The centerpiece of an occasionally bizarre, but mostly lackluster Grammy ceremony last night was Jennifer Hudson's moving rendition of "I Will Always Love You" in honor of Whitney Houston. Hudson's emotional performance followed the traditional "In memorium" montage that is a staple of all award shows, and was accompanied by pictures not just of Houston, but many of the big names in music that passed away in the last year. Though she appeared to nearly break down more than once, Hudson's version was first rate — but in its own way demonstrated just how difficult it is to sing Houston's signature song, and how remarkable Whitney's voice really was.
The tribute came late in a show that, despite Houston's sudden death, stuck mostly with the original game plan. The Grammys opened with a performance by Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band and ended with Paul McCartney singing half of side two of Abbey Road. In between, Adele stole the show, winning all three of the biggest awards (Song, Record, and Album of the Year) and earning the biggest ovation of the night with her performance of "Rolling in the Deep," her first live public singing effort since having throat surgery five months ago. (A complete list of award winners can be found at Grammy.com)
Host LL Cool J opened his remarks with a prayer for Houston and several of the performers mentioned her during their time on stage. Other "highlights" of the evening included an awkward reunion of The Beach Boys (complete with Brian Wilson), a tribute to country legend Glen Campbell (who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's last year), and an outrageous multi-act "rave" in the parking lot outside the Staples Center, featuring DJs David Guetta, Deadmau5. the Foo Fighters, Lil Wayne, and Chris Brown. The most bizarre moment of the night went to Nicki Minaj, who (almost) closed the show with a religious/blasphemous number involving a priest in a confession booth, alter boys dancing with scantily clad women, and a fake exorcism that was more confusing than shocking.
Finally, the most controversial part of the evening, was the not one, but two performances by Brown, who was "banned" from the show two years ago after an assault on then-girlfriend Rhianna on the night before the Grammys. Many people were angered that Brown (who won a Grammy himself last night) would be welcomed back with open arms, particularly after Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich was quoted saying the Grammys were the real victims of his absence. However, Brown still has legions of fans who were not all upset to see him back... a fact that likely makes his critics even more depressed.