While producers of the Grammy Awards have long tried to reconcile glitz and grit — or at least present some facsimile of the latter — they’ve rarely been able to get the balance right. Wednesday’s kudocast, however, went a long way toward their longstanding view that accessibility and credibility needn’t be mutually exclusive.
Flipping the usual menu to serve dessert first, producers frontloaded the program with fluff, kicking things off with a much-ballyhooed bluescreen “collaboration” between Madonna and cartoon-pop aggregation Gorillaz that was most notable for showing the toons to be more animated than the Material Mom.
U2 and Mary J. Blige proved a far more impressive teaming, reprising the duet on “One” that they cooked up for last year’s Hurricane Katrina telethon. While the emotional punch wasn’t quite as immediately potent this time around, there was definitely an impact once it landed. Paul McCartney lit a similarly slow-burning fuse, following a limp “Fine Line” with a spiky “Helter Skelter” that teetered to the brink of edginess.
To the probable dismay of the producers, the hotly anticipated tribute to Sly Stone plunged off that precipice, landing with a dramatic splat when a mohawked Sly — making his first public appearance in eons — clambered onstage to paw briefly and incoherently at a keyboard before bolting into the wings.
Other than that, the most atypical aspect of the broadcast was the host-free format — a trick that didn’t work as well here as when the Oscar folks trotted it out a few years ago. Granted, the lack of punchless punchlines was a welcome change of pace, but the canned self-introductions that replaced them were jarring in terms of pacing — not to mention the awkwardness of the blatant self-referencing involved.
Technical glitches were kept to a minimum — an impressive feat given the scope of the production — but the show dragged after the halfway mark, at which point the lion’s share of awards had been handed out. Perfs like Kanye West’s marching-band take on “Gold Digger” were diverting enough but should’ve been distributed more evenly throughout the show.
There were an unusual number of serious interludes — starting with presenter Stevie Wonder’s seemingly impromptu a capella performance of “Higher Ground,” dedicated to Coretta Scott King. More scripted elements of gravity crept in during performances, notably the latenight New Orleans homage — featuring homegrown talents such as Irma Thomas and Allan Toussaint, as well as acolytes like Elvis Costello and The Edge — that eschewed typical jam-session mugging in favor of bona fide home cooking that left a lingering good taste in the mouth.