Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Grammys

Get off my lawn...

Now that's entertainment...

I tried to watch the Grammys. Really, I did. After years of sneering at this most meaningless and lame of all Hollywood award shows, I figured I should check it out to see what the music industry considers worthy of celebration these days -- other than gross receipts and paid Internet downloads, that is.

Having been raised in a society that worships extremes of all kinds (landing on the moon, monster trucks, the World’s Biggest Twine Ball), I share our cultural affinity for the "biggest and best," and a lingering fascination with spectacles of wretched, bloated excess -- the Grammys landing squarely among the latter. Besides, being adrift in the horse latitudes of unemployment leaves a lot of time to kill, and only so much of it can be spent staring into this computer screen. And so like a flower turning towards the nourishing warmth of the sun, I turn my eyes to the pale flickering glow of the Cathode Ray Gun.

The Grammys' opening act was an energetic-if-ludicrous number featuring a bizarre creature called "Lady Gaga." Dressed like an angry green butterfly from a children's picture book, she shouted a duet across twin pianos with 1970's relic Sir Elton John, who appeared to be channeling Liberace's evil twin having a really bad acid trip. The resulting cacophony seemed to go on for hours, for no apparent reason -- much sound and fury signifying nothing.

But this was only the opening barrage of an evening devoted to highly-orchestrated nonsense. Green Day played a decent song, although it was unclear to me exactly why a punchy power trio famous for creating taut, urgently propulsive songs needed to share the stage with what appeared to be several dozen singers, musicians, and dancers. At some point, Beyonce (apparently the New Queen of whatever it is she sings) came marching down the aisle backed by an army of black helmeted storm troopers. I'm not sure what that was all about, or what she was singing, for that matter. With all the caterwauling going on, I couldn't tell whether she was wailing about the pain and sorrows of a broken heart, or bemoaning the burning agony of severe hemorrhoids.

I don't suppose it really matters -- pain is pain, regardless of the cause.

Somewhere amid all this confusion, a pale, bony little waif named Taylor Swift came up on stage to gush into the microphone. She seemed like a nice young lady, although I'm told she can't really sing very well. But everybody in the audience seemed to like her anyway, and since the Grammys have never been concerned with actual musical talent*, then Miss Swift has as much right to go home with a handful of statues as anybody else.

That was enough -- when the next wall of commercials hit, I bailed. Thirty minutes of high-voltage histrionics couldn't hide the fact that for the Grammys, nothing means more than huge sales numbers and mass popularity. If you sell a gabillion records and make boatloads of money, you win a lot of Grammys, period -- same as it ever was. According to the next morning's paper, Beyonce and Taylor Swift together collected a dozen or so trophies. Good for them, I guess. I didn't read far enough to find out if that "Lady Gaga" creature won anything, although from where I sat, she and Sir Elton both deserved awards for Worst... Costume... Ever.

Surely that's worth a Grammy too.

I did find it fitting that this steaming pile of television managed to beat "American Idol" -- the fabled Death Star of television -- in the ratings, if only by a hair. That so many Americans sat glued to the Toob enthralled by these two glitzy, well-produced, and magnificently empty extravaganzas reveals much about our shared culture, although not necessarily in a good way.

Still, after catching the Grammy performance of a young woman named "Pink" on Utube a few days later, I kind of wish I'd stuck around to see the rest of the show on "live" (read: tape-delayed) TV. She was very impressive, and although I'm not sure what all those astonishingly fleshy aerial gymnastics had to so with music or singing, I couldn't take my eyes off her. So hey, toss that young lady a Grammy. She put on a better show than anybody else.

There's a lot I don't grasp about modern culture, but I'm not sure it's worth the effort. There just doesn't seem to be much “there” there. Maybe I'll try again next year, and with any luck, might be able to make it all the way through the entire first hour of the Grammys.

Baby steps.

* For those who feel otherwise, I have just two words: Milli Vanilli.


A.J. said...

I didn't watch the Grammys either, but I might have at least attempted to had I known P!nk was going to perform. With songs on her past album or two chronicling the rise and fall (and rise again?) of her marriage, she's the most sincere pop singer I know. She kind of lays it all out there in what feels like brutal honesty. Plus, I can honestly say I've never seen a bad performance from her.

Can you tell I'm a fan? :)

Nathan said...

Jeez old fart. :D

I have to admit that:
a.) I didn't watch it either
b.) I don't "get" Lady all
c.) Yeah, I wish I'd seen Pink on the show instead of on Youtube. She's pretty damned amazing.

Matt Parnell said...

I saw Pink in Australia last time she toured here. She was amazing. Great show from musicianship and lighting design to choreography and aerials. Not a concert but a truely entertaining show.

BoskoLives said...

Revealing exactly how out of touch I am, I have to be honest dealing with a business that was built by liars and thieves.

I thought "Pink{" was a descriptive term used mostly in older editions of "Hustler" magazine.

I stand corrected, but after closely examining the photo to see if the name matched the drapes (so to speak), I'll have to wait a while before standing.

If you get my drift.....

Michael Taylor said...

AJ/Matt --

I think we can all agree Pink's Grammy performance was spectacular, quite literally soaring high above the rest of the over-produced garbage described in the post. Unfortunately, watching on Utube -- with really crappy sound over laptop speakers -- didn't allow a fair evaluation of her singing talent. Still, her calm, smooth delivery was a welcome relief from the frenetic intensity of the other acts in that first half hour of the show. Now you've got me intrigued -- maybe I'll have to check out her music after all.

I suppose that just underlines the point of my little screed -- that the modern music machine seems to be more about spectacle than anything else. Maybe Lady Gaga and Beyonce really are wonderful singers, but it's hard to tell with all that background "noise" generated by their stage acts. A little showmanship is one thing -- like frosting on a cake -- but the Grammy performances of those two were six inches of sickly-sweet, candy-speckled, gold-leaf topped frosting larded on a quarter inch of cake. For so many musical acts nowadays, the spectacle comes first, the music second -- and at a certain point, this more-is-more-is-better approach capsizes under the sheer tonnage of excess, and turns into something very silly indeed. It's more Las Vegas than anything else, and to me, that's never a good thing.

Put it this way -- Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles didn't have to dress up like characters out of a Fellini film, then march a hundred backup singers/dancers on stage to blow their audiences away. They just got up and performed their songs, which was more than enough. Until Lady Gaga and Beyonce can do that -- and do it well -- I remain seriously underwhelmed.

Nathan --

Old fart? Without a doubt.

Bosko --

If it lasts more than four hours, call a doctor...

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Devon Ellington said...

I usually don't watch the Grammys, but because of Green Day's performance, I watched the beginning. The reason they had so many singers there was because AMERICAN IDIOT is now a Broadway-bound musical, and the cast performed at the Grammys.

I worked with three of that cast on a B'way show last year. I won't be working AI, because I took an honorable withdrawal from the union -- no more backstage for me at the moment, full-time writing.

But I'll be in the audience to cheer on my friends. And I watched the beginning of the Grammys for the same reason.