Having put the kudocast through a number of sea changes in recent years with minimal impact on its receding ratings, the producers of the Grammys took a logical tack to rescue this year’s edition — they called the Police. Tabbed to kickstart the show by reuniting for their first public performance since their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2003, Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland went a long way toward living up to the hype surrounding their appearance. But while the trio invested “Roxanne” with plenty of urgency, it soon became clear that this was Justin Timberlake’s night.
If the singer, who took home a pair of awards, hadn’t exorcised the ghost of his boy-band past before, he did so with a multifaceted showing here. Timberlake flaunted some impressive keyboard chops on a version of “Goes Around Comes Around” and showcased his ability to think on his feet during a facile duet with My Grammy Moment contest winner Robyn Troup — a segment that wasn’t nearly as amateur-night in presentation as it had appeared to be on paper.
Producers pulled back a bit from the genre-blending mashups favored in recent years, concentrating instead on more complementary teamings like the three-fer provided by Corinne Bailey Rae, John Mayer and John Legend. Admittedly, the de-emphasis on novelty removed a smidgen of the show’s water-cooler potential, but there’s something to be said for allowing artists to present their work on its own merits.
That effort to play it straight was palpable throughout the evening, right down to intros such as the impassioned one Joan Baez afforded the Dixie Chicks and the eloquently minimalist “One word: Beyonce” offered up by Prince.
Yes, there were moments of cheese –Shakira and Wyclef’s severely over-processed rendition of “Hips Don’t Lie” and Rascal Flatts’ ham-fisted Eagles tribute come to mind — but more often than not, producers succeeded in investing the telecast with a revitalizing freshness.
Truncating the lifetime achievement presentations helped, as did nudging performers to showcase their less-shopworn material, an edict that apparently didn’t reach James Blunt, who edged further into one-hit-wonder status by trotting out “You’re Beautiful” for the umpteenth time.
But the momentary lethargy was offset by a plethora of crisp, sharply focused interludes, including Chris Brown’s live mirroring of the dance moves captured on a vintage James Brown videoclip.
Even the annual commemoration of recently deceased artists was handled in a manner more celebratory than overwrought and maudlin, which ramped up the seg’s emotional impact.
Pacing on the largely glitch-free broadcast was brisk, but not brusque, with few curtailed acceptance speeches and even fewer off-topic meanderings by presenters. And while the show might still benefit from being trimmed to fit a three-hour window, this year’s model elicited less clock-watching than any Grammy ceremony in recent memory.