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Grammy 2011 Highlights

John Shearer, WireImage

LL Cool J kicked off the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards introducing a tribute to Aretha Franklin, calling her not only the Queen of Soul but the Queen of the Grammys for her 18 prior wins. As previously reported Franklin, who had surgery to deal with an undisclosed illness, was at home resting in Detroit, so Jennifer Hudson, Christina Aguilera, gospel singer Yolanda Adams, country singer Martina McBride, and Florence Welch performed some of her hits. Although all five women showcased powerful vocals during songs like ‘Natural Woman,’ ‘Respect,’ and ‘Ain’t No Way,’ Hudson and Aguilera were clear frontrunners mirroring their powerful vocal range to that of Franklin’s.

“I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to be with you this evening,” a noticeably thinner Franklin said in a taped video broadcast, which aired during the ceremony, “I especially want to thank all of you who took the time to send me get well cards and flowers, and most important your prayers during my time of hospitalization.” Franklin also thanked music executive Clive Davis, and promised to attend next year’s ceremony.

Bruno Mars, B.o.B and Janelle Monae teamed up for a performance of their tracks ‘Nothin’ on You,’ ‘Grenade’ and ‘Cold War.’

Mars and B.o.B started off with ‘Nothing on You’ which featured a caped Monae on keys. Mars was then transported back the black-&-white era for his slower doo-wop version of ‘Grenade.’ But the real scene stealer was Monae who then finished the montage with ‘Cold War.’ During her manic performance, Monae jumped into the well-dressed Grammy crowd for a crowd surf. Mars and B.o.B are up for Record of the Year with ‘Nothin’ on You,’ while Monae was nominated for Best Urban/Alternative Performance for her song ‘Tightrope,’ but lost out to Cee Lo‘s ‘Fuck You.’

A winner twice already tonight, Usher took the stage with his protege Justin Bieber, beginning on a nostalgic note with an early video of the Biebs auditioning for Usher four years ago. Bieber, a Best New Artist nominee, then sang a medley that included ‘Baby’ and his new song ‘Never Say Never,’ with Jayden Smith, before Usher came out and performed ‘OMG.’ The best part of the duo’s time on stage together was the dance-off at the end, that saw them slicing the air like ninja warrior Will.i.ams.

Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Channeling Elton John’s ’70s look with his over the top feather-heavy outfit, Cee Lo Green sat down at a Liberace-inspired grand piano for his performance of ‘Forget You.’ The original version of the song, ‘F— You,’ was up for Song of the Year and Record of the Year. With blond beauty Gwyneth Paltrow falling flat on her verses, the puppets backing Cee Lo definitely stole the show. Despite singing the clean version, it seems Cee Lo and Paltrow (or the puppets) might have slipped in some of the original lyrics because CBS got a couple of silent bleeps in there.

For Eminem‘s two-song medley, Rihanna kicked things off with ‘Love the Way You Lie’ as Maroon 5′s Adam Levine played a piano. Eminem eventually came onstage to rapturous applause and did not shy away from the song’s explicit lyrics, and then launched into ‘I Need a Doctor,’ featuring emerging songwriter Skylar Grey. As expected, Dr. Dre joined Em and Grey onstage. After all, ‘I Need a Doctor’ is set to appear on Dre’s highly anticipated ‘Detox’ that is dropping this year.

Rihanna was back on stage a little later with Drake performing ‘Whats My Name?’ With a giant fire pit burning on stage and a a bevvy of jembe drummers, the song went tribal. Despite being a sultry single that starts with the lyrics “Yeah, I heard you good with them soft lips,’ Rihanna and Drake lacked chemistry on stage; their grinding moment coming off a little distant and uncoordinated. But you can always count on Rihanna, dressed in a sexy little fringed bikini, to still deliver some raunch. She kicked her legs and shook those hips mesmerizing those watching, and we’re pretty sure Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, who gave a fitting tribute to late soul legend Solomon Burke earlier in the evening, was even a little jealous.

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