Grammys '08

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

The Grammy Awards telecast on Sunday night was billed as music's biggest night. It certainly wasn't. The show lacked much of the craftsmanship and brilliance of contemporary music and underscored just how out of touch the record industry remains. For its fiftieth-year celebration, the award show unapologetically focused on music from the distant past. Most of the presenters and performers were seniors, giving the show an almost geriatric feel.

The organization that plans the telecast is the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, or NARAS. NARAS draws its operating budget from the show's advertising revenue, so one would think the organization was particularly invested in presenting a compelling television show. However, this year the Grammy Awards only pulled 17.5 million viewers, making it the third least watched show in their 50-year history.

There were a couple of shining moments. Though she couldn't get to Los Angeles, Amy Winehouse performed from London. She was riveting, and refreshing. When she won Record of the Year for Rehab, you could feel her joy all mixed up with terror. And when she said the award was for London, because "Camden Town ain't burning down," she was right -- the magic was all there. Viewers were transfixed and transformed.

The other outstanding performance was when Kayne West delivered Last Night I Saw You in My Dreams for his mother. You could feel the emotion of his words, bringing audiences to their feet.

But the rest of the three-and-a-half-hour show lacked vision, intensity and amazing musicianship. Technology has reinvented the music medium, allowing anyone to create and distribute music with relative ease. This means the Academy needs to reinvent itself as well.

Imagine, instead of seeing performances by artists like John Fogerty, Jerry Lee Lewis and Tina Turner, who we saw on Sunday, we actually saw Radiohead, Nellie McKay, Rodrigo Y Gabriella, and the Dresden Dolls perform. Imagine an innovation award for the most interesting new discovery in music. Imagine awards for mash ups, remixes and imagine an award for the best live performance. Imagine indigenous-musician awards.

There are so many ways to showcase the power and brilliance of music, it's hard to understand why the Academy refuses to change.

The headline for the new millennium is Change or Die. As it relates to the Grammys, this is an idea whose time has definitely come.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.