As a bit of a running joke, show-opening presenter and comedian Stephen Colbert repeatedly asked his daughter, sitting in the GRAMMY audience, if he was cool. The consistent answer: not so much.
When Colbert won the Best Comedy Album GRAMMY later in the show, he asked the question again during his acceptance speech. This time he got a nod of the head from his now-proud daughter. Ah, the power of a GRAMMY.
There were a lot of cool happenings at the 52nd GRAMMY Awards on Jan. 31, 2010. It was certainly a cool night for Beyoncé. The R&B singer picked up six GRAMMYs, a record for a female artist at the time, winning six of 10 nominations — Song Of The Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance, Best R&B Song, and Best Contemporary R&B Album.
It was pretty much an equally cool night for country sensation Taylor Swift, the evening's runner-up with an impressive four GRAMMY wins, including Album Of The Year for Fearless. More impressive, at the age of 20 Swift became the youngest artist to pick up Album Of The Year honors.
Yet there was still more cool to go around. The Black Eyed Peas and Kings Of Leon won three GRAMMYs each, the latter picking up the coveted Record Of The Year for "Use Somebody." Picking up two GRAMMYs each were Eminem, banjo maestro Béla Fleck, composer Michael Giacchino, Lady Gaga, Maxwell, Jason Mraz, and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.
But perhaps most of the cool lay in a show's worth of awe-inspiring performances. The telecast kicked off in grand fashion with Lady Gaga opening the festivities solo, emerging in a green-sequined bodysuit with angel wings, accelerating from a purr to a powerful roar for her No. 1 "Poker Face," surrounded by a fleet of male dancers. Then, she faced a rhinestoned Sir Elton John from opposite ends of a pair of conjoined pianos for a pair of songs: her "Speechless" and his "Your Song." The pairing marked a kind of family tree of glitter-pop stars.
Jennifer Lopez then introduced the cast of "American Idiot," a Broadway show based on the hit Green Day album. The cast deployed big Broadway voices for a rendition of "21 Guns" before Green Day themselves thundered into the spotlight, reminding the world of the unlikely but growing crossover between Broadway and rock.
Beyoncé took total command of the stage to open her performance. After parading down the aisle with a SWAT team of dancers, she launched fiercely into "If I Were A Boy," at one point dropping to one knee in front of a crowd of fist-pumping fans before segueing into a version of Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know," proving she can also rock.
Pink sauntered onto the stage solo to sing the gentle "Glitter In The Air." Despite a quiet start, her trademark guts and grace were on full display as she slipped out of a white robe and into a swing that lifted her high above the stage, an acrobatic move that saw her suspended upside down and bathed in dripping water, helping add drama to a daring performance.
It was destined to be a good night for the Black Eyed Peas, nominated for six GRAMMYs. A fashionable Fergie, will.i.am, apl.de.ap, and Taboo lit into "Imma Be," prancing and hip-shaking before bouncing in time alongside a team of dancing robots to their omnipresent smash "I Gotta Feeling."
Lady Gaga wasn't the only Lady sensation in attendance at the 52nd GRAMMY Awards. Lady Antebellum, who picked up a GRAMMY for Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals, sang the earnest "Need You Now," the title track from their 2010 album, with harmonic grace and country prettiness.
The multitalented Jamie Foxx threw the audience a curveball, posing as a cloaked opera singer, but in short order got the crowd feeling loose alongside collaborator T-Pain — who was disguised momentarily as a bewigged conductor — with the contagious hit "Blame It." By performance end, Foxx was strutting, T-Pain's dreads were shaking, and Slash joined the fun, adding some wailing guitar pyrotechnics.
Best New Artist winners the Zac Brown Band struck a patriotic chord by opening a country-laced medley with "America The Beautiful." Leon Russell, resplendent at the piano with his long white beard, then joined in for "Dixie Lullaby." Brown, the band's huge-voiced singer, closed the medley with a feel-good acoustic blast of their No. 1 country hit "Chicken Fried." He capped the performance with a fiery solo on his nylon-string guitar, adding fuel to the band's selection as best newcomers.
