Washington Post Music Critic and Click Track blogger
Monday, February 1, 2010; 9:00 AM
Washington Post music critic and Click Track blogger Chris Richards chatted about the 2010 Grammy Awards show and the after parties on Monday, Feb. 1 at 9 a.m. ET.
Chris Richards: Good morning! Thanks for stopping by to chat about what felt like the most hot-n-cold Grammy awards in recent memory. I was at the Staples Center in Los Angeles last night to report on the 52nd annual awards in all of its coulda-been-greatness.
Yeah, I was hopeful. This year's pool of nominees was very young, signaling a shift for the Grammys -- and maybe even for the music industry itself. But if change was underway, it was going to be messy. Taylor Swift's album of the year victory was soured by a shoddy duet with Stevie Nicks that sent viewers into Twitter-spasms of disgust. Beyonce, on the other hand, enjoyed a record-setting night and delivered a great live performance to back it up. There were some big upsets, too: Kings of Leon taking record of the year and Zac Brown Band winning the best new artist category.
What did you think of last night's Grammys? Curious about this year's pre- and after-parties? I can speak to some of that, too. Let's jump in!
Washington, D.C.: When Taylor was singing, could you hear stray dogs howling outside?
Chris Richards: No, but there was a collective wince in the press room.
Taylor's performance looks like it's going to be the story of this year's Grammys. "How did this girl win album of the year if she sings like THAT?"
I thought "Fearless" was undoubtedly the best album nominated this year but it's tough to reconcile the difference between Taylor-the-incredibly-gifted-songwriter and Taylor-the-singer-who-consistently-chokes-during-televised-performances.
I don't think last night could have gone any better/worse for her.
New York, NY: Ok, this is a technical question. What is the difference between Album of the Year and Record of the Year? Obviously, Song of the Year means just that, but I thought a record and an album were the same.
Chris Richards: Good question and one that confuses fans year after year. It's an industry jargon issue, really.
Record of the year is actually an award for best SONG with the focus on the entire team that made it. In my handy official Grammy nominations list from last night, record of the year is defined as "Award to the Artist and to the Producer(s), Recording Engineer(s) and/or Mixer(s), if other than the artist.
That would explain all those other dudes on stage when Kings of Leon accepted the award for "Use Somebody" (a song, not an album).
And while we're on it, song of the year is a songwriter's award.
Washington, D.C.: So what goes on after the show? Is everybody friends like at the Oscars? Hard to see Lady Gaga hanging out with Dave Matthews.
Chris Richards: I haven't been in Los Angeles for the Oscars, but I think this is far less insane.
Which is no slight to the Kings of Leon afterparty. It was held at this sort-of-burlesque club on Santa Monica Blvd and had a strange guest-list to match: dudes from "Entourage," Andy Samberg, some of the guys from Bon Jovi, best new artist nominees Silversun Pickups and lots of beautiful L.A.-rock types. Despite the environs, it was pretty low key with the band milling around and chatting with everyone.
I didn't make it to the Maxwell party on Sunset but heard it was fun.
Taylor Swift's publicist told me she didn't have an afterparty -- the singer was on a plane mere hours after the ceremony.
I don't know...: ...I just don't get the Beyonce thing...maybe it's marketing...I just don't see the talent...she sings okay, but why she's so huge right now is beyond me...at least Lady Gaga or Madonna and the like had ideas and/or took some creative risks...Beyonce just looks pretty...what am I missing?
Chris Richards: I think Beyonce is certainly one of the defining artists of our era, but the music she was celebrated for last night isn't her best. Check out her debut album "Dangerously in Love" if you're looking for a good starting point.
Thankfully, she backed up all of those trophies with a great performance last night. I was really into the Alanis cover. It seemed like a move from the Prince playbook. Remember when the purple guy performed that Foo Fighters song at the Super Bowl like it was his song? Beyonce pulled the same move last night.
Oh, Taylor: How pitch-correction software loves you so. That was awful.
Chris Richards: Taylor-backlash is officially underway.
