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Pop music critic Chris Richards dissects the Grammys

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Chris Richards
Monday, February 14, 2011; 11:00 AM

Join Washington Post staff writer Chris Richards Monday at 11 a.m. as he discusses the snubs, surprises and sensational moments of the 2011 Grammy Awards ceremony.

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Chris Richards: G'morning! Washington Post pop music critic Chris Richards, here, wondering: "Did the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards really go down like that!?" Arcade Fire took home album of the year, Esperanza Spalding bested Justin Bieber for best new artist and Lady Antebellum took home song and record of the year for "Need You Now."I was at last night's ceremony and am looking forward to answering all of your questions. Let's do it!

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Springsteen: I guess "The Promise" was released too late to be considered at this year's Grammy Awards, but do you think the album will have a chance at next year's ceremony?

Chris Richards: Meantime, Arcade Fire sound a heckuva lot like Springsteen, don't they? The Boss's influence was in the building last night, for sure.

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Thoughts on Arcade Fire winning Album of the Year: I know you are not a fan. I was impressed to see an actual album (meant to be listened to start to finish) win. I also enjoyed the look of confusion on the faces of Lady Antebellum. Month of May is my least favorite song, but I thought Arcade Fire finally translated their energy to the TV screen. Now they need to spend a year with Bono learning how to translate it to an arena...

Chris Richards: True, I still think Arcade Fire's album of the year winner "The Suburbs" is a pretty boring album, but it was hard not to be excited by such an upset. And no one seemed more surprised about it than the band.As for Lady Antebellum's confusion, I'm not so sure. Backstage after the awards, they claimed to be huge Arcade Fire fans and seemed pretty humbled by the five Grammys they took home last night.

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egypt: Did anyone at the Grammy's even mention the triumphant Egyptian uprising? If so, who? If not, why the heck not?

Chris Richards: Muse did play their bloated neo-stadium-rock anthem "Uprising," but that doesn't count.

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Dancer Crash: Did anyone else see the dancer during Justin Beiber that flipped off the set and landed wrong, kind of on his back. He jumped up and put his arm around his back like OW! and then ran off. I wonder if he continued. He was on the left side on the screen.

Chris Richards: Yowch! I didn't see this. Bieber, however, came to the press room after the ceremony by leaping onto the back of Usher, who was already answering questions about the night's biggest upset: Esperanza Spalding winning best new artist.Lots of energy in Bieber's camp, it seems.

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live vs. sync: I've read that some lip-synching took place last night, but don't believe it to be so. What say you? Also, I thought this was one of the best Grammy shows in a long, long time.

Chris Richards: I didn't hear a lot of lip-syncing last night -- especially in the cases of Rihanna and Usher, who hit a few sour notes. To her credit, Ri-Ri was stricken with the flu this week, but Usher doesn't really have an excuse.I thought a lot of the understated performances sounded wonderful -- most of which happened to come from country artists. Lady Antebellum and Miranda Lambert both sang sweetly, and I thought the "Jolene" cover by Norah Jones, Keith Urban and John Mayer sounded quite nice.Wow. I can't believe I just gave the thumbs-up to a Jones-Urban-Mayer collabo! Last night was full of surprises.

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Gaga: Gaga = 45% Madonna, 45% Michael Jackson, 10% Marilyn Manson - only adding up to about 25% of the sum of the parts. Why isn't anyone calling her on this? The song she played last night sounded and looked like a cross between Express Yourself and Vogue. And I was almost sure the guys from Spinal Tap were going to emerge from the pod...

Chris Richards: Lots of chatters feeling anti-Gaga...

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washington DC: I'm no Gaga fan as I thought the egg complete with oxygen mask and tank was distracting and unnecessary but after that song dedicated to Whitney Houston, I felt sorry for artists like Katy Perry and Usher that came after her. She was best.

Chris Richards: ...and lots of chatters pro-Gaga. admire Lady G for her outlandishness.

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Esperanza: Wow it sure was nice after all the pyrotechnics and volume attacks and anger, to see a top award go to someone with talent who actually sings music instead of bombast. And to see Jagger really get things moving via his tribute to Solomon Burke because, face it, who in that audience knew who Solomon Burke even was, and what they may owe him? Sigh. Guess I'll pull out my scratchy old Neil Young records. Get off my lawn.

Chris Richards: I touched on this in my report in today's Washington Post. In today's popscape, a big persona is far more important than a big voice/big talent. That's why I was so surprised to see Spalding take home best new artist.

