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Grammy countdown: Why U2 shouldn't be performing

January 29, 2009 |  2:59 pm

The pre-Grammy hype is reaching, perhaps, its highest level this week. After a string of announcements, parsing out new performers every couple days to maximize media headlines (we played along with the Grammy promo machine), the Recording Academy pulled out its biggest surprises: Radiohead and U2.

One act deserves to perform. One doesn't.

Persuading Radiohead to be on the award show was a mini-coup of sorts. This isn't a band that shills itself on television with regularity, and it especially isn't one that often does commercials. With "In Rainbows," Radiohead garnered its third album of the year nomination, and released an album that paired the adventurousness of its past works with a newfound warmness.

The cycle to promote the album has more or less been completed, and Radiohead deserves this victory lap on national television. But one must take the good with the bad.

It's not that Pop & Hiss is against U2, and the cross-generational charms of its frontman Bono. Earlier, we gave a fairly positive review to the band's latest single, "Get on Your Boots."

But that doesn't mean the Irish superstars deserve to be on the Grammys, especially when the act's "No Line on the Horizon," to be released -- conveniently -- shortly after the Feb. 8 awards on March 3, is already a lock for a bounty of nominations at the 2010 awards.

So save them. Put the lads on next year. Here's why:

The Grammys have gone to great lengths this year to prove they're recognizing music beyond simply the mainstream. Check the huge pre-show campaign that features such artists as Stevie Wonder and Radiohead's Thom Yorke discussing the music that has influenced them. But the actual show isn't showing many (any?) signs of stepping beyond its comfort zone. There's Paul McCartney again, and there's Justin Timberlake again, and there's Kid Rock again and hey -- Dave Grohl -- there he is again. With 100-plus categories, it'd be nice to see more unfamiliar faces rather than a band that's already had its share of what the Recording Academy likes to call "Grammy moments."

The Grammy Awards shouldn't be selling themselves out like the Super Bowl, opening up their performance slots to the biggest bands of the moment solely to promote upcoming works. If the Grammys are going to strut around telling us the awards are designed to recognize the past year in music, then make sure those artists performing are actually, you know, nominated. Leave the pure promotion to the American Music Awards.

U2's time will come -- again. Grammy loves U2. The act last won album of the year in 2006 with "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," and "No Line," as noted above, will get its share of voter recognition. And as much as the Grammys get knocked for not honoring lesser-known artists, there's plenty of good music sprinkled throughout the full nomination list. This is an opportunity to showcase some smaller, more exciting acts that could use a Grammy stage to boost them into stardom, and perhaps stop the industry from tapping the same artists again and again for these sorts of shows. Of course, if Grammy is planning to pair U2 with the spacey dance-rock of Brooklyn's Brazilian Girls, then all is forgiven.

Yes, ratings are important, and U2 will come in handy in getting some people to tune in. But the respectability of the awards is important as well, especially when ratings are declining and the Grammys are selling themselves as the one true legit music awards program. You don't see the Oscars showing extended clips for movies coming out in the summer on its telecast. Grammy shouldn't be selling upcoming albums, either -- not when it still needs to do a better job at honoring the ones from the year it's celebrating. And besides, U2 will be everywhere in coming weeks (the case can be made that the band already is). The Grammys shouldn't just be one piece of their promo campaign. The awards should be bigger than that.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times