One of the immutable laws of physics states that for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction -- which might help to explain why NARAS chose to follow one of the most artistically ephemeral years in recent musical history with an awards show designed to demonstrate that things aren't quite as bad as they might look.

One of the immutable laws of physics states that for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction — which might help to explain why NARAS chose to follow one of the most artistically ephemeral years in recent musical history with an awards show designed to demonstrate that things aren’t quite as bad as they might look.

Unfortunately, like most beasts designed by committee, the 42nd Grammy awards didn’t work out quite as planned.

Much of this year’s production had a manufactured tone: The decision to devote a segment to “Latin music” came off as trite — and more than a bit condescending. Sandwiching Ibrahim Ferrer between bubblegum trifles like Marc Anthony and Ricky Martin was akin to tossing Chuck Berry into a boy-band block alongside the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync.

Then again, a fair number of the award winners played into the all-things-are-equal vibe — notably 25-year veteran Sting, who said in his acceptance speech that it was an honor to be nominated alongside talents like Lou Bega.

And there was little in the way of surprise. Whitney Houston’s lengthy medley didn’t suffer all that much, given her reliance on clinical precision above all else. Houston did manage to evince a previously-unseen good humor in her reactions to O’Donnell’s predictable barrage of pot-smoking jokes — although audience-bound Melissa Etheridge seemed to lose patience after a few David Crosby cracks.

There were also downright silly moments: the faux-flashback intro to Britney Spears’ sluggish perf — which hadn’t mustered enough momentum to lose when a faulty mic rendered her a mime artist.

But oh well, this has been Spears’ year, along with a host of teen bands. And tellingly, acad honcho Michael Greene emphasized the youth movement in his handling of a group of pre-teens assembled for the occasion: After making sure the kids had the chance to sample the spotlight, Greene allowed each a mere ten or so seconds to actually play–informing us “that’s what it’s all about.”

But is that really all there is?

The 42nd Annual Grammy Awards

CBS; Feb. 23, 8 p.m.

Production

Videotaped in Los Angeles by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in cooperation with Cossette Prods. Executive producer, Pierre Cossette; producer, Ken Ehrlich; Walter C. Miller; director, Walter C. Miller; supervising producer, John Cossette; writer, Ken Ehrlich; musical director, Jack Elliott. 3 HOURS.

Cast

Presenters: Jennifer Lopez, David Duchovny, Martina McBride, Ray Romano, Kevin James, Christina Aguilera, Jimmy Smits, Ruben Blades, Andy Garcia, Mary J.Blige, 'N Sync, Jamie Foxx, Busta Rhymes, Jane Krakowski, Clint Black, Lisa Hartman Black, Ray Benson, Phil Collins, Andy Williams, Macy Gray, Gloria Estefan, Vince Gill, Neil Diamond, Shirley Manson, Moby, Michael Clarke Duncan, Sarah McLachlan, Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, Mike Greene, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Lauryn Hill. Performers: Will Smith, Cisco, Dixie Chicks, Marc Anthony, Chucho Valdez, Ibrahim Ferrer, Pocho Sanchez, Ricky Martin, Whitney Houston, Backstreet Boys, Faith Hill, TLC, Sting, Cheb Mami, Kid Rock, Britney Spears, Elton John, Joshua Bell, Sam Bush, Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall, George Benson, Erykah Badu, Diana Krall, Rob Thomas, Carlos Santana. Host: Rosie O'Donnell.
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