This year's mashup will be a first for the telecast, but the concept isn't exactly new.
By DAVID BIANCULLI
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Last year, the Grammys opened with Beyonce and Prince, a duet so incendiary it inspired a recurring skit on "Saturday Night Live."
The year before that, the show opened with Simon & amp; Garfunkel, a blast from the past so successful it spawned a national reunion concert tour.
Tonight's "47th Annual Grammy Awards," broadcast live on CBS at 8 with Queen Latifah as host, will continue that eye-catching tradition by teaming not two artists, but filling the stage with artists performing a medley of nominated songs.
Black Eyed Peas will get it started with their Record of the Year nominee, "Let's Get It Started" -- to be followed by Gwen Stefani and Eve doing "Rich Girl," Los Lonely Boys doing "Heaven," Maroon 5 doing "This Love" and Franz Ferdinand doing "Take Me Out."
This massive medley, to be punctuated throughout by the Peas, will end with everyone playing together in what used to be called a jam, but what executive producer Ken Ehrlich says, with a chuckle, the kids now refer to as a mashup.
"Meter-wise, they all meet," Ehrlich said. "Those songs all mesh. I think it's going to be a pretty exciting number."
Exciting, but not controversial ("We've always been the responsible guys," Ehrlich said, occasional Soy Bomb explosions notwithstanding). Ehrlich said the show was under heavier scrutiny last year -- one week after Janet Jackson's Super Bowl halftime fiasco -- but that this year, with the telecast itself to be broadcast on a seven-second delay, the major network concern is that the dress rehearsal has to be just that, showing all wardrobe and no malfunctions.
"I suspect they're not that interested in what Tim McGraw is wearing, but they probably want to know what Usher's dancers look like," Ehrlich said wryly.
One other aspect of Sunday's Grammys reflective of outside events is a tsunami relief number. Ehrlich called Yoko Ono and got the rights to John Lennon's "Across the Universe," which will be sung on the show by -- get this -- Tim McGraw, Bono, Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, Brian Wilson, Steven Tyler and Al Green, all backed by Velvet Revolver.
After the performance, the song will be downloadable from Apple's iTunes, with the entire 99-cent cost going to Red Cross and other tsunami relief charities.
Even that number is in line with the approach by Ehrlich and his associates -- executive producer John Cossette, producer-director Walter Miller and NARAS president Neil Portnow -- to look for ways to present the artists and music in special pairings, rather than merely having them perform their nominated songs as solo acts.
"This year," Ehrlich said, "probably more than half the numbers are what I call 'plussed up."'
Last year's high-energy, generations-spanning tribute to funk will be matched this year by a tribute to Southern rock, uniting today's country artists with yesterday's long-haired rambling men. Jamie Foxx will join Alicia Keys in one of two tributes to Ray Charles. (The other features Bonnie Raitt and Billy Preston.)
Marc Anthony will duet with Jennifer Lopez -- and another potentially incendiary teaming pairs Usher, who sings "Caught Up," with James Brown. Ehrlich says to expect a little "Sex Machine" and a heated dance-off. Joss Stone and Melissa Etheridge will team for a medley of songs made famous by posthumous Lifetime Achievement winner Janis Joplin.
"Joss Stone's fan base is 18-year-old kids," Ehrlich said. "Melissa is thirtysomething now, at least, and they're both singing Janis Joplin, who goes back to the '60s. In my mind, whether it's said overtly or subtly, it's about putting on a show that, you watch it with your kids, or you watch it with your parents."