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Party Girl's Night In

Amy Winehouse and Kanye West won big but Herbie Hancock took home album of the year honors at the 50th Grammy Awards Sunday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

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By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 11, 2008


Go ahead and say it: Amy Winehouse cleaned up.

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The results are in, and the Recording Academy's official take on Winehouse is this: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

The exceptional if exceptionally troubled British soulstress with the whiskey-soaked oeuvre dominated Sunday's Grammy Awards, winning record of the year, song of the year (a writing award) and best female pop vocal performance for her defiant, autobiographical single, "Rehab." Winehouse also won best new artist, and "Back to Black" was named best pop vocal album.

She was denied a clean sweep when jazz pianist Herbie Hancock was the surprise winner of the industry's highest honor -- album of the year -- for his Joni Mitchell tribute, "River: The Joni Letters."

Winehouse seemed to be stunned by the recognition, looking very much like a mascara-wearing deer in the headlights -- one with an eight-point bouffant -- when "Rehab" was announced as record of the year. She fell into the embrace of her band and put her arm around her mother as she summoned a few words of gratitude -- along with a shout-out to her jailed husband, Blake Fielder-Civil.

But Winehouse -- whose alcohol and drug problems have gone from source material to potential career-killers -- wasn't at the Staples Center soiree for any of this. On the eve of the golden-anniversary Grammyfest, the 24-year-old singer's trip was derailed by visa problems, so instead she was beamed in via satellite from London, where she entered a drug rehabilitation center in January after a video of her allegedly smoking crack appeared online.

Winehouse appeared lucid, engaged and animated, if a little bit jittery during what is certain to be the most dissected and psychoanalyzed awards show performance until Britney Spears attempts a comeback. Winehouse was in pretty fine voice, too. "You know I'm no good," she sang. And then: "They tried to make me go to rehab/I said, No, no, no."

Once again, the Recording Academy said no to rapper Kanye West, who had received his third album-of-the-year nomination in four years, this time for "Graduation." West is now 0 for 3. Fits are sure to follow, even if the famously petulant artist did win four other awards on Sunday.

"There are no losers in this category -- Kanye ," R&B singer Usher said before co-presenter Quincy Jones announced Hancock's name. (Immediate reaction by the news media in the interview room: a collective gasp, followed by some derisive howls. And then: furious typing about how the Recording Academy is horribly out of step with popular music, that the Grammys are more irrelevant than ever, etc.)

The relevancy question was posed to academy chief Neil Portnow, who predictably defended the album-of-the-year pick: "I don't think Herbie Hancock is irrelevant," he said. "It's all about excellence in music, and our members felt that Herbie's album was one that deserved recognition. . . . Herbie Hancock is a renaissance artist and very deserving."

"It's immeasurable how surprised I am," Hancock himself said.

Somebody asked about morning-after analysts who might opine that "River" marked a conservative pick by the academy.

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