8 - The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, March 3, 1994
Sinatra insulted, predictable artists take all at Grammys
By TOM ERLEWINE
Yet again, the Grammys have
come and gone, leaving behind a mess
of embarrassments, smug
performances and a couple of awards.
It was a sweeping, self-absorbed
spectacular; like it or not, those three
hours are how the music industry sees
itself and how it believes America
pictures it. And you know what?
Sure, some people that genuinely
deserved awards didn't get them but
others did. Did you really expect that
Whitney Houston would walk away
empty-handed? Or "Aladdin," for that
matter? This is the Grammys, after all
- the key is bombast, not subtlety. If
that wasn't the case, Neil Young's
"Harvest Moon" would have walked
away with everything.
So, in that respect, Houston did
deserve Record of the Year for "I Will
Always Love You." Not only is it
(undeservedly) the biggest single in
history, it is the definitive Whitney
Houston song - all bombast and no
emotion. It was no surprise that when
she won her first award she didn't
look surprised or even happy, just
smug and self-satisfied. Every award
she won, even the extremely
undeserved Album of the Year for the
"Bodyguard Soundtrack," had the
same feeling of inevitably to it;
Houston is safe and self-important,
completely misjudging her talents.
Of course she had to win - it's the
kind of thing that the Academy loves,
as well as radio programmers and the
general record-buying public.
The Grammys only award an artist
who fits into the contemporary
establishment (Houston), who is way
past his/her prime (Aerosmith's
atrocious "Livin' on the Edge"), or
who is dead (Frank Zappa's "Sofa"
took Best Rock Instrumental). On
occasion, a genuinely worthy song or
album wins, but for the wrong reasons.
U2's "Zooropa" is a brilliant work,
yet any band that can sell out football
stadiums can hardly qualify as
alternative. (Of course, every album
nominated forBest Alternative Album
- except Belly's "Star" - sold well
over a million copies, meaning that
Nirvana, R.E.M. and Smashing
Pumpkins are all mainstream bands,
not fringe acts.) But the very category
of Alternative is a joke, as are the
categories of Best Metal, Best Hard
Rock and Best Rap. For these
categories, name recognition is all
that counts, so Ozzy Osbourne, Stone
Temple Pilots, U2 and Dr. Dre all
Digable Planets managed to
wrestle the Best Rap Group away
from Cypress Hill, Naughty By Nature
and Dr. Dre & Snoop Doggy Dogg
because they're riding the hip jazz/
hip-hop wave and they are just as safe
and PC as Arrested Development.
In categories that are slightly out
of the mainstream - Best Country
Vocal and Best Traditional Pop Vocal
- the winners (Dwight Yoakum,
Mary-Chapin Carpenter and Tony
Bennett, respectively) were also the
best nominees, but only because their
music appeals to the members of the
academy. They are far more likely to
listen to Bennett than even U2 - they
just happen to remember that those
scruffy Dubliners were on the cover
of "Time" seven years ago.
The live performances were nearly
as bland and predictable as the awards
themselves. Houston screamed,
Aerosmith strutted like the nearly 50-
Aerosmith is nearing the point where their only rocking will be in chairs.
Bono gave the great Frank Sinatra his upmost respect, more so than CBS.
year-old men they are, Garth Brooks
looked and sounded ridiculous, Billy
Joel and Sting gave solid
performances that mirrored their
recorded moments (with the exception
of Joel's excellent, subtle defense of
Frank Sinatra) and Tony Toni Tone
stole the Curtis Mayfield tribute.
But the key moment was Frank
Sinatra's sad, rambling acceptance
speech for his Grammy Legend
Award. After a smug, pompous yet
surprisingly poetic and heart-felt
introduction by Bono, Sinatra came
out on stage, looking very old and
very moved. No longer the confident,
assured figure of his youth, he showed
his age not only in his appearance, but
also in his words. His speech was
fragmented, full of references to dead
friends and past glories, and when he
said how hurt he was by not being
asked to sing, CBS cut him off,
switching to a commercial.
It was crass, disrespectful, rude
and, ultimately, very sad. Sinatra was
the most important artist on the
Grammys. Not only did he define
what popular singing was, he was the
first artist to treat an album as a single,
cohesive work of art, not a collection
of unrelated songs.
Whether they know it or not, every
popular artist at the Grammys is in
debt to Sinatra. When they cut short
his speech, it wasn't just a gross
pandering for money, it was a heartless
rejection of his past, his achievements
and the artist himself. It was the
ultimate Grammy moment.
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