News in Review: 53rd Annual Grammy Awards (2011)

First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2011, Volume 18, #3

Written by John Metzger

Tue March 15, 2011, 06:30 AM CDT


The Grammy Awards program has been so dismal for so long that it is impossible not to have extraordinarily low expectations for the music industry’s biggest event. The broadcast no longer celebrates the recording industry’s astounding diversity. Instead, it serves as a marketing vehicle not only for the best-selling pop acts of the preceding year but also for those releases that label executives anticipate will keep it afloat in the coming months. This might sound like a cynical statement, but it also is one for which no contrary argument can be made.

On the surface, the 53th annual Grammy Awards program didn’t appear as if it would differentiate itself from any of the other broadcasts that have been staged by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (N.A.R.A.S.) in recent memory. Last fall, CBS aired a prime time event during which the Grammy nominees were announced. It featured the usual array of pop performers, all of whom fulfilled their obligations as inoffensively and generically as possible. Not surprisingly, the resulting show was hardly riveting, and despite the fact that it lost its ratings time slot, there was no reason to expect that a different approach would be applied to the main event.

Sure enough, N.A.R.A.S. followed its usual template in constructing the 53rd annual Grammy Awards broadcast. Pop stars like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga were paraded in front of the assembled crowd to perform a variety of tired routines that had been swiped from the playbooks of Madonna and Michael Jackson. Although the show-opening tribute to Aretha Franklin (by Jennifer Hudson, Yolanda Adams, Martina McBride, Florence Welch, and Christina Aguilera) was well intended, it also failed to really capture the power of Franklin’s music. Joined by the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons, Bob Dylan ran through Maggie’s Farm like it was an unrehearsed afterthought.

Nevertheless, in spite of the program’s flaws, there were moments during the 53rd annual Grammy Awards ceremony that actually fared better than their counterparts in prior years. Following the pulsating rhythms and dangerous curves of Uprising, Muse unleashed an anarchy-inducing performance that combined the intensity of Radiohead, the ambience of The Cure, and the new-wave drive of Blondie with the disillusion of Pink Floyd. Elsewhere, Arcade Fire got in touch with its inner Neil Young during a furiously rampaging rendition of Month of May, while Mick Jagger paid homage to Solomon Burke with an energetic romp through Everybody Needs Somebody to Love. Adding some levity to the proceedings, Cee Lo Green dressed like Elton John and sang his Grammy nominated single F*** You, with help from Gwyneth Paltrow and a backing band of Muppets.

Love him or hate him, Eminem never fails to provide a healthy dose of entertainment. He, along with Rihanna, Skylar Grey, and Dr. Dre, delivered an emotional medley that fused Love the Way You Lie with I Need a Doctor. All of the hype preceding the 53rd annual Grammy Awards broadcast seemed to indicate that this would be Eminem’s night. In recent months, his career has followed the sort of path that Grammy voters generally tend to reward. He had been slighted in 2001 when The Marshall Mathers LP failed to win in any of the big categories. However, despite 10 nominations this year, he only won for Best Rap Album (Recovery) and Best Rap Solo Performance (Not Afraid).

In 2011, artists were recognized by N.A.R.A.S. in 108 categories, though only 10 of the winners were unveiled during the television broadcast. Arcade Fire deservedly won Album of the Year for its breakthrough set The Suburbs. The victory was a bigger surprise than it should have been. There simply were too many questionable winners in key categories. Somehow, Lady Antebellum’s saccharine Need You Now managed to beat Jamey Johnson’s The Guitar Song for Best Country Album. The title track to Lady Antebellum’s effort also knocked off Ray LaMontagne’s Beg Steal or Borrow and Cee Lo Green’s F*** You for Song of the Year as well as the Eminem/Rihanna collaboration Love the Way You Lie for Record of the Year.

In other words, any positive alterations to the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards program were purely coincidental. N.A.R.A.S. and its voters still spend too much time worrying about commercial appeal rather than artistic talent.

