Although music’s senior-citizen class provided the emotional through line to this year’s Grammys — from Mick Jagger’s time-defying first Grammycast performance to Bob Dylan to Barbra Streisand — the night might have peaked, for better or worse, with Cee Lo Green belting out the joyous (if disinfected for TV) song, otherwise known as “Forget You” backed by Muppets while wearing a giant rainbow-plumed peacock suit. Yes, it was that kind of evening — and on the whole, possessed a significantly better, more vibrant vibe than last year’s extended ode to Michael Jackson.
In the pantheon of major academy-backed presentations, the Grammys have a major advantage — having morphed into the non-awards awards telecast. To emphasize this point, the musical showcase paused precisely once to hand out a trophy, for group or duo, in the first 58 televised minutes.
That leaves ample time for what has become the night’s signature: Blending performers from different genres or periods for what were billed at the outset as “once-in-a-lifetime Grammy moments,” such as the quintet of divas who opened the show by paying tribute to Aretha Franklin. (The Queen of Soul appeared afterward, looking encouragingly hearty.)
Not all those combinations worked equally well, any more than did perplexing presenter choices (“Glee’s” Lea Michele paired with Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers?), presenters Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony’s awful sitcom banter, or scheduling Jagger’s otherwise splendid tribute to close the traditional necrology segment. As always, the show was also speckled with an embarrassing assortment of CBS stars, including David Letterman, via special Top 10 list.
Speaking of CBS, executives at the network haunted by memories of Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” must have been sweating out Lady Gaga’s impossibly sheer outfit in her rousing rendition of “Born This Way,” which played like part gay anthem, part “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The flamboyant star was later bleeped when she won for best pop vocal — as were Eminem, Dr. Dre and Green in their performances — so the risk of Gaga-related fines isn’t strictly visual.
The production took few creative gambles, such as shifting to black and white during Bruno Mars’ throwback performance. Beyond the inevitable outlandish outfits, the night was mostly free of crazy stunts (3-D, for instance) or inordinate controversy, unless you count Arcade Fire winning best album (and promptly being bleeped) or Lady Antebellum thanking God several times.
Fortunately for the Grammys, not only have award-show ratings rebounded, but this year’s diverse demographic profile will probably bring back some viewers who haven’t sat through the show in awhile. To see Streisand belt out “Evergreen” (to an extended ovation), moreover, required staying awake until nearly 11 — right before Eminem received best rap album.
Of course, every generation must answer for its musical excesses, and today’s teens will eventually be held to account for sensation-of-the-moment Justin Bieber, whose performance looked like an ad for a videogame titled “Teenage Ninja Assassin.” Kids, please, think before you download, legally or otherwise.
The sheer variety of musical styles often meshes uneasily, segueing from Lady Gaga to Miranda Lambert’s country ballad, followed by British rockers Muse symbolically torching the place.
Still, in an increasingly polarized America — where the perception is red and blue states can barely talk, much less dance together — seeing country next to rock next to, er, Gaga, in one eclectic celebration somehow felt rather warming.
And for those who remained unmoved by all that assembled talent, well, forget you.