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We rate the Grammy performers

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We rate the Grammy performers

It was music’s biggest night, with the kind of galvanizing performance magic that had ecstatic viewers buzzing round the watercooler the next day. I’m referring, of course, to the Super Bowl, where Prince’s recent halftime reign reset the bar for live music on TV. Oh, and the Grammys? That telecast had the misfortune to follow a week later — and to have Prince on hand just to utter one sentence of introduction (”One word: Beyoncé). As he strolled back to his seat, you could feel the audience sadly wishing they could drag him back on stage by his bell-bottoms for a Bowl reprise.

The Grammys’ true marquee moment — a show-opening reunion of The Police — had come and gone without quite being the Second Coming. There was fleeting joy in hearing Stewart Copeland’s beautifully off-the-beat rim shots again punctuating Sting’s anti-whoring entreaties. But ”Roxanne” is one of their shortest songs, which left many in the tuxedoed Staples Center crowd still hunting for their seats when the trio’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it comeback climaxed with Sting doing a rockin’ Look, Ma, no lute! leap.

Others tried to pack a full set’s worth of emotion into their four minutes. Mary J. Blige, who was just kidding about that whole no more drama pledge, reclaimed her drama queen crown, turning every trip to the podium into a confessional and her medley into proof that emotional overkill isn’t such a terrible way to go. Not to be outsung, Christina Aguilera reached into her gut, and possibly several other people’s, for a gratifyingly over-the-top take on James Brown’s ”It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”

Not every performance started in overdrive. Dixie Chicks’ award-hogging ”Not Ready to Make Nice” had Natalie Maines powerfully exploring three stages of pariah-hood: quiet shock, smiling rebellion, and retributive anger. Carrie Underwood winsomely nailed a Bob Wills swing tune, and an aviator-themed Gnarls Barkley slowed ”Crazy” to a martial crawl before achieving choral liftoff. Remarkably, there was just one train wreck: Rascal Flatts’ Eagles homage — because who better to sing about cocaine, sexual dysfunction, and the decline of the SoCal counterculture than the ”Me and My Gang” guys?

One moment that should have been cringe-worthy was the finale to the viewer-voted sing-with-Justin Timberlake contest. A shameless sop to American Idol-atry? A dangerous precedent for an awards show built on artistic peer recognition? Sure. But good fun, too, letting JT and T.I. do their undernominated ”My Love” while winner Robyn Troup, 19, found her sea legs right before our eyes. If the telecast had viewers waiting in vain for a Prince to come, watching a lesser royal like Justin sweetly sidle up to a Cinderella wasn’t a bad consolation prize.

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