I've never understood something about Milli Vanilli and the Grammys. If the two pretty faces in the band didn't get to keep the statuette, why didn't it then automatically go to the people who did sing the songs? I mean, it doesn't matter whose face is on the cover of the album, does it?
This is the sort of question one ponders while watching the Grammys, the lamest of all awards shows. The Grammys are primarily voted on by a bunch of music-industry oldsters whose main goal in life is specifically not to reward adventuresome pop music (much less adventurous rock or hip-hop) and who have been remarkably successful in that endeavor.
This annual procedure is overseen by the truly wacky administrative corps at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The organization is run by one C. Michael Greene. He gets paid $1.3 million a year. That's considered kind of high in the realm of nonprofit posts.
He also oversees MusicCares, the organization's charitable arm. MusicCares has distinguished itself in a slightly different way. It took in $2.3 million in 1998, and gave out a whopping $235,000 in donations, or about 10 cents on the dollar. That's considered kind of low in the realm of charity. A reporter at the Los Angeles Times has been dogging Greene on these and other issues for several years, but Greene hasn't quit yet.
In the meantime, the group holds its annual debacle each year, doing its best to reward evanescence without actually getting into Milli Vanilli territory again. This year it went for the nostalgia trip.
One thing you can depend on is that the Grammy event always misses the boat, even on its own terms. It is the "Wrong Way Corrigan" of award shows. This year, for example, it had before it a pop-schlock hit of almost universally appreciated blitheness, "I Want It That Way," by the Backstreet Boys. This likable confection was aced out by a strange musician named Carlos Santana and "Supernatural," his even stranger album of collaborations with various modern artists, most of them half his age. In the end, he took home eight awards, tying Michael Jackson's for the most ever in one year. (The hit "Smooth," which Santana didn't write, won a songwriting award as well.)
Santana was part of the San Francisco Sound in the late 1960s and gave a searing performance at Woodstock. Over most of the 30-plus years since, he has followed strange artistic and religious muses and hasn't been heard of much in the past 20 years.
But Arista's Clive Davis put him back in the arena by pairing him with younger stars like Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas, who co-wrote and sang "Smooth." The result was a cobbled-together fluke hit created by fully three dozen stars, producers and engineers.
The rest of the show was filled with the usual embarrassments. Best new artist went to Christina Aguilera, a vacuous and soon-to-be-forgotten performer. Host Rosie O'Donnell was searchingly unfunny. The opening number was Will Smith singing the title song from that big movie flop he had last year. Whitney Houston seemed to have taken a sedative. Ricky Martin sang "Maria," the song and the performance undistinguished enough to suggest that we won't have him to kick around on next year's show. Jennifer Lopez showed up with a very skimpy dress and boyfriend Puffy Combs, who'd been indicted that morning for bribery. (He was accused of offering his driver $50,000 to claim ownership of a handgun found in Combs' car after a now notorious shooting at a New York nightclub in December.) "Puffy has left the building," O'Donnell said near the end of the show. "And I'm relieved."