I’ve always hated awards shows and all they represent: the elevation of fame over talent, style over substance, youth over truth, and excess over excellence.
They are the annual rituals in the cult of celebrity, where the overpaid and overprimped blow each other kisses while putting on airs of humility — oxymoron intended.
But the rest of the family was watching the Grammys, so I decided to join in.
And I promised to keep my mouth shut.
Everything that’s wrong with America is on display at the Grammy awards — the cultural equivalent of a junk food pizza the size of Manhattan.
Since 1955, pop music has been all about teenagers, and its centrality in our culture has meant a derogation of age and wisdom and an obsession with sex, fashion, and rebellion (sans cause).
Last year it was Mick Jagger, the archetype of the teen who never grows up. Pushing 70, he strutted and fretted his five minutes on the stage with all the narcissism of a homecoming king.
“Sir” Paul and the remaining Beach Boys — this year’s aging geniuses, who both hit their peak in 1965 — did little more than conjure memories of missing members. Sorry, Paul, all the fiddle players in the world couldn’t save that silly love song.
As usual, they trot out some token oldies from the pre-teenage era: Betty White, whose legend is out of proportion to her achievements, but who has recharged her star power by pandering to the crass sensibilities of stupid youth, and Tony Bennett, whose presence alone should melt Jack Black like the Wicked Witch of the West.
The Grammys are a pile of empty candy wrappers, a cacophany of lights, colors, gowns and bling in honor of overcooked bubble gum that passes for art.
The stars are cartoon characters — the cowboys in their giant hats, the rappers in their baggy jerseys, the grunge rockers all grungy with their hair in their eyes, and the indies all indie with their highly polished lack of polish.
The rare understated moment shines through — like Bonnie Raitt and Alicia Keys singing Etta James while showing that some stars can still play an instrument.
The ghosts hovering over the ceremonies, the dozens of casualties of rock-and-roll’s destructive pretension — foremost Whitney Houston, who died the day before — are trying to tell us something: There’s an emptiness at the heart of rock and roll. All her friends can muster is “We love you, Whitney! Have fun in heaven!” If there was one truth-seeker in that warehouse of celebs, she’d have traded her gown and jewels for sackcloth and ashes.
And poor Katy Perry! Six number ones and boobs that shoot fireworks, yet she can’t score a hit on Adele. Blue hair and body armor are no match for a chubby Brit in a black dress and a Great Clips hair-do.
While Katy was dangling four inches of cleavage in front of every papparazzo with a pulse and shaking her fanny like a desperate heifer, Adele took the year off to heal her vocal chords — a national treasure worth more than the Queen’s diamonds.
There she stood, a real human being rather than a creature from a video game, singing of emotions rather than urges, and bringing the house down with mature talent, grown-up songs, and timeless class.
Black and white, male and female, young and old can hear the truth when it rolls from the depths of human emotion and experience.
It’s a hopeful sign that an industry dominated by flash and vice can’t help but get it right once in a while.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.