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Serious artists and semi-nudity rule the Grammys

Serious artists and semi-nudity rule the Grammys. The night is a salute to quality musicians, says David Browne, but Sheryl Crow and those ladies Marmalade show that skin is in

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Mya, Pink, ...
Lady Marmalade: Dave Hogan/ImageDirect

Serious artists and semi-nudity rule the Grammys

In one of his handful of sharp lines as host of the , Jon Stewart introduced a predictably gaudy performance of ”Lady Marmalade” with mock solemnity: It took us back to a time, he said, ”when whorehouses were about the MUSIC.”

Very funny, and also a perfect commentary on the Grammy telecast itself. As if seeking to take back pop from all those teens and rappers of the last few years, Grammy voters doled out statuette after statuette to Serious Artists Who Play Instruments: Alicia Keys (five awards), U2 (four), and, of course, the country-bluegrass singers and pickers of the ”O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack (five). In a stunning upset unlike anything we’ve seen at the Grammys in years, the latter also beat out U2s ”All That You Cant Leave Behind” for Album of the Year, humbling Bono just when he needs it again. (During one acceptance speech, he said ”God has walked through the room on our record.”)

That’s not to mention awards for the grown-up likes of Lucinda Williams (Female Rock Vocal), Sade (Pop Female Vocal), T-Bone Burnett (Producer of the Year), and Hank Williams (Best Country Album, for an all-star tribute disc). Even longtime indie-rock darlings They Might Be Giants won (for their theme to ”Malcolm in the Middle”). In doing so, the Grammys effectively swatted away troublesome nominees like ‘N Sync, the Backstreet Boys, Jay-Z, and Ja Rule. It was as if the industry was granted its wish list for what should and shouldn’t be heard.

At times it was hard to argue with that reasoning: ‘N Sync’s perfunctory performance of the lukewarm-to-begin-with ”Girlfriend” only made it clear that they’re on a cusp of a ”Behind the Music.” But the downside of the New Seriousness was that it made for rather dull television. Nelly Furtado, trying to show her somber side, did a stripped-down ”I’m Like a Bird” that drained the song of all its sparkle. Many string sections were hauled out to ”class up” the songs, even Train’s ”Drops of Jupiter.” Keys’ coronation as Best New Artist was so preordained there was zero suspense. (Her production number for ”A Woman’s Worth” was a flamenco nightmare.) , Mya, Pink, and Lil’ Kim transformed ”Lady Marmalade” into Victoria’s Secret on Ice, but few of the performances rivaled Soy Bomb’s invasion of Bob Dylan in 1998, Kid Rock’s white-trash spectacle of 2000, or even Ricky Martin’s 1999 coming-out (so to speak).

Elsewhere on stage, Sheryl Crow debuted her new trash-vamp image. The Backstreet Boys and guest Olympian Sarah Hughes made one long for a remake of ”A Star Is Born,” with any one of the Boys in the downward-spiral James Mason/Kris Kristofferson role. And what was up with the lighter hues of Don Henley’s hair? But, hey, credit the Grammys for also awarding Coldplay, Tool, and Ozomatli, even if in specialized categories.

The funniest moments occurred BEFORE the show, on the red carpet, on — what else — Joan Rivers’ E! preview telecast. The sight of Rivers asking a bedraggled Ryan Adams where he got his clothes or introducing a prominent rapper as ”my good friend Ludacris” were campier fun than the telecast itself.

Rivers also asked India.Arie (who went home empty-handed) about ”that dot,” and the singer, revealingly, admitted she did it because she felt a logo would be good for her career. ”O Brother” aside, they just don’t make serious artists like they used to.

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