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Country Grammys: Was it me or did it feel like it was the Country Grammys? To say the least, I was disappointed. I thought Cee-lo, Janell Monae, and Eminem are extremely talented artists that put on excellent performances with actually meaningful albums. Lady Antebellum may be talented (and I have listened to their music), but I thought it was too much. What was it, Taylor Swift last year. This is why some artists sell out and go for the money-- no respect.

Chris Richards: Yes, it was a very country-centric Grammys this year. Much of that has to do with Lady Antebellum walking away as the evening's biggest winner. But how was it too much? I thought they gave one of the most elegant, understated performances of the night.

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Justin Beiber and talent: Is it just me, or do you also think Justin Bieber has no talent? I want to know who votes on the Grammys and who decided who should be nominated?

Chris Richards: Justin Bieber has the goods, but I feel like his charisma evaporates as soon as he's forced to pantomime Usher's robot-dance moves. If the kid was just allowed to get up there and sing, he'd have an easier time convincing the skeptics (i.e. the world) of his talent.As for your second question, the Grammys are a peer-voted awards. Over 220,000 members of the recording academy vote each year on the nominees and the winners. To be a member, you must register as a musician, producer, engineer or some other music-makin' industry type.

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Is it just me, or...: wasn't Lady Gaga more talented twenty years ago when her name was Madonna? She is talented and all, but she is just sooooo much of a Madonna re-tread. Her "outrageousness" is getting boring real fast -- and her new single sounds just like Express Yourself and Vogue. Madonna should sue for royalities..

Chris Richards: Some additional thoughts from Camp Anti-Gaga.I was busy covering last night's pre-telecast ceremony. How did Gaga fare during her interview with Anderson Cooper on "60 Minutes" before the Grammys? Did you guys watch?

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Gwyneth Paltrow: With the abundance of great musicians that could have performed last night, why did we have to put up with Gwyneth Paltrow? I don't get it. She's an actress not a singer. Oy.

Chris Richards: I was doubtful of this duet from the moment it was announced, but I actually found Ms. Paltrow's performance incredibly charming.We've all sang our lungs out to that song -- which Grammy organizers referred to as "The Song Otherwise Known as Forget You" -- and I felt like Paltrow was there last night to stand in for all of us. We all wished we were her, right?

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Barbra: Mick blew me away ... but didn't Barbra seem a little tentative (if not downright shaky) at the start?

Chris Richards: Yes, I thought Babs sounded fine, but her turn really sapped the show's momentum. Her performance was there simply to keep an older demographic's eyeballs tuned into the program in its waning minutes.

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Awards Show without Awards: I thought the point of an awards show is to give out awards. Didn't see much of that last night. The performances were nice, but if I just wanted to hear the songs, I have infinite ways to do that. There was no performance that truly made me gasp. Lady Gaga was very bland and CeeLo was ok. Gwenyth Paltrow looked really uncomfortable in the jumpsuit, heels or both. I was most touched by Katy Perry's performance on the swing with images of her wedding playing behind her. I thought that made her very vulnerable and went with the vibe of the song. Hopefully in the future they'll start handing out awards and cut down on all the performances.

Chris Richards: Wrong! As I touched on in my recap in today's Post, the Grammys are more about the performances. They outnumbered the trophy presentations 16 to 10.I agree, there wasn't a lot of gasping last night, but there weren't any career-altering trainwrecks either. I thought Gaga, Dylan, Janelle Monae, Arcade Fire, Lady Antebellum and a few others turned in really strong performances.

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Best Performance of the night?: My pick goes to Janelle Monae, BOB, and Bruno Mars. Young, raw talent!

Chris Richards: Janelle Monae = I'm totally with you! Incredible singer.Bruno Mars = Pretty good performance, but missed his chance to wow the universe.B.O.B. = Only made me want to be Mr. Peanut for Halloween next year.

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Final Arcadefire song...: At the end of the show, was the second song by Arcadefire planned or did they simply pick up their instruments and play in lieu of a speech?

Chris Richards: Great question! It was one we were dying to ask in the press room, but Arcade Fire didn't speak with print journalists after the ceremony. Instead, they went to the photo room to have their picture taken -- and then they beat it.There was lots of grousing about this in the print media room, with critics having given the band such a boost and all.

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Arcade Fire: Do I now have to throw all my Arcade Fire away as they are now part of the establishment? I never expected that they would win. How did that happen. Also, best new artist - my family all agreed Esperanza would never win. When did they start voting based on talent?

