariel, who sang "Keep Me in Your Heart." Zevon wrote his final album, The Wind, after he was diagnosed with cancer. He died in September, shortly after its release.
Martina McBride and Sarah McLachlan with Alison Krauss also performed at the ceremony.
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