At least Kanye didn’t try to take out Herbie Hancock at the Grammy Awards. ’Ye may have upped his record to 0-and-3 in the Album of the Year category, but he had plenty of hardware to distract him on Sunday night, when he picked up four awards, including Best Rap Album. Add that to Amy Winehouse’s five trophies and for a minute there, it looked like the Grammys finally got it right, crowning a new generation of stars. That said, the evening’s top award, for Album of the Year, went to veteran jazz player Herbie Hancock, who pulled an upset by taking the coveted honor at night’s end with his album River: The Joni Letters.
Fittingly, West and Winehouse provided two of the night’s emotional highs during their live sets. Tabloid magnet Winehouse performed live via satellite from Riverside Studios in London in the midst of a stint in rehab that makes the title of her breakthrough single, “Rehab,” sadly ironic. Taking the stage with her big band, Winehouse looked fit in a frilly black cocktail dress and some flowers in her towering beehive for what would soon turn into a coronation. In fine, growling voice, the sometimes-iffy live performer delivered proof of her Grammy worthiness while tossing a shout-out to her jailed husband, Blake Fielder-Civil. She shouted, “My Blake!” in the middle of a hip-grinding “You Know I’m No Good,” which mixed classic Motown soul with some hip-hop swagger.
Winehouse gave another nod to her hubby during her performance of “Rehab,” which had her alternating between smirking knowingly and standing defiantly in the face of what must have been enormous pressure to leave an actual rehab facility for her first Grammy appearance. That perseverance paid off moments later when a stunned Winehouse won the Record of the Year Grammy, for “Rehab.”
Looking genuinely shocked, Winehouse grabbed a bandmember and gave him a big hug, then embraced both her parents and walked sheepishly to the microphone as the London crowd shouted, “Amy, Amy!” Collecting her thoughts, Winehouse said, “For my Blake incarcerated, and for London. This is for London!”
Later, producer Mark Ronson — who helmed Winehouse’s Back to Black album — spoke with the press about the singer’s big night.
“Yeah, I wish she was here. Just the fact that [we’ve] been through this album, this ride, together, and this is the pinnacle of that, the most important night in music,” he said. “Of course I wanted to share it with her, but the [Immigration and Naturalization Service] had other plans,” Ronson added, referring to Winehouse’s recent visa troubles.
Already a multiple Grammy Award winner before the televised ceremony started airing, Kanye West lit up the show with a future-shock performance that was part swagger and part humble tribute to his mother. It was an early celebration for a night during which he won multiple awards — including Best Rap Album — as did Foo Fighters, Winehouse and Alicia Keys.
Wearing a jacket with flashing LED lights and light-up shades, a clearly hyped Kanye electrified the show with a flashing post-apocalyptic take on “Stronger,” surrounded by a colored-steam-belching set that looked like a Martian moonscape. At one point, the giant pyramid onstage opened up to reveal Daft Punk, the techno source of the song’s sample, dressed as two neon-lined spacemen manipulating computers. It was the long-running duo’s first-ever TV performance in a career that has lasted almost 15 years. His voice cracking with emotion, West — who shaved the word “mama” into the hair on the back of his head — then took it down as he crooned the lines “Last night I saw you in my dreams/ Now I can’t wait to go to sleep,” during an emotional performance of “Hey Mama,” an homage to his mother, Dr. Donda West, who died late last year.
With his jacket still flashing, but with him sporting a different pair of white shades, West provided one of his signature uncomfortable-award-show moments when picking up the prize for Best Rap Album. “It definitely feels good to be home here at the Grammys. You know, we snuck in about four, five years ago, and now we basically made this our new place of residence,” West said in a tone that was more muted than his usual swagger-filled acceptance speeches (or, as the case sometimes is, protests).
“A lot of people said hip-hop is dead — not just Nas … a lot of people said the art form wasn’t poppin’ like that anymore. I wanted to cross the genres and show people how we can still express ourselves with something fresh and new, because that’s what hip-hop has always been about: coming out with new sounds and stuff.”
