Last night I watched the 2010 Grammy Awards. I know they were on Sunday, but I knew the show would run past my bedtime, so I recorded them. I figured instead of trying to compete to be one of the first blogs to discuss the awards show, which would have been impossible anyway, I would instead be writing fully informed by not only having watched the show, but also having had a full day of reflecting on other people’s opinions.
And there are loads of things I could address here. For instance, I thought Colbert was good, but I was bummed that he won best comedy album instead of Spinal Tap or Kathy Griffin. I found the performance from Green Day with the cast of the upcoming musical “American Idiot”, based on Green Day’s “American Idiot” album, fantastic. However, despite the addition of Sir Elton John, I found Lady Gaga’s performance at the opening of the show pretty average. Not being familiar with Beyonce’s live performances, I was impressed with the sheer abundance of feminine rage that she channeled. And let’s face it, Pink performing like a professional member of Cirque du Soleil while singing live is an act that I’m sure no one wanted to follow.
As you can see, there are loads to discuss without even touching on the fashion of the evening, which I will leave to the capable ladies at Go Fug Yourself, or the potential greater symbolism to be found at the event, which I’m sure The Vigilant Citizen will address at some point.
However, there was one theme to the event that no one seems to have commented on, and that was really driven home by one particular performance.
The song “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, written by Paul Simon and performed originally by the duo Simon and Garfunkel, is now 40 years-old. It has been covered by dozens of artists, including: Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Annie Lenox, and many, many more. Sunday night at the Grammy Awards the song was performed by Mary J. Blige (sometimes referred to as the “Queen of Hip Hop Soul”), Andrea Bocelli (an Italian pop tenor), and David Foster (a Canadian musician, record producer, composer, singer, songwriter and arranger). Although it’s not unheard of for an operatic tenor to perform with a pop artist (I mean who hasn’t Luciano Pavarotti performed with?), this vocal pairing was quite striking.
I still remember in high school when I first I heard about Mary J. Blige. She was a hairdresser from Yonkers, NY who got lucky, and the world of R&B was never the same. Regardless how many powerful female vocalists have come after her, to me there is only one Mary J. Blige. How different her young life must have been compared to Bocelli. Diagnosed with glaucoma at an early age, the Italian lost his eyesight permanently at the age of twelve. Music, if media sources are to be believed, was the only thing that provided him comfort. Although I’ve never seen or heard it anywhere, I imagine that a young Blige, a high school drop out living in Yonkers, probably found solace in music as well. Somehow these two amazingly different people came together and for one moment in time blended their voices together. Bocelli’s booming classical tenor wrapped around the rough thunderous vocals of Blige, and vice versa. Neither performer held back from their personal style, and yet classical and R&B married sublimely. It was one of those moments that made me step back and think, look what we humans can do. Two absolutely different people, coming from totally different backgrounds, carrying all of their own preconceptions, baggage, and scars, met on the common ground of music and created something new.
It’s what I love about us humans, the passion we put into carving out our identity and individuality can sometimes, unbeknownst to us, become a passion for becoming part of a greater group. How else can you explain country cutie Carrie Underwood getting her R&B on while performing “Earth Song”? Or punk/pop/rock drummer Travis Barker taking the stage with Lil’ Wayne, Eminem, and Drake? Popular culture sets trends or reflects what is trending in our culture, and if the Grammy Awards performances that I saw are in fact to be believed, many musical barriers are being breached. More importantly, these performances are showing that despite bending, blending, or breaking genres, the results need not be a bland homogenous mess. That perhaps the Seal of the United States of America just might have it right, e pluribus unum, out of many, one.
You can purchase this song on iTunes with all proceeds going to the Red Cross’ ongoing earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.