Ahhh yes, the Grammys. It’s a night that music people love to complain about . . . except when the awards get it “right.” It’s also an evening that increasingly downplays the actual awards in favour of being a weird and sporadically-wonderful spectacle: the flash and fury of a post-empire music industry trying to create an illusion of monoculture when it simply doesn’t exist anymore.
Sounds like fun.
I’ll be updating this post live throughout the night starting at 8 EST (9 ADT) sharp, so check back during the commercial breaks or when the show is over for the full stream-of-consciousness recap.
Pre-show: Sorry, cool kids, but I just can’t take liveblogging the E! red carpet. Even I have my limits. That said, I did turn it on for 10 minutes and have the following thoughts:
- Every time I hear “ManiCam” I picture the kid from Modern Family with a big ol’ camera tied to his forehead.
- I don’t want to hear the phrase “side boob” for a long, long time.
- Ashanti lives!
Also, a bunch of awards were given out at the pre-show and they were all unsurprising. The Black Keys won rock song and rock album (unsurprising, since they’re up for album of the year); Gotye won alternative album over Fiona Apple, M83 and Tom Waits (eyeroll); Usher, Miguel and Beyonce won R&B award; rap song and performance were off-air, denying us hearing someone famous try and say “N***as in Paris” on TV; and Skrillex won dance recording because he’s probably the guy the Grammy voters have heard of the most.
8:00 EST – PRINCE IS AT THE GRAMMYS DOING SOMETHING
8:01 - Taylor Swift starts off the show with “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, and together with the cane and top hat, my first thought is “Alice Cooper.” For some reason, going full Cirque du Soleil seems to be preference de jour when it comes to these sorts of pop star performances. More importantly: why is any of this necessary? The brattiness of the song is its appeal, and that gains nothing with fire dancers and people in bunny suits. She sings it well enough, so I guess it was fine.
8:06 – What would it take for the ladies to no longer love Cool J?
8:07 - Re: Timberlake’s hair…do we all have to wear up our hair like Bieber now? Is this a thing?
8:09 - “A Grammy is a dream come true” say people who care about external industry validation for their creative accomplishments.
8:11 – Ed Sheeran and Elton John in the first of the “huh” duets of the night. And it’s pretty awful. John feels totally out of place singing “The A Team.” Sheeran’s whispery delivery, matching the song’s understatement, is a part part of the why the song works, and Elton’s strong, sharp cadence totally wrecks the song. A bit of a bummer, since I’ve always sort of liked “The A Team” – classic case of a simple song that succeeds due to a catchy, sticky melody.
8:18 - Really? Last year’s Grammys was the biggest social media event in HISTORY, LL?
8:19 - I think I saw Drizzy just say “damn” re: J-Lo’s weird black dress.
8:21 - Best pop performance goes to…Adele? For a song from her live album? Over great songs by Kelly Clarkson and Carly Rae Jepsen? Sure, okay, fine, we get it Grammy voters: you’re still rockist, conservative beasts who will happily find more ways to celebrate the one artist that for a fleeting moment made it seem like there’s a music industry worth a damn. Be that way. (Were I running things, live versions of songs would be off limits unless it’s new material, but what do I know?)
8:23 – I’ve often wondered the politics of what you perform at the Grammys. For example: did Fun. have to fight to sing its latest single (“Carry On”) instead of its two bigger hits (“We Are Young” or “Some Nights”)? Anyways, I like “Carry On” but like “Some Nights,” the Queen influence is just a bit too on-the-nose for me (and of the two, “Some Nights” is the better melody.) Nice guitar solo by the Steel Train guy. When was the list time an awards performance involved getting rained on? Seems uncomfortable. Loved the gratuitous “cut to Janelle Monae” reaction at the end.
8:26 – Quick commercial thought: who in the Sting camp authorized using “Every Breath You Take” for that horrible Big Brother Canada commercial?
8:32 - Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bently are our second debut of the night, and just by nature of genre, is bound to be less ear-splitting than the first. The song they start with couldn’t possibly be any more country-pop-by-the-numbers. If this is “three chords and the truth,” as the intro suggested it might be, then might I suggest they choose either better truths or better chords? (Actually, that’s unfair: the chords are fine, but the vocal melody has not one ounce of novelty or surprise.) The second song, “Home” is a bit better, but mostly because of its descending guitar line as a counterpoint. It’s still very, very boring.
