Forget J-Lo’s naval and Eminem’s foul mouth. The 44th annual Grammy Awards Wednesday had weightier issues to contend with as artists and performers sought to soothe the nation with humor and song after a year of turmoil within the music industry and in the United States.
From heightened security, to performers’ songs and to host Jon Stewart’s jokes, the devastating attacks on America of Sept. 11 hovered in the background of the music industry’s most glamorous night.
When Stewart came onstage at the Staples Center, he walked through a dummy metal detector, which gonged off and sent huge security guards to his side. After repeated tries and frisks, Stewart was finally stripped down to his briefs when he proclaimed “Welcome to the Grammys” to roars of laughter.
Other artists bared their souls in ballads, while others bared their flesh. In winning for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for “Lady Marmalade,” Christina Aguilera and Lil’ Kim, Mya and Pink, were all scantily clad in hot pants and bustiers and they thanked everyone including their mothers.
On a more serious note, artists ranging from U2, Billy Joel, Tony Bennett and Alan Jackson all performed songs inspired by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or other political injustices.
Piano man Billy Joel and crooner Tony Bennett performed a rendition of Joel’s ballad “New York State of Mind,” to rousing applause. Afterwards, Stewart reminded the audience how music was among the first things celebrated once the Taliban, which had prohibited the playing of music, was vanquished in Afghanistan.
“When Afghanistan was liberated, one of the first things that happened was that music was played on the streets and three days later, even they were sick of Creed,” he joked, referring to the hot-selling rock group that has been omnipresent on the radio airwaves.
New R&B singer Alicia Keys was the big winner of the evening, nabbing trophies for the coveted best new artist and song of the year races, while the hit country-themed soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” was the surprise winner for album of the year award. Irish rock band U2 also picked up several awards, including best rock album.
U2 played their anthem-like song, “Walk On,” which is dedicated to Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi and which earned the band a record of the year Grammy Award.
PRAISE FOR GOODWILL
The group has been praised for its goodwill efforts this year by performing at concerts and the Super Bowl before a backdrop of the names of victims who perished on Sept. 11.
U2’s lead singer Bono said this year he had rediscovered his love of America.
“This year, it was a very different America. As guests of the nation we have always loved coming here, but this year I’ve rediscovered my love of America, the great idea as opposed to the great country,” he told reporters backstage.
Expressing regret at how people in some parts of the world actually cheered after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bono said, “The idea of America has gone away in the last while. I actually believe the idea will catch on in the wake of this tragedy and people will rediscover what it’s all about.”
Country star Alan Jackson performed his hit single, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” his reflection on the Sept. 11 attacks, Jackson wrote the song in late October, shortly before the Country Music Association awards show.
This year’s Grammys were a big departure from last year’s show, which was consumed with a controversy generated by accused homophobe rapper Eminem and his plan to perform a duet with gay rock star Elton John. The John-Eminem performance ended as an anticlimax after all the buildup, while the previous year’s show was ultimately upstaged by hoopla surrounding Jennifer Lopez’s eye-popping gown.
The top music awards also come amid one of the worst years in recent history for the industry.
Album sales declined for the first time in 10 years last year, due in part to a dearth of hot selling new stars as well as an increases in online music piracy.
“No other time than now in our history have we turned to music for comfort, solace and sweet celebration,” said Michael Greene, chief of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), which hosts the Grammys.
But Greene also spoke at length about the threat of online piracy, which denies recording companies and artists coveted royalties. “This illegal file-sharing is out of control and oh so criminal,” he said. “Songwriters, singers, musicians. The entire music food chain is at risk,” he said.