At Hot Contest, Cool Beyoncé Is a Dynamo but Never a Diva
By BEN SISARIO
Published: February 1, 2010
LOS ANGELES — What’s good for Beyoncé is good for the Grammys.
Glamorous and pitch-perfect as ever, Beyoncé was the top winner on Sunday, her six prizes the most in one night for any woman in the awards’ 52-year history. And with help from her — and from Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and the recorded voice of Michael Jackson — the show drew its best ratings since 2004. According to preliminary numbers from CBS, it had 25.8 million viewers, a 35 percent boost from last year that affirms the appeal of pop glitz at a time of plummeting record sales.
In many ways the show belonged to powerful young women, from Lady Gaga’s high-concept opening duet with Elton John through Pink’s midair suspension on a strip of white silk to the nail-bitingly tight race at the end for album of the year, which pitted Beyoncé against both Lady Gaga and Ms. Swift.
Ms. Swift, 20 and gushingly enthusiastic, took that prize and three others, the culmination of a quick and undeflected rise to fame. But for Beyoncé, who at 28 has more than a decade of pop stardom under her belt, the wins embellished a role she has already long occupied as pop’s all-purpose, offend-no-one idol.
She has proved equally capable as red-carpet fashion plate (and regular magazine cover model), unabashed sex symbol, dependable hit generator, power wife and even balladeer at President Obama’s inaugural festivities a year ago. She does almost everything, it seems, except revel in the outspokenness and controversy that have aided the ascendancy of competitors like Lady Gaga, who won twice on Sunday but was shut out in the major categories.
“She was rewarded for her talent but also for being a no-drama kind of person,” said Farai Chideya, a radio host and the author of books on race, media and politics. “Ultimately the music industry bet on someone who had much more mainstream appeal and who was willing to take fewer risks.”
In place of risk-taking, Beyoncé has cultivated a career built on expert strategy, hard work and diversified self-promotion. She has been a spokeswoman — usually a dancing and singing one — in commercials for DirecTV, American Express, Wal-Mart and L’Oréal, among others. Her performance at the Grammys on Sunday was elaborately staged and typically athletic, a medley of her song “If I Were a Boy” and Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.”
Those showbiz values have also helped remake the Grammys over the last couple of years, as the Recording Academy, which bestows the awards, has placed greater emphasis on splashy performances and has marketed itself more aggressively than ever.
“As they say in the business, we booked the show very well, in terms of having some of the greatest artists on the planet,” Neil Portnow, the academy’s president, said of this year’s awards. “Others do that too. But we have been building momentum with the unique appearances, pairings, combinations that we do, and we also have a reputation that an artist who steps on the Grammy stage wants to do the performance of a lifetime.”
Mr. Portnow also said that efforts by the academy to recruit younger members and more women have resulted in a changed demographic for the 12,000 or so music professionals who vote in the awards. This year’s Grammys were notable for largely sticking to young, chart-dominating stars instead of older legends like Herbie Hancock, Robert Plant, Steely Dan or Ray Charles, who have often dominated.
Beyoncé has also worked hard to triumph in every media platform available to her. The video for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” — which won song of the year — was an omnipresent visual meme over the last year, echoed in endless fan-made tributes on YouTube. It was also the video that caused Kanye West to make his notoriously indecorous outburst at the expense of Ms. Swift at MTV’s Video Music Awards in September. (“One of the best videos of all time!” Mr. West exclaimed, stealing the microphone from Ms. Swift as she accepted best female video.)
Beyoncé’s grace at the MTV awards, where later in the night she ceded her own speech time to Ms. Swift, and at the Grammys on Sunday also highlighted her role as a far more experienced older sister to the generation of Ms. Swift and Lady Gaga (who is 23). While the two younger women’s careers are just getting started, and they might still suffer a setback or rookie gaffe — Ms. Swift has already been roundly mocked online for her off-key vocals with Stevie Nicks on Sunday night — Beyoncé remains the cool and collected pro.
Ms. Chideya likened Beyoncé to Michelle Obama. “She is that poised, beautiful black woman who is completely appropriate to what is not truly a post-racial era, but a multiracial era,” she said. “Controversy for the First Lady is wearing shorts. And Beyoncé can be that ambassador precisely because she won’t do certain things that Lady Gaga or Pink will do.”
Taylor Swift has been the music industry's golden girl ever since Kanye West jumped on the stage at the VMAs and interrupted her win for best female video. (And maybe even before.)
But will her incredible run atop of everyone's lists end soon? Last night at the Grammys, Swift took home the album of the year Grammy, surprisingly beating out Lady Gaga and Beyonce. And Swift's 'Fearless' really pales in comparison to Gaga's 'The Fame' and Beyonce's 'I Am ... Sasha Fierce.'
Swift prides herself as being a country princess who writes all of her songs and plays the instruments to accompany them. (Kudos for that is surely deserved.) But when her album beats out those more deserving, and her live performances are clearly lacking, we wonder what will happen next.
Since Kanyegate, everyone's been cheering her on. But will that end now that she's won awards she may or may not deserve?
Upon accepting album of the year, Swift didn't even thank the other nominees, as is standard in most speeches, she just rambled on about how much the award meant to her -- a move that could further condemn her in the industry's eyes.
It seems as if our readers have already turned on her. More than a few Facebook commenters were not happy about her triumphs..