Chris Richards: They may be on an indie label, but they are a mainstream rock band. I don't want to read any more shock and awe from the indieverse about this. Say it with me. Main-stream. New-U-2.They are Coldplay with more interesting haircuts.And last night, I was still really happy they won.

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Grammy's - Overall Feeling : Overall, how would you compare this year's Grammy Awards to past years?

Chris Richards: I have two (very loose) metrics for this: 1. How good were the performances? And 2. How "in-touch" were the winner's with popular taste?I thought last night's performances were very strong, mixing pomp (Gaga) and chops (Monae, Dylan and the Avetts, Lady A). So this year was above average.As for being in touch with the greater pop-universe, I feel like Spalding's win seemed a little strange. She's a talent, certainly, but I thought we'd see an upset from Drake, not her. By and large, I think that last night's surprise victories were as unpredictable as 21st century pop music itself.

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Lady Antebellum: Why use a reference to their slavery-era name? It has nothing to do with what this great band is all about.

Chris Richards: Because this was Lady A's "arrival moment" and a for many readers of the Washington Post, this was their first time hearing about them.When the band first emerged there was much talk about their name and I thought it was important to hit refresh on that discussion.

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I too saw the dancer crash: At least he was able to get up.

Chris Richards: I hope he's alright.

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Previously awarded awards: Is there any way to see the awards that were given out in the earlier ceremony? Or did you see them? I want to see Them Crooked Vultures win!

Chris Richards: The pre-telecast was streamed on the Grammy website, and I *think* you can watch it there today. Go check and let me know!As for the Vultures, they were not there to collect their award.

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Album of the Year: I'm so glad Arcade Fire won AOTY, as I was sure it would be Eminem, whose album I wasn't a big fan of. Interesting though that although they won the top prize, they actually lost their genre category (Best Alternative Album) to The Black Keys. What do you make of that?

Chris Richards: I agree. It looked like Arcade Fire were going to walk out of the Staples Center as the night's biggest losers.Perhaps they lost best alternative album to the Black Keys because they aren't really an alternative band anymore?

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ReRe: Aretha isn't dead! But why was Florence and the Machine in the tribute? Who canceled?

Chris Richards: I thought Florence Welch held her own in that tempest of gale force melisma. She was up for best new artist. All five nominees for that category performed this year.

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Jack Sparrow: Has Dolly Parton issued a statement yet about having Johnny Depp take part in the tribute? What the heck is going on with John Mayer? Did he fire his stylist?

Chris Richards: John Mayer - a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in strange facial hair. But wasn't that quick Dolly tribute great?

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Express Yourself?: I don't see why everyone thinks "Born This Way" sounds like "Express Yourself." I just listened to them both. Other than both being big and bold, I just don't hear it. Express Yourself has a brassy horns section, while Born This Way is all electronic and has a much faster tempo.

Chris Richards: Try doing them back to back at a karaoke bar and get back to me.

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Dylan: I know you are no fan of Bobby Z, but what did you make of his hootenanny? I thought it was great although I do not think that I could stand a full set of those Mumford guys.

Chris Richards: I am a fan of Zimmy! And this collaboration was the biggest surprise of the night. Dylan rarely plays well with others, but this one really came across well. And I think the Avetts made it pretty hard on Mumford & Sons. Avetts for the win.

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Eminem: Why is he so angry? Did somebody steal his new Chrysler?

Chris Richards: I was wondering if he's smile at the podium. Nope.

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Bleeping: How much actual cursing was there last night? I feel like every five minutes the network muted the sound for long stretches. It was maddening. Like CBS is a puritan parent and America is one big infant.

Chris Richards: Well, I did think that [censored] because [censored] And if that's what you want in an awards show, then [censored].

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Gaga and the Coop: I thought she came across quite well in the 60 Minutes piece. She considers herself more of a performance artist than anything else. I thought she was actually quite sane and seemed very likable.

Chris Richards: Pro-Gaga on "60 Minutes"

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Law firms: Remember when artists used to perform full versions of their own songs on the Grammys? I do. Why does just about every artist have to be teamed up with somebody else now -- like Mumford Avett and Dylan LLC?

Chris Richards: Hit on this in today's story: It's because as the music industry slowly falls apart, Grammy organizers want to project an image of genre-jumping, decade-leaping togetherness.For the most part, these pairings are disastrous. But I loved "Mumford, Avett and Dylan LLC."

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Dylan's Performance: Did you mean that or did you mean Mumford/Avette turned in a rousing Maggie's Farm ? You could barely hear him and that may have been a good thing. I thought it was the best version I've heard since Dylan'w early 70's performances with The Band.

