In case you didn’t hear, The GRAMMYS aired last night, and it was pretty much the same thing as every year: tons of megawatt performances, about four awards, and lots of disappointment. Once again, the old fogies ruled the day, letting pleasant but forgettable tunes like “Need You Now” win out over edgier material over and over and over again. We shouldn’t be surprised — this happens every year — but when nominations are as bold as they were this time around, it gives you hope that maybe — just maybe — the voters might not all be hobbling around with walkers.
To be fair, there were plenty of fun performances, starting with an all-star tribute to Aretha Franklin. Producers gathered Yolanda Adams, Florence Welch (Florence and the Machine), Jennifer Hudson, Christina Aguilera, and Martina McBride to sing a medley of Aretha’s greatest hits, and unsurprisingly the number turned into a showboating jubilee. Christina was arguably the worst of the bunch, what with her oversinging and indulgent melisma. Coming off last week’s disastrous National Anthem at the Super Bowl, you’d think she’d want to self-edit, but instead she pushed her performance further into the realm of parody. And let’s be honest, half the time she sounded like she was taking an enormous dump. J-Hud, on the other hand, knocked it out of the park effortlessly, which further highlighted how forced Aguilera’s shtick has become.
The rest of the women did a fine job too; although, poor Martina McBride seemed to be in over her head. And at least she didn’t fall over (another oopsie for Xtina):
Later in the night we had a much hyped Lady Gaga performance, which was perfectly entertaining but seemed to lack any major wow-factor. It must be tough for Stefani Germanotta these days: she’s raised her bar so high that if she doesn’t end a performance soaked in blood, on fire, and dangling from a flying coffin, it feels like a letdown. Plus, everyone else has caught on to her shtick: Cee Lo, Katy Perry, and Nicki Minaj are all about outlandish costumes these days. The latter girl didn’t perform, but her Bride of Frankenstein hair and leopard-print outfit certain turned heads.
Cee Lo, meanwhile, totally upstaged Gaga’s egg by appearing as one part turkey and one part Carnivale float. His performance was easily the best of the night, what with the gaggle of Muppets supporting him on stage. Even Gwyneth Paltrow showed up and proved to be limber and fun on top of Cee Lo’s piano (despite refusing to smile during the entire song). I was truly hoping she’d appear in some ridiculous lady turkey outfit too, but she kept it conservative (for the Grammys) with a simple black number. Her only rebellion seemed to be two pink earrings and some funky shoes. C’mon, Gwyneth – let out your inner rockstar. (Cut to Chris Martin sulking in the corner).
Probably the best musical moment of the evening came via Mumford & Sons, followed by the Avett Brothers, and then Bob Dylan. The two bands brought fantastic energy to the stage (and I loved the retro ’20s theater look); although, the real head-turner was Dylan, who sounded not unlike a motorcycle revving to life. “Gravely” is an understatement. “Cement mixer” might be more appropriate.
As for the other performances, they were run-of-the-mill fun: Bieber and Urrrrsher paired up in an upbeat segment, which was preceded by a vaguely homoerotic scene between the two as they recounted meeting each other for the first time. If only Barbara Streisand had emerged then to sing “Evergreen,” (a show lowpoint that occurred later in the telecast).
Fans of the Bieb may notice that his voice is beginning to finally drop, which a) has severely affected his singing, and b) means that he’s less “gender questionable” than ever before. Fear not though: the show organizers were careful to keep the underage androgyny alive by inviting the insufferable Jaden Smith to join the Bieb on stage. Or was it Willow? Hard to tell. All I know is that the cameras kept cutting to Will and Jada Smith, who were being both adorably cheeseball and hideously awful as they rapped along with their son. It reminded me of some long lost Christopher Guest film.
We also got a peppy number from B.O.B., Bruno Mars, and Janelle Monae, who executed the most awkward crowd surf in Grammy history. Arcade Fire managed to give a nation epilepsy with their nonstop strobe-light performance. And Eminem took the stage with his usual angry demeanor. The guy is massively talented but “humorless” doesn’t even begin to describe him these days.
Not everything was uptempo. Miranda Lambert put everyone to sleep with an interminable performance of some crappy song (a.k.a. her Grammy winning hit “The House That Built Me.”) Not only was she beyond boring, but when she won an award for her prosaic tune, she didn’t even thank her fiance (who had gone out of his way to introduce her and proclaim his undying love for her). BITCH.
When it came to surprises, there were only three in my book. First, that Lady Antebellum kept winning (but I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise given the ceremony’s track record with rewarding safe acts). Second, that Esperanza Spalding won as Best New Artist. Again, further proof that the academy loves anything that can sell at Starbucks. I don’t actually know Esperanza’s music; so I really can’t bash her, but it’s hard to believe she beat out Drake, Mumford & Sons, Florence and The Machine, and even Justin Bieber — all of whom set the music world buzzing in some way or another. [shaking fist]
Lastly, the big surprise of the night was that Arcade Fire won for Best Album, beating out the likes of Eminem, who led the field with ten nominations going into the night. Oh well. This was surprising to me but didn’t feel like an injustice. As long as Lady Antebellum didn’t win, I’d be happy.
Here are some pics: