The shocking death of pop star Whitney Houston built a massive audience for the Grammy Awards telecast Sunday night on CBS. It attracted 39.9 million viewers, making it the most watched non-sports program of the season.
The show began with a heartfelt prayer for Houston to “Our Heavenly Father” from the master of ceremonies, CBS actor LL Cool J. But sadly (and predictably), near the show’s end, religion was mocked in an elaborate Catholic-bashing mess, starring the rapper Nicki Minaj. Someone on Twitter said it best: “Stevie Wonder was the luckiest man in the crowd” during the performance.
It registered on the religious bigotry meter. But on the stupidity meter, it was off the charts. It began with Minaj in a mock confessional, next to a man playing a priest. As she deliberately sang off-key, the priest began mouthing, “stop” and then squinted and covered his ears. He was channeling the feeling of the viewers at home. This was awful. Dumb. Boring. Meaningless. Embarrassing.
And perfect by the standards of CBS. For some reason, entertainer types think it’s hilarious to air a skit mocking a confessional (as Alec Baldwin did on “30 Rock” a few years ago). The sacrament of confession is dearly held by Catholics as a means of seeking absolution and leading a less sinful life. But this confessional skit is trying to go there; it never arrives. It never really offends. It’s just too idiotic. Only the audience should be offended. Here’s where the “entertainment” wheels come off. Follow me, if you can.
The title “The Exorcism of Roman” comes on screen. Viewers are treated to a film harkening back to the opening scenes of “The Exorcist” with the distraught mother welcoming the priest into her home. This priest is there to exorcise a male child, “Roman.” But who is in the bed? An adult and very female Minaj. He walks into her room and says, “Hello, my child,” to which adult Minaj hisses and levitates into a corner of the ceiling. “You don’t belong here,” she says in a demonic drone. He asks, “What’s your name?” She screams, “Roman!”
Her “song” is titled “Roman Holiday,” and she’s playing a character she claims is “her gay twin sister and a lunatic, born of rage.” I’m sorry, but I have to say it: If you were still watching at this point and didn’t change the channel in disgust, you too are a fool.
With the stupid video finally, mercifully over, Minaj’s act was live on stage again. She was shackled high on the stage in front of a wall of stained-glass windows. Beneath her were dancers dressed in monk’s robes doing the latest hip-hop moves. The lyrics aren’t anti-religious, just nonsensical: “I’m a lunatic and this can’t be cured with no elixir,” and “Quack quack to a duck and a chicken too/ And put the hyena in a weekend zoo.”
And still people kept watching? (Bizarrely, Minaj was nominated for “Best New Artist.” She didn’t win.)
Next came what the Catholic League found most offensive. While two young men dressed as altar boys kneel in prayer, female dancers bend backward over the kneelers. They hold onto the altar boys’ praying hands with their crotches just inches from their faces.
Near the end of this debacle, a choir sings a minor-key variant of “O Come All Ye Faithful.” As they sing, our priest from the confessional returns in his vestments. Using some theatrical stage moves, he tries to exorcise Minaj as she lies on a table below him. But Minaj levitates, and the priest collapses on a kneeler. He’s not dead, just defeated.
Grammy show producer Ken Ehrlich insisted the next morning none of this was his idea, but he didn’t stop it because “we don’t like to restrict artists’ creative freedom” — as if that “freedom” would extend to mocking other religions.
Minaj defended herself on the Ryan Seacrest radio show. “I had this vision for him to be sort of exorcised — or actually he never gets exorcised — but people around him tell him he’s not good enough because he’s not normal; he’s not blending in with the average Joe. ... Not only is he amazing and he’s sure of himself and confident, but he’s never gonna change; he’s never gonna be exorcised.”
Remember that “he” is a she. ... Oh, never mind.