Funny that Swift doesn't use pitch correction while she performs and her fans see this as an emblem of authenticity. I wonder if last night's performance is going to change that.
Northern Virginia: Oh, the combos and duets. Gaga and Elton came off as real pros with strong voices that played off each other well; despite the glam details, it was just as good with my eyes closed as open. Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles were of course completely satisfying. But Taylor Swift and Stevie Nicks were a trainwreck in slow motion, like a flyweight boxing a heavyweight--sad to watch and hear, crushing a nice, light pop singer by putting her up against a talent for the ages. Once this became clear in rehearsals, why couldn't they switch people around to avoid the disaster? Is this it for Taylor? Or does she just have to appear in public and joke about it?
Chris Richards: Yes, the excessive dueting is something I'll never understand. Does anyone enjoy it? I agree that Gaga/Elton was fun and Maxwell/Robert Flack was enjoyable. But does anyone tune in to the Grammys waiting to see their favorite new artist sing along with their parents' favorite old artist?
As for "is this it for Taylor?" No way. This is just the beginning!
Rap performance: Why bring rappers onto the show if you're going to bleep half their performance? Did the bookers and producers think Weezy and Eminem would be profanity-free during that song? Idiots.
Chris Richards: After that performance my editor messaged me: "What was THAT?" In the press room, my feed was un-bleeped, so I missed out on the "remix," so to speak.
I thought it was a pretty bad way to introduce Drake to a bigger audience. This guy is being touted as rap music's savior-du-jour and we didn't get to hear why. (Unless you were with me in the press room.)
Taylor Swift cannot sing: She has proven this time (SNL) and time (Haiti telethon) and time (Grammy announcement show) again. Yet she's promoted as one of music's biggest stars? No wonder the music industry is in FAIL mode.
Chris Richards: I'm going to post all of these comments. We need to get the anger out, people.
Neverland: How much did Michael Jackson's estate pay for that 3D commercial for his DVD? And who put together that bizarre group of singers to do his song? Celine Dion and Carrie Underwood are the last two singers on Earth that come to mind when you say Michael Jackson. OK maybe Taylor Swift too, but I guess staying reasonably in tune was a requirement to sing with that ad hoc group.
Chris Richards: Lionel's incredibly clumsy plug of the "This Is It" DVD earned a full guffaw from the folks in the press room. And while we all know how much MJ loved his 3-D glasses, I thought this tribute was really unfitting.
Kings of Leon: Most boring big band in rock and roll, or are they saved by Coldplay in that category? At least Coldplay does big, fat hooks and anthemic sweep. I vote Kings of Leon then.
Chris Richards: I would strongly disagree here. I don't think Kings of Leon are changing the world, but they do inject some much-needed sex-appeal into mainstream rock. Coldplay (and the slew of post-U2 acts that surround them) have always struck me as sexless and dull.
Weird pairings: The weirdest was Placido and Mos Def handing out an award. Also, did Mos Def just come in from a varsity football banquet or something? What was with that outfit?
Chris Richards: I loved that outfit! Mos wore some really snappy suspenders to the Roots party on Saturday night. Best dressed guy in the room. Take that, Nick Jonas!
Pink's performance: So, Chris, are we sure Pink was singing live? Seems hard to believe she could sing while twirling in the air, soaking wet.
Chris Richards: She came through the press room to say that, yes, she does sing live up there. I believe her.
Re: Taylor Swift: Was there anybody there representing Taylor Swift offering a "spin" (which is a really clever music industry pun, if you're, like, over 40) on her performance, like they do at the presidential debates, when one of the candidates forgets how many states there are? At some point, doesn't a string of bad live performances (and she's putting together a string of them) start to hurt her?
Chris Richards: I haven't seen any post-show spin yet, but I haven't been online much. I was out at the afterparties and just woke up after 90 minutes of sleep to chat with you guys.
Like I said before, Taylor split town mere hours after the big win. Very telling.
Anyone noticing any online spin from Taylor's camp? Or from the country music world in general?
Kanye: The reaction shots of him in the crowd during Taylor's performance would have been amazing. Was he really nowhere to be found all weekend?
