Grammys play it straight, cast somber note over awards show

Monday, February 9th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Grammys? More like the Grimmys.

With a bunch of dead winners, a Best New Artist band that has already split up and an uptight atmosphere created by the Janet Jackson uproar, the music industry's biggest awards night bordered on the downbeat.

Even Madonna, who last year famously locked lips with Britney Spears on MTV, played it straight Sunday. She refused to comment on the Jackson incident while walking the carpet and stuck to the script while introducing a performance by Sting.

The usually scantily clad Christina Aguilera sang her winning song "Beautiful" dressed in an outfit better suited for a stock analyst than a pop diva. She changed outfits before accepting her trophy for best female pop vocalist, clutching the straps of her low-cut dress to her chest.

She said she wanted to avoid provoking the kind of ire Jackson absorbed after the Super Bowl halftime stunt in which Justin Timberlake ripped off part of her top.

"We were making sure that everything was intact and whatnot after that drama. But I was good. I kept everything in place," she told reporters backstage.

Otherwise, the singer whose last album "Stripped" featured the bump-and-grind sexy song "Dirrty" said she was sick of hearing about the incident.

"I think it needs to be put to bed," Aguilera said. "There are a lot more things in the world happening these days politically or otherwise. People must be bored to still be talking about a boob _ we all have them."

The evening's sober feeling was reinforced by a tribute to The Beatles and the 40th anniversary of their introduction to America on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr _ the only surviving band members _ supplied only prerecorded greetings, while the widows of George Harrison and John Lennon were at the Staples Center event in person.

Sean Lennon, who was 5 when his father was slain by a crazed fan, told reporters he was grateful for all the archive footage of his famous parent.

"A lot of my experiences with my Dad come through film footage and music," he said. "It's been a very important part of my life in terms of understanding and knowing him."

The night did have its upbeat moments. OutKast's hip-hoppy jive won three trophies: best urban-alternative performance for "Hey Ya!" and best rap album and overall Album of the Year for "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below." It was the first rap album to win most of the awards in top categories.

Their rendition of "Hey Ya!" with the University of Southern California marching band was one of the more rousing performances of the night, along with a loud, wacky and tacky tribute to everything funky by George Clinton and his gang of musical pranksters.

Beyonce was the belle of the ball, opening the show with a performance alongside Prince, and going on to tie a record for female artists with her five awards. "Crazy in Love" won two trophies _ for best R&B song and best rap/sung collaboration. Her boyfriend, Jay-Z, won two awards for collaborating on that hit.

Beyonce also won best female R&B performance and best contemporary R&B album for "Dangerously in Love" and best R&B performance by a duo or group for a song with Luther Vandross.

Vandross, recovering from a stroke, won for best song, best R&B album and best male R&B performance for "Dance With My Father" and best R&B performance by a duo or group with vocals for "The Closer I Get to You," a remake with Beyonce.

It was the evening's most sentimental victory _ the R&B crooner's first win in a major category in his more than 20-year career. He was unable to attend but sent a videotaped message, his first public remarks since his April 2003 stroke.

"I wish I could be with you there tonight. I want to thank everyone for your love and support," said a weak-looking Vandross. "And remember, when I say goodbye it's never for long, because" _ and he sang a line from one of his many hits _ "I believe in the power of love!"

The dark-rock band Evanescence won best new artist, but guitarist Ben Moody _ who founded the group with singer Amy Lee _ has already left the group. The two had a cold reunion onstage, then told reporters _ in separate sessions _ how glad they are to be free of each other.

Meanwhile, several posthumous winners collected honors.

The late Johnny Cash and director Mark Romanek won for best short form music video for the haunting song "Hurt." Cash's wife, June Carter Cash, who died a few months before he did last year, won best traditional folk album for the posthumous release "Wildwood Flower" and best female country vocal performance for "Keep on the Sunny Side."

Rock singer Warren Zevon, who rushed to complete his final album, "The Wind," before his September death from lung cancer, won his first two Grammy Awards, one for contemporary folk album. He also was honored for "Disorder in the House," a duet with Bruce Springsteen, which won for rock performance by a duo or group with vocal.

"His hard-boiled side would say, 'I don't care about this. These people never got me,'" said Jorge Calderon, a producer and longtime friend of the notoriously irreverent Zevon. "His other side, which was very Sammy Davis Jr., that part of him would be loving it. He'd be dressed in an all-cashmere suit. He'd be here digging it."

Meanwhile, CBS and Jackson offered conflicting reports about why she was not at the show, which was televised on a five-minute delay to avoid anything like the Super Bowl incident.

CBS said it agreed to allow Timberlake and Jackson to participate as long as they apologized on the air for their Super Bowl stunt. But a statement from Jackson's camp said CBS and the Grammys first asked her not to attend, then reversed themselves and re-invited her, but she chose not to go.

Timberlake took the CBS offer. He performed on several songs and won two trophies: male pop vocal performance for "Cry Me a River" and pop vocal album for "Justified."

Onstage, he made another mea culpa for the Super Bowl boo-boo.

"I know it's been a rough week on everybody," he said, stifling a self-deprecating smile while the audience laughed. "What occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys are offended."