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Grammys: Tributes! Medleys! Gaga and Sugarland together!

November 30, 2011 |  8:14 pm

Usher

Tributes and medleys mean it must be time for award season. 

An ode to rap innovator Grandmaster Flash gave the Recording Academy a chance to toss a bunch of hip-hop stars on stage at the Grammy nominations to cover the classic "The Message." This performance, however, didn't come with any Grammy telecast staging or Lady Gaga-like spectacle. It felt, as is customary for these nomination concerts, a bit low-rent, with the likes of Common, LL Cool J, Rick Ross, Melle Mel and Grandmaster Flash himself crowding the stage. Cuts to Nicki Minaj in the crowd indicated that it went over much better live than it did on television. 

Later, R&B star Usher was the centerpiece of a tribute to Jerry Lieber and Nick Ashford, joined here by Ashford's songwriting partner/widow Valerie Simpson on piano and Lieber's songwriting partner Mike Stoller. If Usher at first seemed like an odd choice, it all went over with grace. "You're All I Need to Get By" and "Stand By Me" were both given downbeat performances worthy of the most heartfelt of wakes. 

The show ended with a collaboration between Lady Gaga and Sugarland on the former's "You and I." These little crossover spectacles are the norm for Sugarland, who once performed with Beyonc√© at the American Music Awards. No one embarrassed themselves, although Gaga came out stronger. It's her song, of course, but if there was any doubt she could out-sing some of the best Nashville has to offer (not sure who would actually worry about this, though), it was put to rest here.  

And now time-traveling to earlier in the show: Clean-cut country-leaning newcomer the Band Perry gave a brief take on its crossover-ready pop songs, as well as an emotionless take on Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'."

ALSO:

Grammy nominations concert on CBS tries to find its rhythm 

Recording Academy aims for a more focused Grammys, slashes 31 categories

Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana, Paul Simon protest Grammy category cuts; coalition leader calls decision 'blatantly racist'

-- Todd Martens

Image: Usher, Valerie Simpson and Mike Stoller. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

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