The 51st Annual Grammy Awards: Wake me when they’re over

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“Music’s biggest night,” Grammy producers called the 51st annual awards show. That claim can be debated, but one thing was sure during the live telecast Sunday from the Staples Center in Los Angeles: It certainly felt like the longest.

In the key categories, it was a great night for British artists. Multiple winners included Led Zeppelin’s golden god Robert Plant, who won album of the year, best country collaboration with vocals, best contemporary folk/Americana album and record of the year for his staid and sleepy pairing with bluegrass artist Alison Krauss, “Raising Sand.”

U.K. mood rockers Coldplay claimed best rock album for “Viva La Vida” and song of the year and best pop performance by a group with vocals for the title track — even though it’s become the center of a controversy since virtuosic shredder Joe Satriani sued the group for allegedly ripping off his instrumental “If I Could Fly.”

And in the best new artist category, young British soul singer Adele Adkins beat teen-pop heartthrobs the Jonas Brothers. In claiming the prize, she instantly made several million young female enemies on these shores.

One of the night’s most emotional moments came early on when the award for best R&B album went to the self-titled debut by Chicago native Jennifer Hudson, who can now place the golden Gramophone next to the best supporting actress Oscar that she won for “Dreamgirls.”

“I would like to thank God, who has brought me through. I would like to thank my family in heaven and those who are here today,” Hudson said, choking up during her first public comments since the murder of her brother, mother and nephew in October.

Later, Hudson performed “You Pulled Me Through” with backing from a gospel choir. In contrast to the Super Bowl, where she, Faith Hill and Bruce Springsteen pantomimed to pre-recorded tracks, the Grammy performances seemed to be live.

The best evidence for this was a generally dismal sound mix, most notable during Katy Perry’s campy romp through “I Kissed a Girl” and U2’s glossy opening with “Get Your Boots On (Sexy Boots),” the bland and tuneless single from its new album due in March.

Then, too, there was the fact that the scheduled performances by R&B star Chris Brown and his girlfriend Rihanna both were cancelled at the last minute. Shortly before the show began, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that Brown is the subject of a felony domestic violence battery investigation for attacking an unidentified woman.

Chicago’s winners

Most of the local Chicago nominees already knew the results in their Grammy categories before the start of the show, since the bulk of the awards were handed out before the cameras came on.

In the producer of the year category, Rick Rubin (Metallica, Neil Diamond, Weezer) defeated Chicagoan John “Johnny K” Karkazis, who was nominated for his work with the Plain White T’s, Staind and 3 Doors Down.

Hometown rapper Lupe Fiasco lost three prizes to Lil Wayne: best rap solo performance (“A Milli”), best rap song (“Lollipop”) and best rap album (“Tha Carter III”). It was probably less painful to lose best rap/sung performance, however, since that one was claimed by Lupe’s mentor Kanye West for his collaboration with Estelle, “American Boy.”

Locals fared better in the classical categories. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra won best engineering, classical, for “Traditions and Transformations: Sounds of Silk Road Chicago” and best orchestral performance for “Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4” conducted by Bernard Haitink, and the Pacifica Quartet took best chamber music performance for “Carter, Elliott: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 5.”

The performances

As for the performances, the producers continued to follow the ill-advised cross-genre/cross-generational programming that has dominated the last several telecasts. These may sound like intriguing ideas on paper, but in practice, they’re never as satisfying as hearing the individual artists performing on their own.

Justin Timberlake, Boyz II Men and Keith Urban only distracted from the great Al Green, and the same was true of the Jonas Brothers jamming with Stevie Wonder and Lil Wayne and Robin Thicke joining Allen Toussaint.

Country star Taylor Swift joined pop goddess Miley Cyrus for a stint as an acoustic folk duo, a genre that suited neither. And superstar rapper Jay-Z added nothing to Coldplay’s “Lost.” (Now if the producers had paired Coldplay with Satriani, that might have been entertaining.)

Worst of all was the attempt to remake the infamous Rat Pack as “the Rap Pack.” But superstar rappers Kanye West, Lil Wayne, T.I., Jay-Z and a very pregnant M.I.A. succeeded only in stepping on each other’s toes during an awkward medley that was a far cry from the smooth, boozy interplay of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and the gang (though this segment was broadcast in very ’60s-Vegas black and white).

The best performances came from Paul McCartney–though “I Saw Her Standing There” was even older than guest drummer Dave Grohl–and Radiohead, who were augmented by a drum corps.

The British art-rockers claimed best alternative album and an award for packaging for “In Rainbows,” although they lost out on the top prize of album of the year to the predictable choice of Plant and Krauss.

This was no surprise, since the initial set-your-own-price digital release and the inventive music both were radical enough to cause heart attacks among the notoriously conservative Grammy voters, who once again proved that they are sorely out of step with the times.

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