Like Ricky Martin’s pants, the Grammy Awards were full of magic moments. Don’t know how it happened, because doesn’t this show usually suck? Last night had one great performance after another — Lady Gaga, Bob Dylan, Janelle Monae, Cee Lo with Gwyneth Paltrow and the Muppets, Justin Bieber’s ninja drummers. And the Arcade Fire not only brought down the house with “Month of May,” they won Album of the Year for The Suburbs. It might have been the first watchable Grammy show since 1988, the one where Michael Jackson did “Man in the Mirror” and Lou Reed sang “Walk on the Wild Side.” Here’s a brief rundown of the stars who made the night’s 12 greatest moments.
1. Lady Gaga
Gaga won a slew of awards for what she did in 2009 — the “Bad Romance” video, The Fame Monster — but she knew how to make the moment all about right now, arriving in a giant egg and tricking up “Born This Way” with an organ solo and a scary yellow hat. She also gave a speech in Lou Reed shades and a leather outfit she must have heisted from a truck stop. I loved her shout-out to Whitney Houston: “Whitney, I imagined you were singing ‘Born This Way’ when I wrote it. Thank you.” Now I can’t stop imagining a movie, The Bodygaga, where Whitney wins a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and Gaga dives in front of her in slow motion to stop a bullet, Costner-style. Then they drive off in the Pussy Wagon and sing “I Will Always Love You.”
2. Cee Lo
Performance of the night. Costume of the night. Muppet backing band of the night. Gwyneth cameo of all time. He wore an eye-popping replica of the peacock suit Elton John wore when he did “Crocodile Rock” on “The Muppet Show.” And it was funny how the announcers kept calling it “The Song Otherwise Known as ‘Forget You.’” Even Statler and Waldorf would have to agree: Un-forgetting-believable.
3. The Arcade Fire
They did a couple of bona fide rock songs, two of their best: “Month of May” and “Ready To Start.” It was a shrewd move, since their slow-building ballads (I’m looking at you very loudly, “Sprawl II”) tend to bomb on live TV. Those BMX bikes were a very Blink-182 touch. And in between performances, they earned a well-deserved win for The Suburbs, an album that sounds even better than it did last summer. Bonus points for inspiring an angry twitter post from former Eighties rock-video video Tawny Kitaen: “Ok, Im not THAT old but whos Arcade Fire? & worse, who the HELL thinks their [sic] good? Did I just lose all my followers? Cuz they sucked, sorry.” Is this love that we’re feelin’!
4. Barbra Streisand
It was so butta to see Babz (and her A Star Is Born co-star Kris Kristofferson) hand out the Grammy, since the Arcade Fire write the kind of belt-it-out weepers Barbra would love to sing, if only she got to hear them. Why hasn’t she done “No Cars Go” yet? (Remember, Barbra was covering Bowie’s “Life On Mars” in 1974. Respect!) Now we’ve got to get her in the studio with Win Butler to remake “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.”
5. Bob Dylan
The Mumford & Sons / Avett Brothers banjo-core jam was a highlight even before Dylan showed up, but the man blew everyone away rasping “Maggie’s Farm.” It’s weird to recall this was the song that first got Dylan accused of selling out to pop commercialism — it was the first song he played with his electric rock & roll band at the famous 1965 Newport Folk Festival, where he got booed off the stage. (Allen Ginsberg defended him with the words, “Dylan has sold out to God. That is to say, his command was to spread his beauty as wide as possible.”) But now this song stands as a symbol of old-school authenticity. “Maggie’s Farm” was never one of his more intricate tunes — it really only works as a rabble-rousing group sing-along, and that’s what it turned into last night. Dylan, in a daring move for him, didn’t hide behind a guitar or keyboard, but rather held the spotlight in full body shot, striking his voguing poses, sneering in his brokedown Howlin’ Wolf punk croak, hitting all one and a half notes of the melody. Also, his shoes were perfect. A classic performance.
6. Janelle Monae
Now THAT is a rock star. Her glammed-out performance stood out even after two excellent turns from B.o.B. and Bruno Mars, who redid “Grenade” as a tribute to early Terence Trent D’Arby. Ever heard TTd’A’s version of the Smokey Robinson ballad, “Who’s Lovin’ You”? Check it out. Bruno clearly did.
7. Esperanza Spalding
The reason nobody won any Grammy pools this year. She was the biggest award-show upset since Marisa Tomei took Best Supporting Actress in 1992. But the other four nominees for Best New Artist are already stars in their field, so Spalding was the only nominee who really stood to gain anything by winning this normally kiss-of-death award. Her smooth, light jazz-fusion act appeals to the old-school Grammy voters who like their music nostalgic — the same people who gave Album of the Year to Herbie Hancock’s album of Joni Mitchell covers a while back.
8. Miley Cyrus and the Kings of Leon
Now that’s a party in the USA. When Miley chirped, “The Kings and I are both from Tennessee,” the brothers Followill did an admirable job of looking like they didn’t want to crawl under a rock. Hoedown throwdown, y’all!
9. Mick Jagger
Keith who? Mick looked evil and moved like a kingsnake for his version of “Everybody Needs Someone To Love,” made famous by Wilson Pickett but intended as a memorial tribute to the late Solomon Burke. His dancing was (as the old Stones song used to say) off the hook — if the rock & roll life can leave you this wiggly when you’re 67, maybe health nuts should be pursuing sex, drugs and decadence instead of yoga. The green suit was cool too.
10. Nicki Minaj
That hair! That leopardskin suit! And back to that hair? Awesome.
11. Aretha Franklin
If you thought anybody was going to shine-block the Queen, dream on — she appeared via long-distance to crash her own tribute. The much-anticipated Aguile-redemption was a wash, since Xtina had way too much girlish ego in her voice to do justice to a song as adult and haunted as “Ain’t No Way” — Yolanda Adams’ great version of “Spirit in the Dark” made Xtina sound like a spoiled kid. But at least she got all three words of “Ain’t No Way” in the right order. Baby steps!
12. Norah Jones, John Mayer and Keith Urban
Their loose acoustic version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” was surprisingly great — even if it just made everyone sad about the White Stripes breaking up. Nobody seems to know why Dolly didn’t get an onstage production for her Lifetime Achievement Award, but those awards are very strange. (The Ramones got one this year, even though for all three of the main Ramones, their Lifetimes have sadly ended.) Still, this was a glorious moment of musicians-as-fans, and it summed up why last night’s show was a blast.
Special thanks to everyone who hung out for the Grammy liveblog. I can’t resist tipping the cap to the top ten comments of the night:
1. “Did Gaga hatch CeeLo?” [Pete]
2. I hope that right before Dylan starts to play we hear Beiber yell “Judas!” [Kevin the Robot]
3. “I think I would be more inclined to watch the Oscars if it started with James Franco singing ‘Rock Steady.’” [Jacob]
4. “It [Gaga’s outfit] looks like a bunch of Kraft Singles slightly melted” [GAGAforEGGBEATERZ]
5. [During Muse’s performance] “Bryan Ferry is missing a dinner jacket.” [Jimithng]
6. “Has anyone else noticed that [Lady Antebellum’s] ‘Need You Now’ is basically ‘Eye In The Sky’ by Alan Parsons Project?” [Felix]
7. “Note to Katy Perry from Thomas Dolby – The hemispheres are not in commotion!!” [Elmer Fusterpuck]
8. “Katy Perry should win recorDD of the year” [Will]
9. “I’d rather see Diamond Dave singing ‘Somebody Get Me A Doctor.’” [Kevin the Robot]
10. “Who the hell am I?” [Esperanza Spalding]