Both in its tributes to Whitney Houston and its strange slate of performances, the Grammys made its annual bid for respectability, the one thing it'll never have.
Heads down, hands clasped, lights dimmed: The Grammys opened in the only way it could. The news of once-reigning superstar Whitney Houston's death had hit only 24 hours earlier, and what else was to be done? After Bruce Springsteen's competent rendition of "We Take Care of Our Own," host LL Cool J acknowledged the burden he and all the room now shouldered—"There is no way around this: We had a death in our family"—and addressed it in the manner that deaths everywhere are. Heads down, hands clasped, lights dimmed. Prayer. Words of praise. Remembrance. Respect.
Respect is a funny concept within the context of the Grammy Awards, an event that's long been at odds with itself over, and obsessed with, the notion of "respectability." As a show dedicated to pop-culture's most woolly, weird, fractured form—music—its ceremonies have blended unbearable self-regard and pomp with cringe-making bids for youth-culture relevance. It's an idea of respect that's two-fold: There's the idealized construct of "respect"—propagating the canard of "real music" vs. "fake music," carting out unimpeachable elders—and there's the respect that comes from being seen as supportive of the music that's changing listening habits today.