Grammy View: From the Audience

SENSE OF SCALE The Grammy Awards are not held in a charming art deco theater in Hollywood. This year, they took place at the Staples Center — which also hosts basketball games. Which means it's not only much, much bigger than an airplane hangar but also that there are Pizza Hut counters and pretzel vendors everywhere. Great for impromptu snacking but not exactly conducive to the classy atmosphere that the Grammys project from the other side of the TV screen. Alas, none of this year's winners accepted a trophy oblivious to a blot of tomato sauce in the corner of his or her mouth.

Thanks to flattering camera angles, there are no short people onstage at the Grammys — just the occasional giant (Vince Gill) flanked by some folks of average height. But even from the cheap seats, it's hard to overlook the fact that Sisqo is a small man. Smaller than this year's host, Jon Stewart — who at least gets to stand on a box for some of his intros. In real life, Lil' Bow Wow could probably take both of them down single-handedly — and he still has growth spurts to look forward to.

Regardless of their physical dimensions, many Grammy performers seem to shrink even smaller when they hit the stage for their big number. Instead of turning in the sort of dynamic showstopper that makes the folks in the house forget how uncomfortable their dress shoes are, lots of stars play almost exclusively to the loving gaze of the cameras. (Thanks, MTV!) This is why U2 deserved to walk away with so many prizes: Bono may be small in stature, but "Beautiful Day" was the only song that reached the farthest ring of cheap seats without aid of pyrotechnics, confetti, or Elton John's Day-Glo suit.

THE AUDIENCE Not everyone borrows their outfit from Versace or Prada. You thought 'N Sync's costumes looked stupid? You should see what passes for "black tie" among Los Angeles' music-industry denizens. Clown suits! Castoffs from Edward Scissorhands! But TV viewers don't see — or hear — the average Grammy audience member. They see celebrities (essentially, just the first 20 rows of the floor seating) congratulating each other with hugs and air kisses. They do not see one of your Wall of Sound correspondents almost clock the crazy mom who called her kids on a cell phone during 'N Sync's performance to give them a blow-by-blow commentary.

But then, maybe your correspondent was punchy from low blood sugar. While the A-list on the ground floor can drink and snack to their heart's content — because lord knows, we wouldn't want Kid Rock to be without a Budweiser for five minutes — if you're not a nominee, or sitting in a private box, food and drink are forbidden in the auditorium. Early in the evening, this gives the proceedings a bloodthirsty edge, heightening the excitement of competition, like in an ancient Roman coliseum; toward the end, it just gets ugly. As if staying awake during that stupid Chopin piano etude wasn't hard enough. No wonder people started bolting for the doors like rats on a sinking ship as soon as the Eminem-Elton John duet concluded — they were desperate to grab some dinner. (Or did they just know the Album of the Year fix was in for Steely Dan?)

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