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The Beats Go On As Grammys Take Care Of Their Own

Hands up, everyone who is surprised.
Hands up, everyone who is surprised.

The Grammy Awards on CBS Sunday night could have easily turned into a wake - or worse, a funeral. After Whitney Houston's death Saturday, the mood was appropriately somber until a dance party broke out, or perhaps a coming-out party for dance music.

Forever trying to keep abreast of the times, the Grammys have given an award for Best Electronic/Dance Album since 2005 (first winner: Basement Jaxx's Kish Kash). But the genre has never featured in the televised portion of the Grammys as it was Sunday. Besides R&B Album winner Chris Brown's kinetic calisthenics, which riled up the ladies on Twitter, Katy Perry's booming dance-pop "Part of Me" also scored a solid hit.

Most of all it proved that electronic music can make great television. With some florescent lights left over from Coldplay and Rihanna's performance (which never quite jelled), the "club" segment with Brown, David Guetta and Lil Wayne pumped up the flagging broadcast - then in its third hour - with some much-needed energy. Then those people in freaky mouse costumes bobbing their heads to Deadmau5's squelchy, simmering remix of the Foo Fighters' "Rope" left me wondering what Tony Bennett thought about all of this.

In more than three hours, it was one of the few moments truly worthy of an occasion host LL Cool J repeatedly touted as "music's biggest night."

The Grammys' accepting dance music into the mainstream meant other kinds of music had to move aside, most notably rap and jazz. The latter has been pushed to the margins of the live show for years, of course, but to see barely any rap on the Grammys was a real surprise. The closest we got was Nicki Minaj's Exorcist homage "Roman Holiday," which made a dynamite production number but was too far all over the map (who decided to use "O Come All Ye Faithful"?) to click musically.

The absence of Kanye West, whose My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy virtually swept the rap categories, might have something to do with rap's low profile Sunday. In turn, Taylor Swift strumming a banjo and leading a large bluegrass ensemble on the charming "Mean," might have something to do with West's absence.

Anyhow, on a night where one of the greatest vocal talents of the past 30 years was on everyone's mind (Bruno Mars, Stevie Wonder, Whitney-honoring Jennifer Hudson), it was also a good night for modern iterations of what used to be called traditional pop, or the "Great American Songbook." (Bennett and Carrie Underwood's clunky "It Had to Be You" notwithstanding.)

A dinner-jacketed Sir Paul McCartney, or "Pops," crooned a seasonally appropriate "My Valentine" from his new album Kisses On the Bottom, with Diana Krall's band. And Joe Walsh, who it turns out cleans up real good.

Adele's torchy ballads are easily second cousins of this kind of music. There was little surprise the British singer won every award she could get her hands on, ending up tying Beyonce's female record of six statuettes. The only suspense surrounding Adele Sunday was how her voice would perform; her "Rolling In the Deep" not only drew the evening's longest applause (Swift was a close second), but no doubt has promoters coast to coast licking their chops waiting for her to announce her rescheduled tour.

 

Besides Swift (and her openers The Civil Wars, for all of one minute), Sunday's other rock and country performances were almost all lackluster. A little like the band's music, the Beach Boys tribute by Foster the People and Maroon 5 felt pristine but soulless. The actual band, playing with Brian Wilson in who knows how long, didn't sound much different on "Good Vibrations," although anytime someone is playing a Theremin on national television, it's worth watching.

There were just too many strings mucking up the tribute to former Beach Boys sideman Glen Campbell for it to work, although Blake Shelton showed a potential movie career as a Western leading man on a gritty "Southern Nights." Violins also robbed Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band's evening-opening new song, "We Take Care of Our Own," some of the punch the Boss was no doubt hoping for. McCartney was wise to limit the fiddles to the standards, it turned out; the closing guitar pull on "Carry That Weight" featuring Macca, Springsteen, Walsh, Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl and a couple of other guys didn't miss them.

That left Grohl's Foo Fighters, who pulled off a Kanye-like sweep in the rock categories. This means the Grammys are going to have to find some other rockers to lavish with awards next year. It'll probably be Springsteen, but I'd rather see them hire Deadmau5 again.


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