Chris Richards: No word on where Kanye was this weekend. While it would have made for some great television (and some great morning-after online chatting), I think it was smart of him to avoid the event. Personally, I'm still surprised "808s & Heartbreak" wasn't nominated for album of the year.
Annapolis, Maryland: So what do you think of the Zac Brown Band?
Chris Richards: I don't think he's the best new artist in music, that's for sure. I thought Keri Hilson had that one locked up.
But I do think that Zac Brown walks away from last night's show as the biggest winner. He was an underdog/unknown who surprised everyone and then had the opportunity to step onstage and show the audience what he and his band are all about.
I saw Brown give a quick solo performance at a BMI-sponsored songwriters seminar on Saturday. I thought it was... fine.
Leonard Cohen award: They sure take good care of their legends, don't they? Here's your award; you'll get a 30-second video w scripted chatter. And you can't come onstage. Thanks for playing. Buh bye now. Surely I am not alone in wishing he would have performed on the show?
Chris Richards: Considering the excessive covers of "Hallelujah" that have sprung up in recent years, the Grammys could have assembled one heckuva singalong, no?
Reston, VA: My take on last night's show: Most of the performers were mostly concerned with putting on a spectacle befitting their stature: Gaga kept on bringing the whack, Pink kept on being unusual and Beyonce kept pushing for Queen of All Divas status. But nobody seemed prepared to bring the first thing you're supposed to have when you're a musical performer: a song, a real song. It's the missing element of modern pop music: a steady stream of good, memorable songs.
Ironically enough, the one performer who gave a performance based on the song was probably Taylor Swift. Errr, maybe next time, she can borrow Pink's trapeze.
Chris Richards: I would disagree on Gaga. I think "Poker Face" is a great tune and it kicked off what I hoped would be a wonderful show. But yeah, why didn't Beyonce play "Single Ladies?" Like I said earlier, I loved the Alanis cover, but "If I Were A Boy" is far from her finest hour.
The coolest: Leon Russell. How can you not love that guy? He looks like a lawn gnome and plays like a beast. At some point, though he had to wonder what he was doing onstage with Jimmy Buffett's furry nephew or Jason Mraz's beanie-wearing cousin or whoever the hell Zac Brown is.
Chris Richards: This was another cool duet that I failed to mention earlier. But I still didn't think Mr. Brown's performance was anywhere near as compelling as Gaga's and/or Maxwell's. The previous chatter is right: It's about having a great song.
Simply the best: Maxwell's performance was amazing. Wish he'd received more awards recognition for the best album of 2009. But at least they invited him. Interesting to see them pair him with Roberta Flack. It's really too bad Tammi Terrell wasn't around anymore. That would have been the perfect old/new pairing.
Chris Richards: Agreed. He definitely should have been nominated for album of the year.
When Maxwell came through the press room I asked him about his duet with Roberta Flack and if they had a chance to chop it up about Howard University before the show.(Flack went to Howard, Maxwell paid his early career dues performing there.)
Alas, they didn't. But Maxwell did say that Flack's voice is "a national monument." Oblique D.C. reference? I'll take what I can get.
Lady Gaga: Still a presence 10 years from now or the subject of People Mag's "Where are they now?"
Chris Richards: Great question and so very hard to tell after last night. Gaga picked up a couple of Grammys dedicated to dance music, but was shut out in all the major categories. This could be a blessing or a curse. It's so hard to tell if she's the new Madonna or just the new Cyndi Lauper.
Burke, Va.: Really? Zac Brown Band was fine?
Sorry, it's the very height of pandering -- even for country music -- to lead into your song with "America The Beautiful." That's a decent bar band; that's all they are. Somewhere, Lee "God Bless The USA" Greenwood was cackling, "That's how I saved 'MY' career, boys!"
Chris Richards: My "fine" was referring to a performance I had seen on Saturday. But yes. I'm skeptical.
Nashville, Tenn.: Why does the country industry continue to claim Taylor as one of its own? If she's country, then Jamie Foxx is opera. Oh, wait....
