Beyonce Swift Boated

A stunned Taylor Swift (above, shown winning an earlier award) took home the Grammy for Album of the Year, besting record-setting Beyonce (right), who was shooting for her 7th award of the night.
A stunned Taylor Swift (above, shown winning an earlier award) took home the Grammy for Album of the Year, besting record-setting Beyonce (right), who was shooting for her 7th award of the night.

'Fearless' Taylor knocks off 'Sasha Fierce' to win Album of the Year; Kings of Leon, Maxwell also win big

Posted: February 01, 2010

HAS MUSIC'S "most prestigious awards show" become less about the art, more about commerce and circus-style packaging?

That's the vibe we were feeling watching yesterday afternoon and evening's 52nd annual Grammy Awards, where last year's top disc and download sellers were also (surprise, surprise) this year's biggest Grammy winners - most prominently Wyomissing, Pa.'s "Fearless" country talent, Taylor Swift, and the destiny-achieving Beyonce, the Grammy night's overall top vote- getter.

A good 85 percent of the nationally televised portion of the show was actually devoted to over-the-top production numbers, from Philly girl Pink's Cirque Du Soleil-styled spin on a high flying human mobile to the 3-D spectacles-required debut of a music video for Michael Jackson's (and surviving friends) "Earth Song." (Just the latest in a series of tech innovations - from surround sound to high def - to debut on the Grammys.)

The twenty-year old Swift began her own awards party at 5:41 p.m. (our time) with the Female Country Vocal honor for "White Horse," and returned five minutes later to share the Best Country Song honor (a writer's credit) for the same horse she rode in on. Later, on the nationally televised show, Swift scored the Best Country Album honor, and, as is her autobiographical wont, reflected back on second grade, and "People joking, 'Maybe I'll see you at the Grammys.' " She then capped the night with the most prestigious honor: Album of the Year. But it was a good thing the results were all in before her out-of-tune duet with Stevie Nicks. Painful.

While a big musical yawn without the visuals, fashionista fave Lady GaGa sure knows how to put on a fab show - as the Grammy show opener jumped into a vat of fire and mixed it up with fellow glitter Queen Elton John. As a reward for her big product mover, "The Fame," she got to take home trophies for Best Dance Recording and Electronic/Dance Album - neither an honor requiring much heavy lifting.

We felt better about another show business celebrant Beyonce, as the 10-times nominated artist nailed down the most awards of anyone in the crowd including the Best Contemporary R&B Album honor for "I Am . . . Sasha Fierce," as well as Best Female R&B Vocal and Traditional R&B Vocal performance (for "At Last," from her film portrayal of Etta James in the "Cadillac Records" flick).

Ms. Knowles also shared Song of the Year and Best R&B Song credit with the likes of Dream for "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," then came back to claim the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for the "Sasha Fierce" track "Halo." Her overstuffed live performance looked like something out of the Super Bowl halftime playbook.

Beyonce's hubby, Jay-Z, didn't do so badly either, scoring both Best Rap Solo for "Death of Auto-Tune" and Rap/Sung Collaboration honor with Rihanna and the (oddly absent) Kanye West for "Run This Town."

The ever good-spirited Black Eyed Peas cleaned their plate pretty well, scooping up Grammys for best Short Form Music Video, Pop Duo or Group with Vocal plus Pop Vocal Album for "The E.N.D"

And the good 'n greasy Southern rockers Kings of Leon also pulled off a surprising triple play, snatching Record of the Year and Best Rock Song for "Use Somebody," and the honor as Best Rock Duo or Group with Vocal.

All this back-patting over big hits is the stuff we expect on unabashed popularity contests like the American Music Awards. At the Grammys, we usually expect the unexpected, too - artful oddballs like that Robert Plant/Alison Krauss collaboration "Raising Sand," which snatched away the Album of the Year honor last year over way bigger hits by Lil Wayne and Coldplay.

This year, with music sales down again, it seems like idealism was pretty much tossed to the wind. Delivering the Best New Artist honor to the pedestrian country Zac Brown Band over hipper alternatives like MGMT and the Ting Tings also proved the point.

Just ten of the 109 category awards were actually doled out on the nationally televised, 3 1/2-hour show, to make room for more of the big performances that producers believe viewers desire.

Mary J. Blige and Andrea Bocelli sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water" as a fund- and consciousraiser for Haiti (buy the iTunes download version). Green Day (winners of Best Rock Album) joined with the bound-for-Broadway cast of their "American Idiot" musical for a theatrical version of their "21 Guns" anthem. A rap summit meet of Lil Wayne, Eminem and Drake vied to see who could be bleeped more. (The virtually unheard Wayne, uh, "won.") Jeff Beck honored the recently departed Les Paul. And Bon Jovi performed a set capped with "Living on a Prayer," voted by online fans.

If you really cared about heartfelt acceptance speeches, you needed to be tuned in to the earlier, looser, online streaming portion of the awards ceremony, this year marred with a peculiar 22 minute "gap." That's where you would have seen neo-soul singer Maxwell feeling the love and getting emotional over his first-ever (and then second) Grammy wins for his long awaited "Black Summer's Night." The R&B Vocal and Best R&B album winner suggested that it was created in a time when "the music is not that exciting . . . 'cause the feeling's not there." But maybe my favorite moment was hearing children's Grammy winner Buck Howdy declare that he'd spent "less on the production of this album than I did on valet parking last night."

BTW, it was a tough night for Philly-rooted artists, with nominees John Legend, Musiq Soulchild and Pink all denied. Only homegrown bassist Christian McBride got to share a little light, as a member of the Five Peace band fronted by Chick Corea and John McLaughlin.

E-mail takiffj@phillynews.com

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