February 13, 2012


Whitney Houston's Quasi-Tribute at Grammys

Patrick Demarchelier  / Kevin Winter
Patrick Demarchelier / Kevin Winter

It was a weird question given the night's circumstances.

Bruce Springsteen kicked off the 54th GRAMMY Awards with a question that, had it not been for Whitney Houston's untimely death over the weekend, would have seemed both celebratory and conciliatory.

“America, are you alive out there?,” yelled The Boss before launching into his new single "We Take Care of Our Own."

But it unwittingly set the stage for most of the night, as the show snuck in Houston tributes among the planned performances and tightrope-balanced the line between paying respect to the singer and its inability to drastically change an awards show months in the making.

Jennifer Hudson's booming rendition of Houston's "I Will Always Love You"—Houston's most successful song—was a show highlight, though for all the "This will change everything" talk, you'd barely know Houston died the day before (in the same hotel where many partied hours later). Exhibit A on consensus opinion: #Whitneytributewasshorterthan was trending on Twitter immediately following the end of the show.

Houston's spirit was in the building, as LL Cool J led the Staples Center in a prayer for the singer before showing video of Houston's performance of "I Will Always Love You" at the 1994 GRAMMYs. But given the timing—Houston died roughly 24 hours before the start of the show—organizers said any full-scale tribute would have been technically impossible.

"The Grammys, because of the size of the production and all of the elements—with three stages and thousands of microphones and sets and costumes—it's a difficult show, like the Titanic, to move in the 11th hour," Recording Academy president Neil Portnow told reporters Saturday night.

Still, I was surprised at the lack of recognition by singers like Diana Ross, who for reasons they'll only know, chose to omit acknowledgement of one of the most influential singers of the past 30 years. Last night's event seemed disjointed, with an industry still struggling to formulate a response and perhaps numb from the still-developing story. Though the sparse tributes and recognition made you wonder if, for a night, it was just easier to pretend it never happened, enjoy the night and worry about grieving at a more convenient time.

What do you think? Did Houston get a proper tribute last night? Too much? Not enough? Sound off in the comments below. 

Missed the show?  Check out these photos:

Award Show Highlights

From the Red Carpet