Swift and everyone's favorite singing gypsy, Stevie Nicks, would at first glance seem to have little in common. Swift sings as if reading from her own diary, as she did on "Today Was A Fairytale," and Nicks — with flowing sleeves and allusive lyrics — made her name on mystery. But when Nicks joined Swift for Fleetwood Mac's classic "Rhiannon," the two voices blended to reveal something at once sweet yet knowing. Nicks stuck around to lend a hand on Swift's "You Belong With Me," adding vocal depth and shaking her signature tambourine.
Lionel Richie introduced the evening's Michael Jackson tribute. Celine Dion led an all-star, 3-D rendition of "Earth Song," harmonizing with Usher before Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson and Smokey Robinson joined in. As the song built to its dramatic crescendo, each superstar took turns asking, on behalf of Mother Earth, the song's rousing gospel refrain, "What about us?" while cameras panned to a mesmerized audience in red-and-blue glasses.
Directly after the performance, Jackson's children Prince and Paris took the stage to accept their father's Lifetime Achievement Award. Eyes around the audience filled with tears as the children delivered touching speeches in honor of their father.
While Bon Jovi would take the stage to perform two predetermined songs, the audience — which had placed votes up until the band's performance at CBS.com — picked the group's No. 1 classic "Livin' On A Prayer" as the third part of the medley. (Or, as Ke$ha said of the voting earlier in the evening: "It's your chance to boss around a big rock band.") The ageless Jon Bon Jovi led his Jersey-bred bandmates on the group's anthem of hope, "We Weren't Born To Follow." Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles joined Bon Jovi for their GRAMMY-winning duet "Who Says You Can't Go Home," and Nettles stayed onstage for "…Prayer," helping the band close out the medley with characteristic high energy.
Wyclef Jean, a native of Haiti, thanked the United States for its generosity in the wake of the devastating earthquake that struck the island. He introduced Mary J. Blige and Andrea Bocelli, who teamed for a graceful duet of Simon And Garfunkel's classic "Bridge Over Troubled Water" — which is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its GRAMMY win for Record Of The Year. The performance was made available at iTunes.com/Target to raise funds for earthquake relief.
Comedian Adam Sandler congratulated the Dave Matthews Band on their 20th anniversary before the group launched into "You And Me" from the Album Of The Year-nominated Big Whiskey And The GrooGrux King. A string section and members of the GRAMMY Jazz Ensembles backed the upbeat performance that reinforced the reasons for the band's longevity: a sense of musical adventure, limitless imagination and, possibly, freewheeling dancing that owes more to in-the-moment emotion than classic training.
Maxwell, who was nominated for six GRAMMYs, may have disappeared from music for a few years, but he — like Roberta Flack, with whom he shared a tender duet on the classic "Where Is The Love" — was not easily forgotten. Flack's rich vocals fit like a glove around Maxwell's sexy neo-soul vocal tone. And though Flack's voice can't help but invoke '70s nostalgia, Maxwell's modern touches imbued the song with retro-hip stylishness. The effortless charm of his opener "Pretty Wings," from his GRAMMY-winning album Blacksummers' Night, instantly got to the heart of why Maxwell was sorely missed during his long hiatus.
Les Paul, the incomparable musician and guitar innovator who died in 2009, was honored with a high-spirited and clearly heartfelt performance by GRAMMY-winning guitar legend Jeff Beck — who appropriately brandished a Gibson Les Paul — and vocalist Imelda May on the chestnut "How High The Moon."
Combine rappers Drake, Eminem and Lil Wayne and what you get is a whole lot of swagger and personality in one GRAMMY performance. On the "Drop The World"/"Forever" medley, Lil Wayne prowled the stage and Eminem spat mightily before Drake fell in to offer up proof of his mic prowess. The hip-hop superstar trio added up to one of the night's most pumped-up performances, providing a punctuating finale to the evening's musical lineup.
The night's final statue was presented to Swift for Album Of The Year, which the young singer/songwriter accepted with youthful exuberance and a surprising long-term point of view:
"This is the story," Swift said, capping the night, "when we are 80 years old, and we are telling the same stories over and over to our grandkids, and they are so annoyed with us, this is the story we are going to be telling … in 2010 we got to win Album Of The Year at the GRAMMYs!"
Now, that's just cool.