The music business is an outright disaster. While it’s never been a place where talent, craft, and excellence coincide with the purchases and popularity of the very fickle general public – it has been a business where the goal was crystal clear – sell a ton a record. Selling records earned an artist’s respect and lots of money.
That game isn’t played anymore, as billions of songs are illegally downloaded worldwide without guilt or consequence. The artist who toiled to make them gets a big fat nothin’. Despite all the great press for iPods and the iTunes store that provides music, downloading songs has thrown a monkey wrench into the ethically flimsy music business. The clunk clunk you heard was the sounds of record executives packin’ as the industry whittled down to a few conglomerates that seemed wholly baffled on how to handle the issue of piracy.
What has happened in the live act has become the focus. Artists like Madonna, U2, the Eagles, Celine Dion, Elton John, Miley Cyrus, and the Jonas Brothers (and others) make more from concerts than from music sales. This has placed a premium on showmanship. Artists and Bands today are more KISS than Fleetwood Mac.
Elaborate shows, with moving stages, video screens, and costume changes, are the norm for any major artist on the road today. Anyone breaking in needs to stand out, and according to Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Lady Gaga is the perfect model for today’s music business (reported here).
Fitting, she would open the most entertaining Grammy Awards program as far as I can remember. An eclectic parade of performers showed up at Los Angeles Stapes Center, mainly at the top of their game. While the Grammy Awards have taken a backseat to the edgier MTV Music Awards, the earlier-in-the-year American Music Awards in the performance department, this year, they got it all right.
Everyone still needs a lesson in preparing effective acceptance speeches, but who cares about the awards or speeches anyway. Last year the Album of the Year went to Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. The year before Herbie Hancock. Are you kidding me?
Gaga sang with crowd-pleasing Elton John and most likely didn’t win herself any new fans. Taylor Swift sang with Stevie Nicks, which, if your voice is a little thin like Swift is – is not a good idea to sing with rocks most excellent female voice. Stevie sounded great. Lil Wayne sang with Eminem and Drake and was bleeped out for what seemed like half of their exuberant performance. F that, and F them! Pants on the Ground!
There was also an odd tribute to Michael Jackson – in 3D no less – with Celine Dion, Usher, Jennifer Hudson, Smokey Robinson, and Carrie Underwood singing “Unforgettable” style with the late pop icon. That was weird, but all those singers sounded great. Underwood expressed especially strongly voiced. Finally, not that anyone cared, but Jeff Beck’s tribute to Les Paul was a work of guitar art – he is a master without peers.
There were also some clunkers. I think Jamie Foxx should stick to films because, despite T-Pain and his omnipresent auto tone and Slash on guitar, their number didn’t match the level of the other performances. Pink should either sing or become part of Cirque du Soleil – doing both wasn’t working for me despite Keith Urban calling it “amazing.” As for Bon Jovi, if I hear that freaking talk box from Livin on a Prayer one more time…ahhh! And Green Day on Broadway? I think I’ll pass. I’d rather see Mama Mia. DMB with a choir? OK, if you are a Dave Mathews Band fan, you are so delighted he’s there performing you go with anything he does.
The night, however, belonged to Beyonce. Her performance of If I was a Boy (mashed up with Alanis Morrisette’s You Ought to Know) was simply mesmerizing. Look it up on YouTube. It showed what can be done when it all comes together for an artist with talent in what may be her prime in the best Michael Jackson over-the-top way. She was beautiful, exuding confidence, and in a fine voice.
There was no lip-syncing all night, as far as I could tell. That was refreshing.
Having a host might have been better than dealing with the blatant “would you like fries with that…” suggestive selling that was going on all night with the various presenters. When introducing the Michael Jackson number, Lionel Ritchie said, “This is It, which by the way, is now out on DVD!” Wouldn’t you know the next commercial break was for Michael Jackson’s This is It! I didn’t see that coming!
When you think of music, you think of Chris O’Donnell and Simon Baker, don’t you? After all, they are both stars of CBS shows! Come on, CBS, it’s OK to cross-promote, but having these stooges introducing music acts seemed a little excessive.
One final jab to Stephen Colbert, who did the closest thing to a monologue cracking jokes insulting, Ricky Gervais style, how silly the whole affair is with celebrities congratulating other celebrities, only to do precisely that when he won his award.