Safety first! Although not displayed as prominently on the stage of the Staples Center as on construction sites from coast to coast, that message resounded loud and clear throughout the three-hour-plus ceremony that CBS televised last night. Abetted by the Natl. Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ decision to stick as close to the middle of the road as possible, the kudocast’s producers did their very best to insure nothing remotely threatening — or even surprising — made it to the airwaves.
The opening medley — a reprise of the once-clever notion of allowing a slew of nominees to perform a sliver of the tune that afforded them their 15 minutes of fame — set the tone for the evening, one of slapdash segues and baffling juxtapositions. Yes, the Black Eyed Peas exuded affable energy, but that was all-but-completely undone when the segment degenerated into a cheesy five-part mash-up.
For his final turn at the helm of the awards, Pierre Cossette injected a bit more historical perspective than the show has seen in a spell, giving airtime to even less sexy lifetime achievement nominees (such as Pinetop Perkins) and allowing Alicia Keys ample room to showcase her considerable chops in a tribute to Ray Charles — whose ghost loomed large over the proceedings.
Such moments, however, were far outnumbered by set pieces that ranged from the awkwardly delivered (Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony’s mortifyingly soap-operalike duet) to the horribly ill conceived (a Southern rock tribute that turned out to be more “Hee Haw” than “Free Bird”).
The nadir, however, was reached during a well-intentioned but thoroughly muddled relay that saw acts as mismatched as Tim McGraw and Norah Jones trudge through “Across the Universe” — a Beatle-centric showcase that made Paul McCartney’s Super Bowl snoozefest look positively edgy.
On the Grammys’ sliding scale of hosts, Queen Latifah proved to be something of a midpack finisher. Frisky without being too snarky, she was hobbled by writers who saddled her with too many leaden lines lusting after the night’s leading men. Her performance of the Billie Holiday-popularized “Baby Get Lost,” however, was one of the evening’s brighter spots.
Like the bulk of the broadcast, however, that song found the participants looking backward. Some of those vignettes — Joss Stone and Melissa Etheridge feting Janis Joplin, for instance — hit the mark, but given the fact that the show was designed to honor 2004’s best and brightest, it would have been nice to see some focus on that year as well.