8:36 - Seeing a lot of tweets about off-key vocal performances. Am I a bad person for not caring very much? None of the flubs have been so extreme as to ruin any performance in my books, and if anything, it’s a welcome signifier of authentic performance.
8:41 – Of course, as soon as I type that, Miguel absolutely nails “Adorn” like a boss, so what do I know?
8:43 – Solo country performance goes to Carrie Underwood. Her speech is a list. Moving on.
9:44 - Is Johnny Depp still a big enough deal that “Johnny Depp introduces Mumford and Sons” is a Grammy moment we don’t want to miss?
8:50 – No way LL is reading ALL of your tweets. Sorry.
8:51 – Faith Hill and Tim McGraw present song of the year, which doesn’t have as much crossover with record of the year (which goes to the recording, not the songwriters) as usual. The award goes to…Fun. for “We Are Young.” Though I have a soft spot for “Adorn” and clearly rep hard for “Call Me Maybe,” “Young” is a fine winner. Of course, 20 years from now everyone will only remember that song as car commercial nostalgia, but c’est la vie.
8:54 – As expected, the Johnny Depp intro was unmemorable.
8:55 – I have no beef with Mumford and Sons, but remain bothered by how current roots revival feels predicated on a faux authenticity that only succeeds by contrasting with the overproduction of modern pop music. As a Stereogum article put it this week (one actually defending the band), “their popularity seems to bespeak a deeply problematic white-people longing for a Depression-era simplicity that probably never existed.” And hey, it’s a nostalgia age, I get it, but these artists (Mumford, Lumineers, etc.) gain power in the idea that their nostalgia music is somehow more “real” than all our other nostalgia music out there. And it’s simply not.
9:03 – Ellen and B! America – THIS IS YOU. (Well, okay, not so much you, bigoted America.)
9:05 – JT performing “Suit and Tie.” Insert your InstaGram joke here about that sepia filter.
9:07 – Hov!
9:08 – Ok, look, I get it, “Suit & Tie” is hardly the world-conqueroring blockbuster single that people wanted (expected?) from JT’s comeback. But that weirdly kind of makes me like it even more? It’s a modest, accomplished, soulful Motown throwback track. It feels charmingly out of its own time…
9:09 – …which brings me to this second new song that JT performs. Again: it’s a cool little track. But I can’t help but feel that Timberlake’s taking the same path that Beyonce did on 4, which is a more classical form of R&M melody and rhythm that a) I find quite appealing, but b) is so out of step with this day and age that it’s pretty much certain to fall flat, commercially. Consider that even a great recent throwback track, like Bruno Mars’ “Locked out of Heaven,” relies on an electro keyboard riff and a strong four-on-the-floor beat to make it to the top of the charts. JT’s gonna have some troubles with this comeback, me thinks, without songs that dance the way today’s songs dance. It’s hard to fight against chart trends.
9:11 – How did Hov get back to his seat so fast?
9:13 – Frank Ocean wins the categorically dubious Urban Contemporary Album (????). He does not thank his fellow nominees. I wonder why.
9:18 – Thank you, whoever put Chris Brown in the front row, because it means we get to capture him being a dick as usual.
9:20 – Best rock performance has to go to the Black Keys, right? Right. Remember that year when Arcade Fire won album of the year? Well, Brothers beat The Suburbs for alternative album. It’s like Grammy voters have just been licking their lips waiting for the chance to give the Keys more Grammys and are going all-in this year. I like them, don’t get me wrong, but am I wrong for feeling like Grammy voters enjoy them for all the wrong, conservative reasons?
9:23 – Remember my comment earlier about the politics of what to perform? Apparently Adam Lavine is big enough that Maroon 5 gets to perform a song I haven’t actually heard before. So there’s that. It’s mashed up with Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire,” which is a) a pretty boring single, by her standards, b) I have trouble believing had nothing in any way to do with The Hunger Games.
