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Entertainment & the Arts | February 22, 2013

'Classy' Grammys

Entertainment & the Arts

Despite the efforts of Marcus Mumford, CBS cleaned up the Grammy Awards show

CAUGHT: Mumford & Sons (Marcus is second from left) and their Grammys (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Until shortly before they aired on Feb. 10, the main media hook about the 55th Annual Grammy Awards was that they would "skew younger" in an attempt to prove that the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences still had its finger on the pop-music pulse.

Then, mere hours before the broadcast, news broke that the vendetta-driven and allegedly homicidal ex-LAPD cop Chris Dorner might be hiding near the event's venue (Los Angeles' Staples Center) and intending to wreak Grammy havoc. Security was beefed up, and, suddenly, the event took on an ominous tone.

Dorner, however, did not show up.

Thus it was that a "wardrobe advisory" issued on Feb. 5 by CBS, the Grammys' host network, ended up providing the evening with its through line.

"Please be sure that buttocks and female breasts are adequately covered," the memo began. By the time it ended, it had gone to such great pains to eliminate ambiguity that it read like a parody of the strictest beauty-pageant, plumbers-union, and summer-church-camp-swimwear guidelines combined.

Yes, it's a shame that the times require the over-explanation of basic decency. But the memo worked. Even the notoriously flesh-flaunting Rihanna, each of whose outfits (three counting her red-carpet gown) was more revealing than the last, stayed within the letter of CBS' law.

Some performers went so far as to praise the new modesty. Interviewed before the Awards, the Lumineers' Jeremiah Fraites said that he thought the wardrobe rules were a "good idea" and an appropriate means of keeping the Grammys "classy." Frank Ocean began his acceptance speech for "Best Urban Contemporary Album" (Channel Orange) by saying, "I hear the way you disarm an audience is by imagining them naked. But I don't want to do that. I want to look at you all as kids in tuxedos and being fancy and stuff like that."

The broadcast was not, however, without glitches. CBS' fashion memo also included an all-caps prohibition of "OBSCENITY OR PARTIALLY SEEN OBSCENITY ON WARDROBE," but it said nothing about verbal obscenity. And, perhaps sensing a loophole, Mumford & Sons' Marcus Mumford dropped an F-bomb while accepting, on behalf of his band, the award for "Album of the Year" (Babel).

According to Hollywood Reporter, CBS censors "caught" the expletive. But in at least one country the show's feed went out uncensored: Western-music fans in China watching it via the multimedia site got a lesson in informal, colloquial English that they'd really have been better off without.

The incident highlights a dilemma for Christians. Mumford is the son of high-profile U.K. evangelical parents, and his lyrics often deal with spiritual warfare from a Christian perspective-so often, in fact, that in December the American Spectator's Daniel Flynn published "The Father, Mumford & Sons, and the Holy Spirit," a 700-word piece detailing the extent to which Mumford & Sons have had to deal with the music industry's anti-religious bias.

Yet, like other in-the-world-but-not-of-it bands before them-U2 in the '80s, for example, and King's X in the '90s, both of whom also made sure to deploy occasional public profanity-Mumford & Sons seem to have become over-cautious about owning up to their (or at least Marcus Mumford's parents') faith, lest they become pigeonholed as a "religious" band and lose the very fans they've worked so hard to attract.

The irony, of course, is that holding on to something is sometimes the surest way to lose it-as anyone as familiar with Christ's sayings as Marcus Mumford is should know.