Chris Richards: I loved this performance. Dylan sounded as rough as ever, but I still felt like the perfromance was plenty spirited. And to get that across on television really counts for something.

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Bieb's legions: I just read that some of Bieber's fans took to defacing Esparanza's wiki entry immediately after their hero lost! Those girls need some positive redirection or something.I find it a bit hard not to like him. It will be interesting to see how/if he matures and what his music ends up sounding like in 5 or 10 years. Or if he ends up in rehab somewhere when all of the teeny-bopper adulation dies out.

Chris Richards: Bieber was a very good sport backstage and congratulated Spalding on her win. He seemed so energized by the entire night, you'd hardly know that he just lost.As for Spalding, she was graceful too. She also had a great quip: "He has great hair, I have great hair."

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Teddy Pendergrass Tribute: I must say that I thought the "tribute" by Lady Antebellum was a poor choice. I thought their overall performance was pretty good but to announce that it was a tribute to Teddy Pendergrass was unnecessary. I am guessing that they wanted to sing that song, which is technically a Harold Melvins & the Blue Notes song, and the Grammy people were like "great we can say it is in tribute to Teddy Pendergrass." Not a good idea.

Chris Richards: I see where you're coming from. But before I had time to scratch my head, they had segued into their own tunes.

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Florence and the Gang: She was out of her league. Way out.

Chris Richards: Really? I thought she sounded pretty good! She's no Jennifer Hudson, but still.

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Arcade Fire: They dissed the writers? Who else refused to come to the press room? Did anything funny happen in there?

Chris Richards: Lady Antebellum came back and was pretty generous with their time. Spalding, too. And Bieber gets high marks for coming backstage to talk about the loss.And in what was one of the strangest moments of my night, Biebs also talked about rap- surrealist-slash-internet-sensation Lil B. "He's funny," Bieber said.

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jay-z: Where was he last night? Not in the crowd, even though he was up for a major award. (And Beyonce was there.)

Chris Richards: Yes, mysterious that Jay was not there to pick up the Grammys he won. Also nowhere to be seen: Kanye West.

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Usher/Bieber: That whole I'm-your-industry-daddy bit was creepy.Can you imagine Dr. Dre doing that with Eminem?

Chris Richards: Well, he kind of did! Did you listen to Dre's rap? It was about when he first met Eminem.The Grammys seem to be a good place to remind everyone of your creation myth.

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In Memoriam: Why was Guru of Gang Starr left out of the In Memoriam section last night?

Chris Richards: I didn't catch that. Did anyone see Guru in the rapid-fire slide show last night?

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Teddy Pendegrass "Tribute": Having a country band sing two lines of a Teddy Pendergrass song is hardly a tribute. Though they harmonize very nicely, did the powers that be really think Lady Antebellum was the best group to perform the Philly soul sound? It was really pitiful.

Chris Richards: You're smart to blame the powers here, I think.

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Aretha rankings: 1. Jennifer Hudson. 2. Yolanda Adams. 3. Christina. 4. Florence. 5. Martina McBride.Florence wasn't bad. She just wasn't as good as the best in that lineup. Aretha looked great for somebody who was supposed to be knocking on heaven's door.

Chris Richards: I think this ranking looks about right.

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Guys setting up Mikes: Was that supposed to be happening on camera ? Both the Avette Bros and Dylan suffered with it. And Dylan's mike didn't seem to be on at first; not that that wasn't a blessing.

Chris Richards: The microphone wrangling was definitely the WORST part of this otherwise great performance, yes.

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Grammys are so weird: They go and pick Esperanza Spaulding ahead of Bieber but chose Lady Antebellum over the far superior Jamey Johnson and Miranda Lambert. Can't they decide whether they want bland pop or real music ?

Chris Richards: Miranda Lambert had a pretty big night, taking home her first Grammy. Meantime, there is not a bigger Jamey Johnson fan on this Earth than the guy typing out these words. I would have loved to see him win one.

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Guru: He was definitely omitted from the reel. As Questlove said: Wait a minute, did they just dave mathews band Guru? In that tribute? Shame on you #grammys2011.

Chris Richards: That's horrible.

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Chris Richards: Thanks so much for the great questions this morning, gang.If you're still hankering for more post-Grammy coverage, check out Click Track, the Washington Post's pop music blog at www.washingtonpost.com/clicktrack.And if you like your pop news in 140-character nibbles, follow me on Twitter: @Chris _ _ Richards. That's two underscores. Thanks much!


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