Here is a partial list of winners:

Record of the Year - Need You Now - Lady Antebellum

Album of the Year - The Suburbs - Arcade Fire

Song of the Year - Need You Now - Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott (Lady Antebellum)

Best New Artist - Esperanza Spalding

Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals - Imagine - Herbie Hancock, Pink, India.Arie, Seal, Konono No. 1, Jeff Beck & Oumou Sangare (from The Imagine Project)

Best Pop Instrumental Performance - Nessun Dorma - Jeff Beck (from Emotion & Commotion)

Best Solo Rock Performance - Helter Skelter - Paul McCartney (from Good Evening New York City)

Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals - Tighten Up - The Black Keys (from Brothers)

Best Hard Rock Performance - New Fang - Them Crooked Vultures (from Them Crooked Vultures)

Best Rock Instrumental Performance - Hammerhead - Jeff Beck (from Emotion & Commotion)

Best Rock Song - Angry World - Neil Young (from Le Noise)

Best Rock Album - Muse - The Resistance

Best Alternative Music Album - Brothers - The Black Keys

Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance - Hang On In There - John Legend & The Roots (from Wake Up!)

Best Urban/Alternative Performance - F*** You - Cee Lo Green

Best R&B Song - Shine - John Stephens, songwriter - (John Legend & The Roots’ Wake Up!)

Best R&B Album - Wake Up! - John Legend & The Roots

Best Rap Solo Performance - Not Afraid - Eminem (from Recovery)

Best Rap Album - Recovery - Eminem

Best Female Country Vocal Performance - The House that Built Me - Miranda Lambert (from Revolution)

Best Male Country Vocal Performance - ’Til Summer Comes Around - Keith Urban

Best Country Instrumental Performance - Hummingbyrd - Marty Stuart (from Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions)

Best Contemporary Jazz Album - The Stanley Clarke Band - The Stanley Clarke Band

Best Improvised Jazz Solo - A Change Is Gonna Come - Herbie Hancock, soloist (from The Imagine Project)

Best Traditional Gospel Album - Downtown Church - Patty Griffin

Best Americana Album - You Are Not Alone - Mavis Staples

Best Bluegrass Album - Mountain Soul II - Patty Loveless

Best Traditional Blues Album - Joined at the Hip - Pinetop Perkins & Willie "Big Eyes" Smith

Best Contemporary Blues Album - Living Proof - Buddy Guy

Best Contemporary Folk Album - God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise - Ray LaMontagne

Best Musical Album for Children - Tomorrow’s Children - Pete Seeger w/ the Rivertown Kids and Friends

Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media - Crazy Heart - Stephen Bruton & T Bone Burnett, producers (Various Artists)

Best Score Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television, or other Visual Media - Toy Story 3 - Randy Newman, composer

Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media - The Weary Kind - Ryan Bingham & T Bone Burnett, songwriters (Crazy Heart)

Best Recording Package - Brothers - Michael Carney, art director (The Black Keys)

Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package - Under Great White Northern Lights - Rob Jones & Jack White III, art directors (The White Stripes)

Best Album Notes - Keep an Eye on the Sky - Robert Gordon, album notes writer (Big Star)

Best Historical Album - The Beatles (The Original Studio Recordings) - Jeff Jones & Allan Rouse, compilation producers, Paul Hicks, Sean Magee, Guy Massey, Sam Okell & Steve Rooke, mastering engineers

Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical - Battle Studies - Michael H. Brauer, Chad Franscoviak, & Manny Marroquin, engineers (John Mayer)

Producer of the Year, Non-Classical - Danger Mouse

        - Broken Bells (Broken Bells) (A)

        - Dark Night of the Soul (Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse) (A)

        - Tighten Up (The Black Keys) (T)

Best Long Form Music Video - When You’re Strange - The Doors - Tom Dicillo, video director, John Beug, Jeff Jampol, Peter Jankowski, Dick Wolf video producers


Of Further Interest...

47th Annual Grammy Awards: Commentary and Winners (2005)

48th Annual Grammy Awards: Commentary, Nominees, and Winners (2006)

49th Annual Grammy Awards: Commentary, Nominees, and Winners (2007)

51st Annual Grammy Awards: Commentary, Nominees, and Winners (2009)

52nd Annual Grammy Awards: Commentary, Nominees, and Winners (2010)


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