Of course the Grammys were a crushing disappointment; they always are. Among the robbed this year were R. Kelly, 50 Cent and Michael McDonald, whose sweat-soaked show at the Apollo last December had to be one of the best concerts of the past decade (why didn’t they have him perform the Luther Vandross tribute instead of the inane Canadian Céline Dion?) The big Earth Wind and Fire number was fantastic, sure, but Beyoncé Knowles’ final haul of five awards glibly summarized the ongoing steamroll of image, polish and ambition over talent-and if we must harp on image, what in God’s name were people doing wearing so much purple, from Ellen DeGeneres’ plum pantsuit to Madonna’s fuchsia disco dress to the lavender sateen shirt of Kenneth (Babyface) Edmonds? Will the 80’s revival ever release us from its death grip?
The night before the ceremony, however, music mogul Clive Davis threw his famous pre-Grammy party, and everything was groovy. There may be no more semiotically charged drive in America than the one westward on the Sunset Strip: 68 degrees, palm trees shimmying in the breeze, full moon hanging portentously in the sky like a big pearl. After passing all those great, faded-neon landmarks of rock ‘n’ roll (Guitar Center, Duke’s Coffee Shop, Whiskey-A-Go-Go), one crosses Doheny Drive into Beverly Hills, whereupon there is an almost audible hush or whoosh: the sound of wealth, as the road turns suddenly satin-smooth, foliage as abruptly thick and dark as money. And there’s the Beverly Hills Hotel, pink, green and chiffon-trimmed like some wonderful cake.
O.K., so maybe it would’ve been better to arrive in a stretch limo rather than a year-old silver Toyota Prius with a shaming new dimple in the back fender … but still!
“The party has changed not a whit,” Mr. Davis said, buttonholed as he proceeded down the hotel’s red carpet with one of his biggest hitmakers, Alicia Keys. “The show will be dazzling.” (Not for Newlyweds Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson, who would walk out in the middle of Johnny Mathis warbling “Maria”-the gall!)
Heiress, socialite and reality-television star Paris Hilton was the first famous person to arrive at Mr. Davis’ party, at 6:30 p.m., looking sort of like a baby parakeet in a teal-trimmed purple Tracy Feith frock and aquamarine Hollywould sandals with ribbons up the ankles. She engaged in red-carpet photo play and light badinage and then entered the empty cocktails area solo, performing the current default “I’m alone at a party” maneuver: frantically pecking at her cell phone.
Asked whom she thought most deserved Grammy recognition, Ms. Hilton beamed and through nude glossed lips said: “I love Britney. She’s my favorite. Umm … I love the Neptunes. I think they’re really talented. Pharrell Williams-that whole album’s really good.”
A heavy-set, black-clad publicity person swooped down. “You’re not going to ask about the sex tape, are you?” she asked anxiously.
“And I love the fashion,” Ms. Hilton continued. “J. Lo’s outfit-that green one? That’s something I’ll never forget. You can wear anything at the Grammys, because it’s rock ‘n’ roll people. You can basically get away with anything, and, at other functions, you couldn’t wear things like that. It’s more fun and more wild.”
“I’m going to go find your media escort, because this is bullshit ,” hissed the publicist. Ms. Hilton slipped away.
Having a “media escort,” a nice woman named April from Sherman Oaks, turned out to be not that bad. She helped identify celebrities and brokered introductions-somewhat more warmly after she was snuck a rum and coke.
The actress Gabrielle Union (you loved her in Bring It On ) was standing around with Tracee Ross, daughter of Diana and star of UPN’s Girlfriends . Ms. Ross wore colorful Cavalli, and Ms. Union had on a sleek white shift. “Armani,” she said. “I wear whoever sends something, if it’s free and they don’t expect to get it tomorrow.”
Ms. Ross-not to be confused with the blond Tracey Ross, owner of a designer boutique in West Hollywood-was giggling wildly. Who does she think has been most cheated Grammy love?
“Oh my God, Diana Ross! Diana Ross!” she said. “No, no, no, I’m not biased-Diana Ross!”
Plucky April next marshaled American Idol Kelly Clarkson, who was wearing a black suit and major jewel wattage.
“Gucci, Christian Louboutin and Neil Lane,” she rattled off. “I wanted a comfortable suit.”
Her American idols?
“Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey-I love those girls,” Ms. Clarkson said. “Oh my God, that’s Martina McBride!” she squealed as the country star twinkled past. “I looove her!” Miss Independent also had kind words for Beyoncé. “She works her butt off, and she’s just a beautiful girl and a nice girl on the inside as well. And she’s a Texas girl. I gotta root for my Texas girls.”
Long-suffering mother and wife Sharon Osbourne arrived in a fetching Dolce and Gabbana pantsuit, aubergine-streaked hair and a veil of Annick Goutal perfume.
“When my husband received his last Grammy, we were seated in the back of the Staples Center for the non-important people,” she said. “We weren’t in camera range; we were nowhere. I felt so bad. We couldn’t even see the bloody stage. And we go back this year and we’re like three rows from the front, and it’s like-why? Why now? After so many years that my husband has been working, and all the musical contributions that he’s done …. “
It is customary for Mr. Davis to showcase a new act every year at his party. This year, the honor went to Maroon 5, a bunch of skinny white guys who live in Los Feliz. They’re the kind of band that seems to be increasingly popular: neo-mod and dapper and modest. Seersucker, sneakers, too cool for school. And underwhelmed by the Grammies.
“It’s like the Oscars, but worse,” one member said. “We just found out today that Jimi Hendrix never won anything, the Beach Boys never won anything, Bob Marley. I mean, that’s bullshit! Nick Drake … Nick Cave,a too, man! Put all the Nicks on the list.”
He said that his favorite Grammy moment occurred when Soy Bomb leapt onstage and gyrated wildly next to Bob Dylan in 1998. “Anytime the circus is subverted in any kind of sincerely uncomfortable and eye-opening way that makes the entire thing seem funny and maybe not such a big deal, I think it’s great.”