jason stives looks at the vaunted music award show…
If we learned one thing from purging the social media world last night it’s that popular music and its love hate/relationship with music fans of all generations is getting pretty grim. I almost popped an embolism in a heated Facebook debate about the merit of many of the artists up for honors at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards last night. In hindsight, after coming down off a cloud of defense I didn’t know I could produce, I realize that while last night’s ceremony was one of the tighter and more enjoyable ones of recent years, the strong hold of quality popular music is steeping in various directions and some of the winners last night showcased that. However, this is a debate for another day because despite any kind of grumblings last night’s ceremony produced some memorable highlights and fewer controversies for the first time in what seems like ages.
The show started off relatively strong with an Alice in Wonderland inspired performance by everyone’s favorite gee golly country pop songstress Taylor Swift, performing her more than catchy hit “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” From there the trade-off of award presenting and performance continued with the award for Best Pop Performance which went to last year’s Grammy sweeper Adele for “Set Fire to the Rain.” This was followed swiftly by the night’s first collaboration as English singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran performed his hit song “A Team” with the legendary Elton John.
Let’s talk the awards themselves because there were definitely some surprises and some very expected wins. Mumford and Sons, as predicted by some news outlets, took home Album of the Year for their sophomore effort, Babel, which if you think about the people who decide the winners isn’t that surprising. Of the album’s nominated and which ones register for the most mass appeal based on style of music, Babel was the safe bet and while maybe not the best to win to some (I would have been glad if the Black Keys swept all their awards) it fits with the stream of conscious that goes with current music’s critical and commercial appeal.
fun. took home both Best New Artist and Song of the Year for “We Are Young” delivering humbling speeches each time and prompting Buzzfeed and Vulture to congratulate Lena Dunham’s boyfriend (fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff) for his wins. In a surprise turn of events Gotye, who already notched two other awards earlier in the ceremony, took home Record of the Year for “Somebody That I Used to Know.” In another surprising development from that same category, award presenter Prince, looking boss as always, admitted to liking something current, no doubt heard on the radio and not the evil, soon-to-be-dead device known as the Internet.
From here everything swayed in varying directions of expectations with American Idol alumni Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood taking home golden record players in their respected categories. The Black Keys still managed to walk away with two awards for Best Rock Album and Best Rock Performance before barreling through a rendition of “Lonely Boy” with The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the legendary Dr. John, who reminded Lady Gaga to go shove it when it came to original, bizarre head wear. For all the buzz Frank Ocean received during the award show, including racking a deserving yet dubiously titled category win for Best Urban/Contemporary Album, his performance of the track “Forrest Gump” towards the show’s end was incredibly off key and flat, which was probably not the best way to showcase your national television debut to an always divided audience.
So what of the performances? Well, despite normally being overblown with collaborations (and it still was regardless) more performances worked out this year than last year’s ceremony. Rock music had a juggernaut night with knock-out performances from Mumford & Sons, Jack White, and the aforementioned Black Keys/Dr. John collaboration. The show featured several tribute performances including ones for Bob Marley and Patti Page but personally the all star tribute to The Band’s Levon Helm featuring artists like Mumford & Sons, Mavis Staple, and Elton John performing “The Weight” was a true standout. Staple in particular belted out her famous part in “The Weight” sadly eclipsing Alabama Shake’s Brittany Howard who was also present and fronting a solid performance.
The Grammy’s once again enacted their now traditional practice of performances that lead into award presentations. While the Lumineers performed a nice rendition of their hit “Ho Hey” that lead into introducing Jack White it was R&B new comer Miguel that stole the show with his beautiful soulful singing before presenting, for some strange reason, the award for Best Country Performance alongside rapper Wiz Khalifa. I could go on and on about every individual performance but one person truly made the best impression with his outing: Justin Timberlake. While his black and white, Rat Pack esque performance of “Suit & Tie” echoed a prior performance by Bruno Mars, Timberlake’s natural charisma wasn’t something that could be compromised and his return to the Grammy’s stage after an extended hiatus was not only warranted but embraced fully. Future sales of his soon to be released third album The 20/20 Experience will certainly be helped by this performance.
So was the show and the overall results a resounding success? Well, that depends on how you feel about the batch of current popular music that was honored last night. For this author, it was a far tighter show than last year but it wasn’t without its faults which mainly came down to some overcrowded and at times lack luster performances and as always anything awarded is up for debate. Maybe how straight and narrow and safe the show was is a reflection of how automated and factory produced some of today’s most popular music can be but you can’t deny that there are some acts who try to just be good and not ambitious, a word that truthfully doesn’t describe the direction of current music. Regardless, there were some deserving winners last night and some unfortunate losers and that is always what comes of these award shows and always will.
For what’s it worth, LL Cool J did a fine job hosting the ceremony despite constantly harping on Twitter hash tags throughout the evening. Maybe that had something to do with generating interest in his own performance which closed out the show completely.
Adele and Kelly Clarkson with their humbling and rather blunt speeches should from here on out be acceptance speech writers for the Grammys, possibly every award show. I’ll be curious to hear what Adele says if she wins an Oscar in a few weeks time. Hopefully it will be a classic.
Jay Z and the never present Kanye West snagged three statues for their Watch the Throne project, which is pretty awesome. I just wish their win for “Two Guys in Paris” had been broadcasted to see who would be bold enough to call it by its real name on live television.
Country music definitely had a nice chance to shine with two performances last night but on ultimately came off better than the other. The Miranda Lambert/Dierks Bentley collaboration to me overshadowed Carrie Underwood’s projection dress that was very odd at best.