Grammy Awards 2011: Arcade Fire wins album of the year
It was supposed to be Eminem's night Sunday. The night he was supposed to cash in on most of his 10 nominations at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards and complete his comeback from declining sales and drug rehab.
It wasn't to be. Instead, independent rock band Arcade Fire surprised everyone, including quite possibly themselves, by winning the Grammys' most prestigious prize for album of the year with "The Suburbs." The band proved their mettle and their worthiness with a seizure-inducing version of their song "Month of May" on the nationally televised program from Los Angeles.
Nashville country-pop trio Lady Antebellum also prevailed with family friendly pleasantness, notching five awards, including big prizes for song and record of the year ("Need You Now").
Though Eminem -- the former pariah turned mainstream celebrity cuddly enough to star in two Super Bowl ads -- lost out in the big categories, he did win for rap album of the year, "Recovery." It was likely a small consolation for an artist who had outsold everyone else in 2010 with nearly 3.5 million album sales. But his act, still peppered with explicit language and confrontational stances, still apparently leaves many Grammy voters squeamish. In Eminem's case, that's a badge of honor more than a curse.
The Grammys considered 1052 nominees in 109 categories. But that’s not enough for us. We handed out some awards of our own during the broadcast.
Not domesticated enough, apparently: After the serene beauty of Rihanna set him up, Eminem marked his turf with a fierce stream of invective that was heavily censored for TV on "Love the Way You Lie." The contrast between the two artists made for riveting theater, then Dr. Dre made his Grammy debut by going toe-to-toe with his protege. It was an overload of star power, a TV moment if there ever was one. But if anything it confirmed why Eminem didn't roll away with 10 Grammys as some had predicted -- he's still a little too vile for the staid old awards voters to handle without fire-repellant gloves.
Gay rights in prime time: Lady Gaga, who entered the ceremony as a zygote, hoisted aloft inside an oversized “egg” by a retinue of servants dressed in flesh-colored outfits, hatched in time to perform her latest hit, “Born this Way.” It was a straightforward big dance number that flagrantly quoted Madonna, but Madonna probably couldn’t have gotten away with belting out a line like “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen” on national television two decades ago.
Smart move: Remember when the Grammys ill-advisedly matched the Jonas Brothers with Stevie Wonder a few years ago? That didn't go well as the boys were taken to school. This year, the new teen-pop phenom, 16-year-old Justin Bieber, was paired with someone relatively his own age, 12-year-old Jaden Smith, son of Will Smith, before teaming up with his mentor, Usher. It wasn't life-changing, but at least it wasn't embarrassing for the Biebs.
More over-the-top than Gaga: That would be Muse, the British band that is finally making major inroads in North America after nearly two decades. Amid the fog machines, double-necked guitar and dancers this was a band that desperately wants to be Queen, without the self-aware humor.
More surreal than Gaga: That would be Bob Dylan, backed by an army of 19th Century troubadours who looked remarkably like Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers. Dylan rasped, wheezed and howled his way through "Maggie's Farm" while his scruffy accomplices staged a folk-punk hootenanny behind him. Wonder what the Bieber fans made of this?
Comfort food: After all the shock and awe of Gaga, Muse, Bieber and the rest, the straight-up songcraft delivered without frills, pyro or half-dressed dancers came from the country acts, Miranda Lambert and Lady Antebellum. Pop doesn't get much more snoozy than this.
Most bizarre collaboration: Cee-Lo Green, the most gifted singer to be heard all night and looking absolutely peacock funky in a Mardi Gras Indian outfit, sang the sanitized version of his explicit hit "Forget You" backed by actress Gwyneth Paltrow and a bunch of Jim Henson's puppets. There's a long tradition of pop artists jamming with Henson's fuzzy creations, but you do have to wonder about Paltrow's credentials. She may be married to Coldplay's Chris Martin, but come on, does singing "Forget You" on "Glee" count for anything? Oh, wait, there's that whole audience ratings thing to consider, isn't there?
Classiest gesture: Rather than catering to younger viewers with some eye-popping Gaga stunt or Eminem tune, the telecast opened with a lengthy tribute to Aretha Franklin, recovering from cancer surgery. She was honored with a diva committee performing a medley of her hits. Christina Aguilera ornamented so many notes so soon it grew tiresome, but Martina McBride was elegantly restrained, and Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine built nicely to a ringing final note. Yolanda Adams connected convincingly to Aretha’s gospel roots and Jennifer Hudson threw down on “Respect.” Best of all, Franklin herself showed up on screen, looking fit and healthy enough to thank her fans, the recording academy and Clive Davis.
Janelle smokes Bruno in retro-soul throwdown: With the suit and tie, the pompadour and the melisma-soaked falsetto, Bruno Mars decided to act like he was James Brown at the Apollo. I don't really need to tell you how that turned out, do I? He sounded out of breath, like a kid who never broke a cold sweat. Janelle Monae, however, immediately followed up with a fierce, crowd-surfing version of "Cold War." She ripped a few stitches on her "retro" outfit, no doubt.
Dirty little secret: Giving credit where credit is due, Bruno Mars might actually be a better percussionist than a singer. He went off on the drums backing Monae on her song.
Most out of tune: Katy Perry, an award she pretty much owns at every TV show on which she performs.
Here are a few highlights from the pre-televised ceremonies:
Grammy Ill-logic No. 1: Though nominated for album of the year, Arcade Fire couldn’t win in a lesser category (best alternative album) for “The Suburbs,” losing out to the Black Keys, whose “Brothers” was not found worthy enough for an album-of-the-year nomination by the Recording Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Second City first: Mavis Staples won her first ever Grammy Award for best Americana album (“You Are Not Alone”) and sang the praises of her late father Pops Staples. “You laid the foundation,” Staples said, “and I am still working on the building.” Other winners with Chicago connections included Buddy Guy (best contemporary blues album) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which upped its lifetime Grammy haul to 62 with victories for best classical album and best classical performance (Verdi Requiem).
Better late … : Neil Young won his first ever Grammy for music (he had won previously for best recording package). His nod for best rock song (“Angry World”) was greeted with typically wry humor by the straw-haired rocker. “I’m not Mavis,” he said, “but I’m close.”