Silence wasn't golden when Grammys bleeped lyrics of rap artists
From left, Drake, Eminem, and Lil Wayne perform at the Grammy Awards on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010, in Los Angeles. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Matt Sayles
NEW YORK - Did anybody notice that, late in Sunday's telecast of the Grammy Awards show, the sound went on the fritz?
The mikes went dead for seconds on end, over and over, like some kind of short circuit no one could fix.
This apparent technical snafu seemed to crop up during the big production number with rap artists Eminem, Lil Wayne and Drake, who ended up miming as much as singing for the TV audience.
More than coincidence?
Not to any of the 25 million viewers wondering why certain recording stars were invited to appear on a show while the sort of music that earned their invitation was turned into audio Swiss cheese.
To be honest, the rap medley of the songs "Forever" and "Drop the World" contained some lyrics you might not hear in Sunday school. But this wasn't Sunday school - it was actually late Sunday night, on a TV extravaganza celebrating a wide range of music.
CBS, caught in the dilemma of having it both ways, sought to include on the Grammycast cutting-edge artists whose music is selling like hotcakes, while, at the same time, it felt compelled to take every precaution to prevent a vocal version of a wardrobe malfunction.
"It was a rousing musical performance, but words were edited from the live telecast that didn't meet our broadcast standards," said CBS spokesman Chris Ender. "We have great respect for artists' creative freedom, but there are certain things you can't say, or sing, on television."
Even so, New York magazine's website was among those wondering "why were whole lines being cut to avoid one profanity? Why was the music cut out along with the mikes? Did the bleep button keep getting stuck in the on position or something?" Then, helpfully, the Web site posted annotated lyrics to the performance, with bleeped portions highlighted. (It also noted the performers "were doing a pretty good job of censoring themselves, making the silences all the more pointless.")
On Twitter, Mandypeacelove complained that she "only gotta hear freaken half the song. KINDA makes me mad." And Staciallthetime suggested to CBS, "If you are going to bleep out more than half of the song then dont put it on!"
Paul Levinson agrees.
"Don't have performers on the show if you're going to bleep the hell out of their performance," proposed Levinson, professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University.
Levinson argues that the Grammycast did an injustice to the performers' music as well as to the audience expecting to hear it.
He pointed back a half-century to when CBS' "The Ed Sullivan Show" refused to show Elvis Presley on camera from his gyrating waist down, and when, at Sullivan's command, the Rolling Stones substituted the line "Let's spend the night together" with the seemingly less racy "Let's spend some time together."
"We laugh at Ed Sullivan today," Levinson said. "But that's exactly the same thing CBS was doing Sunday night."
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