"This is a sympathy-win for all the drama created by Kanye. I guess if there are any other struggling artists who want to win, they know who to call!" Stephenie N. wrote.
Adding to her undeserved bulging trophy case is the fact that Swift has yet to wow us with her live performances. She seemed terribly nervous and her voice wobbly at the Grammys when she sang with Stevie Nicks on 'Rhiannon' and 'You Belong With Me.' Listen
Next to Nicks, Swift looked and sounded like a terrified kitten who wandered up on the stage. And watching Lady Gaga and Beyonce dominate vocally reinforces Swift's own shortcomings.
PopEater fans agree. "As much as I love Taylor Swift...she continues to be HORRIBLE live! No power in her voice, she misses all the high notes, ugh...its embarassing [sic] watching Taylor win ALL these awards, only to see her perform terribly! And really Stevie?! You lowered yourself to sing BACK UP for that tripe? You're so much better than that..." JosieGrosie commented.
But you can't just chalk that up to nerves on a big night, because other times she's been just as bad. Her 'SNL' performances weren't up to par. Listen
Maybe you could have blamed her iffy VMAs showing on Kanye's mic-stealing, but considering her track record, we won't let her off the hook for this one. Listen
A string of more bad live performances coupled with big award achievements may hurt Swift in the long run. You can only ride the Kanye-train for so long, Taylor.
Grammy wins, wobbly performance during show lead to backlash for Fearless singer, in a Bigger Than the Sound special edition.
LOS ANGELES -- A night in the charmed life of Taylor Swift: Give an incredibly wretched vocal performance, go on to win the biggest Grammy of 2010, anyway.
The country-pop pixie enjoyed the biggest night of her career at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday, her deserving album "Fearless" taking the Recording Academy's top honor. At 20, she became the youngest artist to win album of year.
Earlier, however, she delivered the evening's most miserable performances. (Which this year is saying something.) She was joined by Stevie Nicks for a pitchy duet of "Today Was a Fairytale" and "You Belong With Me," as well as the Fleetwood Mac classic "Rhiannon." The singers took turns dragging each other off key and Swift was soon suffering a beat-down on Twitter.
Those sour notes (and plenty of others) took the wind out of what promised to be one of the youngest, most "in-touch" Grammy awards show in recent memory, thanks in large part to newbie pop stars Swift and Lady Gaga dominating the nominations.
It was also a career night for Beyoncé. The R&B superstar led the nominations with 10, and took home six, including best female pop vocal performance. The six wins was a best for her and the most ever won by a woman artist. Her mega-hit "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" was declared song of the year early in the program, but the singer was not there to accept: She was busy backstage preparing for an elaborate one-two-punch performance of "If I Were a Boy" and a cover of Alanis Morisette's "You Outta Know."
(In addition to a whole lotta trophies, this song might now belong to Beyoncé, too.)
Dressed like Tinkerbell-turned-pro-wrestler, Lady Gaga kicked off the evening performing in an emerald-sequined onesie and war paint as she strutted through her hit single "Poker Face." Then she bellied up to a piano for a duet with the only person on Earth who knows more about pop hooks and sartorial weirdness than she does: Sir Elton John.
Sadly, Gaga never returned to the stage. And the show's early promise quickly fizzled with acts failing to eclipse her outlandishness. A performance from Pink somehow discovered the unfortunate intersection between Cirque du Soleil and a strip club, while Jamie Foxx, T-Pain and Slash delivered an incredibly messy version of "Blame It." A stately performance from co-ed country crooners Lady Antebellum could have used more lasers. Eminem, Lil Wayne and Drake gave a very profane, highly-bleeped performance that kept the CBS censors busy and almost rendered the music unintelligible.
In accepting the award for best country album for "Fearless," Swift told the audience, "This is my first time walking up those stairs to accept a Grammy on national television."
Georgia upstarts Zac Brown Band kept it country with a dark-horse victory for best new artist. Record of the year was an upset, with Kings of Leon's nouveau power ballad "Use Somebody" topping tunes from Beyoncé, the Black Eyed Peas, Swift and Gaga. "We're a little drunk," singer Caleb Followill said, accepting the award. "But we're happy-drunk."
In the requisite singing-with-a-recording-of-a-dead-person portion of the program, a motley yet able-voiced crew of Celine Dion, Jennifer Hudson, Smokey Robinson, Carrie Underwood and Usher teamed up to perform alongside a video of Michael Jackson's "Earth Song." It's the dramatic eco-ballad that fans first experienced in last year's concert film "This Is It," only this time the video was shown in 3-D.
Was that it? This was the first Grammys awards show since Jackson's death, and it seemed like a strange and insufficient tribute. Lionel Richie then presented a lifetime achievement award to Jackson's children.
The last thing I want to do is ruin another awards ceremony for Taylor Swift. But there’s no doubt that someone was badly off-key during the version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” that the country superstar just performed with Stevie Nicks at the Grammy Awards. And I’m afraid my money’s on Taylor. Moreover, I’m not the only person at the Music Mix who cringed at the sight of Stevie acting as Taylor’s backing singer on “You Belong To Me.” As one of my colleagues just emailed me: “Stevie Nicks is the ‘Gold Dust Woman,’ goddammit!”
But, hey, that’s just one, uh, music department’s opinion. What did you think of the Swift/Stevie collaboration? Do we owe Taylor a “Kanye”-esque series of apologies?