Chris Richards: I wonder if Nashville will circle the proverbial wagons around Swift as this backlash heats up. She zipped through the press room after last night's show and only answered three questions, all of which centered around her straddling the divide between country and pop music.
She said she was incredibly honored by country's embrace, but is excited about her music bleeding into the bigger pop-pool.
It'll be interesting to see who claims her as their own after last night.
Country's reaction: CMT doesn't acknowledge just how bad she was on its Grammys blog post, but commenters are getting into it:
"When will Nashville start talking about the elephant in the room? - The fact that Taylor Swift can't sing on key?"
"Taylor BOMBED again like she ALWAYS does in live performances. She was so off key that I was laughing myself off the couch. I America really that tone deaf?"
"Daddy's money can buy you fame not talent. If Taylor had auditioned for American Idol, she would have been embarrassed by the judges."
Grammys Give Some Love to Nashville's Music (CMT, Feb. 1)
Chris Richards: That doesn't look like wagon-circling.
I also don't get Beyonce: She's clearly enormously talented but you can practically smell the ambition and ego coming through the screen. The best stars in the past also had massive egos but they always held back just a little bit and covered it up some.
Every time I've seen her perform, she goes for massive impact, with dozens of backup performers and lights and costumes and choreography and huge, wailing vocals. Always too much, IMHO. She needs to learn a little control to get it right.
Chris Richards: Really? Beyonce has never struck me as the super-egomaniacal type. What would be the point of her reigning it in? And isn't that what she did on "Halo," the song she won a Grammy for last night?
Maxwell and D.C.: He ought to just move here. Nobody treats him better than we do.
Chris Richards: Washington does treat him quite well. When I wrote a feature on Maxwell last fall, Nielsen SoundScan told me that something like 1-in-13 copies of "BlackSummers'Night" were sold in D.C. That's crazy. And his gig at the Verizon Center was his biggest on that tour.
So Maxwell, why didn't you thank Washington D.C. from the pre-telecast podium?
Taylor's constituency: All those Idol singers who have been insulted by Simon over the years for sounding awful -- they definitely have Taylor's back today.
Chris Richards: I think post-Idol America is really going to let this girl have it. After watching Cowell and company dissect vocal performances for so many years, it's a tough time to be Taylor Swift.
What is being lost here: Taylor Swift writes some amazing pop songs that speak directly to young women.
Chris Richards: This is a very important point. As I said earlier, "Fearless" deserved to win album of the year. I just hope this recognition helps Swift step her game up. She has no choice, really.
Queen B's reign: Look up her performance of Halo on the Haiti benefit. There's your control and reigning-it-in, right there. She was amazing.
Chris Richards: Beyonce fans speak.
Albany, N.Y.: If you're going to have Rock God Slash come out and tear it up, why drown him out with all that other garbage? It was an interesting performance to say the least, but Slash's talents were wasted on it.
Chris Richards: I thought that performance was just awful. Too much trans-generational, genre-crossing slop onstage at the Grammys. Blame it on the alcohol.
Raleigh, N.C.: So far this discussion is mostly about the actual awards show. What about the after parties? Any good dish?
Chris Richards: My favorite, most-surreal moment at last night's Kings of Leon afterparty: Comedian Andy Samberg uncomfortably sipping his drink while a scantily-clad dancer climbed around this suspended net over his head. "Eyes Wide Shut" meets "Lazer Cats."
Best Rap/Song Collaboration: Who was the kid with Jay-Z and Rihanna?
Chris Richards: I heard it was Jay's nephew, daughter of Solange. Not confirmed, though.
Lonely Island was robbed: That is all.
Chris Richards: Or maybe I just caught Samberg at a tender moment, contemplating failure.
Chris Richards: Sadly, our time is up. I'm going to try to add to the 90 minutes of sleep I enjoyed last night. Where will Taylor Swift's career be when I wake up?
I want to thank you all for chatting with me. I'd also like to thank my producer, my lawyer, my mom, God, and all the vegan restaurants in the greater Los Angeles area.
And please follow me on twitter.com/Chris _ _ Richards. Mind the double underscore. Thanks!
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