Just another awards-show night in Los Angeles: Dozens of limos of all varieties - traditional stretches, SUVs, even one with an unoccupied hot tub in the back - line up outside the Staples Center shortly before the show begins. Russell Brand, the bawdy British actor-comedian, leans out of the back of his black Escalade while nibbling an apple to taunt a small group of religious protesters gathered on the sidewalk. "Get down on your knees and pray to God," one of them tells him, but he doesn't comply.
You can't see the show without a scorecard - and a pair of glasses. As they clear security, people entering the Staples Center are handed an official program and a pair of flimsy 3D glasses, the kind you can pick up at your local Target store. The glasses are needed for the Michael Jackson tribute featuring Usher.
Just before showtime, the fashionably late are noshing on nachos and $7.75 cups of draft beer. Those who have already taken their seats in front of a stage bathed in teal blue light are listening to tunes from Celine Dion, Justin Timberlake and Green Day.
Despite a calm female announcer's voice telling the crowd, "Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats, the show will begin in 12 minutes" most of the crowd continues its noshing and hobnobbing. Still, the show gets off right on schedule, with a dynamic opening performance by Lady Gaga.
Usher, looking dapper in white, collects the award for last celebrity seen coming through the door. He arrives just moments before Lady Gaga opens the show, which is being broadcast on large television monitors to those sitting in Staples Center's nosebleed seats. This is a basketball-hockey arena, after all, not a nightclub.
Just before Pink takes the stage, this frantic warning comes over the P.A. system: "Clear the aisles, folks. Please clear the aisles. We've got a lot of stunts going on in this next performance." And the announcer wasn't kidding either. A few minutes later Pink and her golden backup acrobats were soaring high across the arena as she performed "Glitter in the Air." The singer, seemingly held aloft by only her white gown, managed to sing and spin nonstop at the same time. Those below were impressed, giving her a standing ovation.
With four monitors broadcasting 3D footage, audience members weren't sure where to look or whether they should even bother to don their 3D glasses for the Michael Jackson tribute performance. In any case it didn't matter. And so what if the special effects weren't quite up to "Avatar" standards! Just hearing the full-bodied voices of Celine Dion, Usher, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson and Smokey Robinson come together on Jackson's "Earth Song" was out of this world enough.
If the Jonas Brothers seemed flummoxed when they introduced Lady Antebellum that's because the teenybopper idols were distracted by another Lady who was attempting to navigate her way back to her seat in front of them. Lady Gaga, decked out in her icy, three-dimensional spiked-head ensemble, needed help getting through the crowd and back into the audience as the show was unfolding.
You never know who might be sitting next to you at the Grammys. As the Black Eyed Peas prepared to take the stage for their performance, some of their speaker-shaped backup dancers were cooling their heels in the audience. Eager Grammy-goers took advantage of a commercial break to pose for pictures with them.
The view of the Grammys from the Nokia Suite was stunning, especially when Beyonce was on stage. Natasha Bedingfield, Peter Facinelli and his wife, Jennie Garth, were watching from there. After Beyonce's performance of "If I Were a Boy," Bedingfield exclaimed, "Wow. Look at that body. Amazing."
Jay-Z has good timing - and not just behind the microphone. The rapper hustled back to his seat just in time to be acknowledged by his wife Beyonce during her acceptance speech for winning the best female pop vocal performance. Jay-Z was still making his way through the crowd as Lea Michele and Ricky Martin were reciting the names of the nominees.
Here's something you Grammy watchers at home didn't catch on your TV: As Taylor Swift was jumping up and down with delight as she accepted the award for album of the year, most of the 20,000 people in the audience were already heading for the exits. It was off to after-parties or simply to the parking lot in time to beat the traffic home. Swift, who won four Grammys in all, didn't seem to notice.
By DERRIK J. LANG