If you were lucky enough to be in the audience at Staples Center for the 53rd Grammy Awards on Sunday night, you would have been treated to a PG-13 experience. And maybe you would've wished that things had gotten a bit more rock-and-roll. Like Lady Gaga getting in a fistfight with Jennifer Lopez. Or Justin Bieber being caught on camera huffing glue. Anything to remind you that at its core, music is red-blooded and rowdy.
But instead the most off-book the show got was in the profanity department. Say, when a certain scatological expletive was said on separate occasions by two winners. It was the very first thing Lady Gaga said when she won for pop vocal album. And it was nearly the first thing that Win Butler said when Arcade Fire shocked the crowd by winning album of the year. Only his expletive had a "holy" in front of it. (And of course, Eminem got muted a lot during his powerful performance of "Love the Way You Lie," but some of what he said sound more like "friggin'" to me.)
Another dramatic moment came during Justin Bieber's high tween octane performance of "Never Say Never." As the tiny heartthrob pranced on a riser way above the stage, dancers accompanied him to do flips off the riser. But one of them did not land on his feet -- he landed flat on his side. And hard. The audience gasped and there was a tense moment when he lay there stunned. When he got up, he was limping and holding his back. Then, miraculously, he began dancing and flipping again. Proving that Bieber power is truly unstoppable.
Nail-biting was again apparent when Arcade Fire took to the stage. As they played, the lights flashed apoplectically -- those with heart conditions should have been warned in advance -- and trick bicyclists rode circles around the stage. One of the cyclists half slipped a couple of times, and the second time he came dangerously close to sliding into the audience in the pit beside the stage.
However, the award for the most creative use of the huge space inside Staples Center goes to Muse. During the band's spirited performance of "The Resistance," dancers dressed like anarchists with red cloth over their mouths repeatedly ran onstage to smash the speakers below the riser they played on. Each time a speaker was smashed, it erupted in sparks, and fake security chased the offender off the stage. When the song was over and the telecast cut to commercial break, the faux anarchists continued to run through the audience with security chasing them out the exits in the back.
But perhaps the best part about being in the audience during the show wasn't what you saw, but what you felt. The power of the collective energy in the room. The ebb and flow of potent emotion that swept through the crowd as it swooned and sighed over the wedding footage that played on the sheet behind Katy Perry as she sang "Not Like the Movies"; the ripple of laughter that came when Cee Lo appeared in full plumage; the warmth and reverence paid to Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand and Mick Jagger; the collective cringe at Seth Rogan's Miley Cyrus joke; and the giddy excitement that crashed over the auditorium like a massive wave when Eminem first appeared onstage.
That's the good stuff. And it's what the crowd came for.
Photo: Muse performs at the Grammy Awards. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times