Rock Me Shameless

Another ridiculous, wonderful night at the Grammys.

Jamie Foxx and Kanye West

Snares, sousaphones, epaulets—the most dynamic moment of last night’s 48th Annual Grammy Awards (CBS) found Kanye West and Jamie Foxx, West’s co-conspirator on the single “Gold Digger,” taking the rumble and blare of that hit as an excuse to march compact bands onto the stage of the Staples Center. The two played dueling drum majors and competed to see who was more virtuosic in pumping up the crowd, who could wear his silly hat with greater style. The number ended with a pyrotechnic display that seemed to salute the fact that West had changed into a comically fabulous lavender suit. The show’s director then called up a crowd shot of James Taylor, whose only apparent link to West is that both are preppies. Was this an error? A joke? Does it matter? The broadcast earned its vibrancy from such frisky juxtapositions. There were no politics—unless you count Bruce Springsteen heaving a “Bring ‘em home” at the end of his “Devils & Dust.” And there was no grist for scandal—unless you count Teri Hatcher wearing a dress so ugly that it could be the basis for a “yo mama” joke.

The show began with the interface of two 3-D cartoons: A hologram depicting the Gorillaz, an animated act masterminded by Blur’s Damon Albarn, made way for an instantiation of Madonna, an animated act masterminded by Detroit’s Madonna Ciccone. Madge, athletically lewd, prowled around in one of the leotards she favors these days, a purplish number tricked out with a sparkly corset. She set a promisingly shameless tone.

Stevie Wonder, a presenter, picked up on the vibe. “Doesn’t she look beautiful?” Wonder asked about Alicia Keys, who shared the stage with him. He lifted his wraparound shades and craned his neck as if he could ogle her. He must have used this joke before. Are people too sensitive to tell him it’s corny? Wonder and Keys gave the award for best female vocal performance to Kelly Clarkson, the first pop star minted on Fox’s American Idol to score a Grammy. She was the Reese Witherspoon of the night—natty, blondish, and short.

Bono is always up for some shamelessness. In one acceptance speech, pontificating semicoherently and unconvincingly from behind his wraparound shades, he proceeded from the idea that rock ’n’ roll was like the circus and that some days you find yourself picking up elephant dung. When did U2, the night’s big winner, last undertake any symbolic cleaning duties? True, Mary J. Blige’s rendition of their “One” had just left the original in its dust—she’d done the song before but last night fully revamped it as a soul aria—but that’s another thing.

After one of his bubbly piano bits, Sir Paul McCartney said, “I want to rock a bit. I want to rock now a bit.” I had never realized that he is kind of a dork. His “Helter Skelter” was nonetheless chilling, its throb all the more sinister for the smile he wore as he toyed with it. Next performer: Mariah Carey, practically demure with her long skirt and her gospel choir. As foretold by rock pundits and scripted by the Grimm Brothers, the show was supposed to be the icing on Carey’s comeback from her “exhaustion” and poor SoundScan numbers of 2001. She won only three R&B trophies, so it was not quite a triumph, but the woman wafting melisma into a microphone was charming enough to bounce the show along.

The most hyped moment regarded the possible emergence of funk pioneer Sly Stone from wherever it is that he dwells. At the climax of a cluttered medley sung by a subpar supergroup, Stone showed up looking the very model of a postmodern major genius/recluse—a blond mohawk like a vast coxcomb, a silvery jacket like a 24th-century lab coat, sparkly belt, wraparound shades. This is how Gravity’s Rainbow cultists want Thomas Pynchon to look. Stone hunched onto the stage, hovered indifferently over a keyboard for a while, and before the number was over, he had simply slouched away.