And Kanye being Kanye, after expressing annoyance at being played off when his speech went long, and just in case he wasn’t up onstage again, he told producer Mark Ronson that he and Amy Winehouse deserved Album of the Year, adding, “I deserve it too,” before offering another shout-out to his mother. “I appreciate everything, and I know you’re really proud of me right now,” he said, convincing the show’s producers to cut the music. “And I know you wouldn’t want me to stop and you want me to be the number-one artist in the world. And mama, all I’m going to do is keep making you proud.”
The past few years have given us plenty of award show beefs, but none was as unexpected as when Best Country Album winner Vince Gill called out West. “I just got an award given to me by a Beatle,” Gill said, smiling. “Have you had that happen yet Kanye?” West took it in stride and laughed, but don’t be surprised if Gill gets a cameo on the MC’s next album.
West was one of the few performers in the first half of the golden-anniversary show who could be considered a contemporary artist. One of the night’s most surreal sets was a tribute to the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” performed by the cast of Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas Fab Four homage, “Love.” The performance mixed a walking umbrella, a priest with an umbrella growing out of his shoulder, a gothy aerialist and an exploding VW bug. That gave way to a gospel choir from the Beatles-based big-screen musical, “Across the Universe,” singing a spirit-infused cover of “Let It Be” to an audience that included John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, as well as Beatles drummer Ringo Starr.
In an even more jarring throwback, the Recording Academy’s chairman, Jimmy Jam, strapped on his keytar for his first performance in 15 years with 1980s Minneapolis funk group the Time. Singer Morris Day was in fine form — and, as always, dressed to impress in a gold brocade jacket and yellow pants — during a run through the band’s hit “Jungle Love.” The Time also backed Rihanna as she sang “Umbrella” along with a group of dancers in gold and silver miniskirt/shorts combinations holding up leopard-print umbrellas (from the singer’s line of parasols, one would assume). They also added some Twin Cities soul to Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music,” before it morphed back into “Jungle Love” again.
Though she lost out to Winehouse in the Record of the Year category, it was fitting that Rihanna took home her first-ever Grammy for “Umbrella,” which won for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. Grabbing mentor and collaborator Jay-Z by the hand, the Barbados-born singer said, “Dad, I know I promised you I’m gonna give you my first Grammy, but we might have to have to fight for this one,” with Jay pretending to translate her slight island lilt of a voice.
Feist — standing in a spotlight while playing acoustic guitar on an orange shag rug worthy of a 1970s rec room — made her Grammy debut playing her breakthrough hit, “1234,” in a floor-length black and gold dress. Though she went 0-for-4 on the night, the Canadian singer, along with a seven-piece brass section, proved she belonged on music’s biggest stage with a spare arrangement that focused on her perfectly imperfect vocals.
One of the night’s most awkward moments paired Kid Rock with velvety voiced jazz legend Keely Smith in a segment in which Rock was clearly reading off a teleprompter, badly. If it were “American Idol,” Simon might have said “That Old Black Magic” was piano-lounge karaoke.
While one of the divas of today, Fergie, fell a bit flat performing her song “Finally” with John Legend on piano, another, Beyoncé, again proved her ability to stand toe-to-toe with giants during a ripping short set with R&B/soul legend Tina Turner. B introduced the collabo with a bit of spoken word that paid tribute to great female singers from Diana Ross to Janet Jackson, which gave way to a smiling Turner, in a silver top and matching pants singing her signature hit, “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” Then, matching dancers likely half her age with some impressive moves, the 68-year-old reclusive legend bit into “Better Be Good to Me” before being joined by Beyoncé, now wearing a bedazzled silver mini-dress, for a crackling performance of “Proud Mary,” during which the master and pupil were perfectly matched note for note and step for step.
Relegated to a stage outside Los Angeles’ Staples Center, the Foo Fighters — who won the Best Rock Album award, among others — played a crowd of several thousand along with the violin-playing My Grammy Moment contest winner and an orchestra conducted by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, who mostly sat politely as Dave Grohl and company tore through “The Pretender.” The orchestra added some mariachi horns toward the end of the song as Grohl howled the refrain, “Who are you!”
The show opened with a reel of old Frank Sinatra footage in which the late singing icon discussed the merits of the Grammys, which gave way to a sultry Keys in a long emerald green gown singing a duet with the virtual Sinatra on the swinging “Learning the Blues.”
Next up was former “American Idol” winner Carrie Underwood in a patent leather-lined black shirt and short-shorts combo doing a beat-heavy version of “Before He Cheats” accompanied by a Blue Man Group-like troupe of percussionists/dancers wielding metal chains and lengths of pipe as instruments.
Keys performed again later in the show, playing the piano during “No One” and standing up midway to stalk the stage in a silver top over shimmery black leggings. Her new BFF, John Mayer, unexpectedly walked out and played a bluesy solo as the song built to a soul-orchestra crescendo.
With most of this year’s Grammy Awards handed out before the show even started, the early winners list included Winehouse, Keys, West, Justin Timberlake and more.
(Check out the list of 2008 Grammy Award winners right here.)
Winehouse and Keys were big winners early, with the former winning Song of the Year and Best New Artist, and the latter grabbing Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, for “No One.” Kanye landed a pair of victories before the televised ceremony started, grabbing Best Rap Solo Performance for the hit single “Stronger” and Best Rap Song for “Good Life.” Maroon 5, meanwhile, won Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals for “Makes Me Wonder.” The win meant that even though Plain White T’s singer Tom Higgenson brought the inspiration for the band’s hit “Hey There Delilah” to the show with him, he wasn’t going to be able to wave a Grammy in her face at the end of the night. Amy Winehouse also struck early pay dirt with a Best Pop Vocal Album win for Back to Black and a Best Female Pop Vocal Performance victory for “Rehab.”
Former and once-again Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant won Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals for his song “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)” with bluegrass singer Alison Krauss. Justin Timberlake scored a Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for “What Goes Around … Comes Around” and Best Dance Recording for “LoveStoned/ I Think She Knows” and the Beastie Boys beat out a galaxy of jazz stars for the Best Pop Instrumental Album for The Mix-Up, while former “American Idol” Carrie Underwood won Best Female Country Vocal Performance for “Before He Cheats,” though former “Idol” finalist Chris Daughtry’s eponymous band was 0-3 in the early running.
Other early wins included Best Electronic/Dance Album for the Chemical Brothers’ We Are the Night, and Best Rock Song and Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance for Bruce Springsteen’s “Radio Nowhere,” with the latter denying Beck the chance to be the first artist to win a Grammy for an online-only single. Springsteen nabbed a third prize as well, earning Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Once Upon a Time in the West.” The White Stripes struck gold with “Icky Thump,” which won for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals and Best Alternative Music Album, the Foo Fighters won Best Hard Rock Performance for “The Pretender,” and Slayer took Best Metal Performance for “Final Six.”
A pair of R&B legends won awards as well, with Prince nabbing the Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Future Baby Mama” and Chaka Khan taking Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals for “Disrespectful” (featuring Mary J. Blige); Khan also won Best R&B Album for Funk This, which denied buzzed-about singer Ledisi one of her two potential Grammys. Gerald Levert, who passed away in late 2006, won Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for his tune “In My Songs.” Lupe Fiasco made his pal Kanye proud with a Best Urban/Alternative Performance for “Daydreamin’ ” from his 2006 debut, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor.
Other early winners included Keys for Best R&B Song (“No One”), Ne-Yo for Best Contemporary R&B Album (Because of You) and Common for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group (“Southside”). Mark Ronson was awarded the Producer of the Year prize for his work on albums by Winehouse, Lily Allen and his own solo album, while controversial director Tony Kaye won Best Short Form Music Video for his stark, star-filled video for the song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” by the late Johnny Cash.
“Love” — the Beatles-remix compilation made for the Cirque de Soleil show of the same name — notched the award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. The “Dreamgirls” track “Love You I Do” was named Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media, while composer Michael Giacchino’s musical accompaniment to “Ratatouille” picked up Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.
And in a grudge match worthy of the presidential primary season, Senator Barack Obama bested former President Bill Clinton — as well as Maya Angelou and another former president, Jimmy Carter — in the Best Spoken Word Album category for the audio-book version of “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming The American Dream.”
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[This story was originally published at 9:33 pm E.T. on 2.10.2008]