LOS ANGELES – In the weeks leading up to the 49th Grammy Awards, many miles of verbiage were unspooled by slick-suited TV pundits and somewhat bitter music journalists to dissect, predict and pick apart music’s biggest night.
But as the awards themselves actually unfolded, live from the Staples Center, it was the moments in which very little – if anything at all – was said that carried the most weight.
Whether it was the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines simply – and somewhat fittingly – quoting “The Simpsons” in a kiss-off to the group’s many critics; Chris Brown’s footstep-perfect rendition of the late James Brown’s famed onstage routine; or the Godfather of Soul’s longtime hypeman Danny Ray draping Brown’s sequined robe on the mic stand after the evening’s “In Memoriam” segment (not to mention the standing ovation that followed), there was very little more that needed to be said.
And those are just the first three moments that sprung to mind. One could also mention Mary J. Blige’s quiet elegance and fiery onstage performances (she brought the audience to its feet with “Be Without You,” which would earn her two of her three Grammy awards on the night, for R&B song and Best Female R&B Performance.) Or the pair of showstopping numbers Justin Timberlake – who burned up the red carpet earlier in the evening – unveiled. And the usually goofy guys of Gnarls Barkley, who turned in a soul-drenched, deceptively low-key rendition of “Crazy,” which won the duo a pair of awards.
Even Kanye West – so often the source of an infantile awards-show rant – kept it on the quiet, choosing to focus on the award he was brought in to present, Best Rap Album (it should be noted, however, that that award’s winner, Ludacris, opted to pop off on frequent nemesis Bill O’Reilly). Of course, many speculated that if the Recording Academy voters chose to shower the Dixie Chicks with awards (which they did, bestowing five Grammys, including Record, Album and Song of the Year, as well as Best Country Album honors, on the Texas trio), it would be seen as a sort of statement against those who Maines spoke out against, including George W. Bush and the entirety of the country-music establishment.
And although they won more Grammys than anyone, the group made no grand statement to speak of.
“To quote the Simpsons: Ha-ha! ” Maines laughed while accepting the Best Country Album award. “A lot of people just turned their TVs off.” And while accepting their Album of the Year trophy, Maines chuckled, “I’ve got nothing clever to say, sorry!”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers won four Grammys, including Best Rock Album and Best Rock Song. Carrie Underwood – who performed at Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy party Saturday night – Justin Timberlake and Gnarls Barkley each won two, though none of them used their winning moments to launch into any diatribes, make any political pleas or even put anyone on blast (the once-decadent Peppers even thanked their families.)
Even Timberlake, the evening’s “It” boy, will probably be remembered for his trippy “Blair Witch Project” action (thanks to a handheld camera) during his performance of “What Goes Around … Comes Around,” or for his tag-team performance with T.I. and “My Grammy Moment” contest winner Robyn Troup on a medley of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” and his own “My Love.”
Indeed, the brevity may have been part of the Grammy planners’ design: The house orchestra’s “hurry-up” music was merciless, hustling along Tony Bennett and Stevie Wonder while they accepted the show’s first award, and Mary J. Blige when she whipped out several index cards filled with names of people to thank.
In hindsight, we probably should’ve known things would play out this way from the start. The evening got under way with a much-anticipated performance by the reunited Police, making their first major public appearance in more than 20 years. And although their two-decade hiatus has been at times rather acrimonious, the trio simply introduced themselves, ripped through “Roxanne” and took a bow.
Well done, everyone. After all, why talk when you can sing, dance or quote “The Simpsons”? Actions speak louder, anyway.