9:27 – Best pop vocal album is up next, which is pretty much Fun.’s to lose and…they lose? To Kelly Clarkson? Okay, sure. Stronger was a pretty mixed bag, but hey, if it gets Kelly up on stage to be awesomely herself — singing the praises of Miguel, getting stuck to Miranda Lambert, and apologizing to the children after mentioning drinking — I’m all for it.
9:37 - Rihanna gets to perform, after LL Cool J got REALLY excited about hashtags. So here’s the thing: Rihanna’s not a terrible vocalist, but she’s also not a great one either, so this sort of stripped-down performance just seems flat. Also, it’s trying for a slow-burning, torch-song sexuality, which Rihanna is also terrible at: her sex is loud, forceful, dominant, explicit. Nobody wants to slow dance with Rihanna.
9:40 – Here comes CRJ and Ne-Yo for the rap/sung collaboration and it goes, unsurprisingly, to “No Church in the Wild.” Frank: “I didn’t think I’d be the one speaking first on this one.” He also calls (the absent) Yeezy “Mr. West,” which makes me laugh. The Dream thanks his mom, and then the best thing happens: the music director starts to play the “please wrap up” music for A SINGLE NOTE when Jay steps to the mic and it STOPS. Boom. And even better, all Jay does is make fun of The Dream’s hat. Yes. All of this.
9:49 – Kat Dennings is out to introduce The Black Keys, who perform “Lonely Boy” with Dr. John and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. One of the perils of the Grammys nomination season is that because it goes October-to-October, so we have a song like Lonely Boy being honoured which feels soooooo old by this point. It’s a fun performance, though: an example of how adding extra performers can lead to something that actually works, musically.
9:53 – Kelly Clarkson does one of the always oddly short lifetime achievement award singalongs, this one for Patti Page and Carole King. Unlike most awards shows, which pick one lifetime award winner and celebrate them in detail, the Grammys pick, like, six or seven and then give them brief tributes through the night.
9:57 – Clarkson then presents best country album to the Zac Brown Band, which she flubs while saying it so it sounds like Zach Braff Band. I do not want to listen to the Zach Braff Band because I, like most adults, outgrew Garden State a long long time ago.
10:05 – This is supposed to be a Bob Marley tribute? Basically, it’s just Bruno Mars rocking the shit out of the very excellent “Locked out of Heaven.” And Sting comes on and plays on this because of course he should and it’s awesome. Then the song transitions into The Police’s “Walking on the Moon” which Mars harmonizes on and it sounds great. Has anyone ever “eee yoo ooo’d” better than Sting?
10:10 – Ahh here’s the Marley tribute. Bob Marley is my classic “It’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans” artist. Maybe someday I’ll be able to get past the douchebags and hippies cranking Legend and appreciate his work more. Today is not that day.
10:18 – “Hey! Ho! Let’s…sing a pretty little song?” That’s what the Ramones’ first draft was, I bet. “Ho Hey” is a sweet enough track, but the best part of this performance are Taylor Swift’s singalong hand gestures. There’s no one in the world who can out-mug that girl.
10:21 – They move the camera right to Jack White, who’s performing “Love Interruption” (one of my fav tracks from the just-pretty-okay Blunderbluss) with his all-female backing band. Seems like there’s a big space left on the stage and, sure enough, here’s the all male band as well, ready to rock out a bit more with “Freedom at 21.” What I like about White is that his nostalgia artifice calls attention to his own artifice. It’s authentically inauthentic. And tonight, pretty awesome.
10:26 – Going to keep it classy and not comment in detail on Katy’s Perry’s frontboobs.
10:27 – Best new artist has a reputation of dropping a surprise bomb on the Grammys, but it goes relatively predictable and picks Fun. this time around. They’re “newer” than many of the winners in this category, which reminds me that at some point the Grammys need to get rid of their ridiculous “establishes the public identity of the artist.” Who the fuck is “the public” anymore? #Monoculture
10:31 – Yeah I just hashtagged a liveblog. Deal with it.
10:34 – Hunter Hays gets to sing, like, a verse and chorus before he throws over to Carrie Underwood who sings a more boring song than the one he was singing. Feels like she’s mostly in it for the glory notes. Then she switches songs and her dress starts getting drawn on by magic light? The performance improves at this point, though that could be due to the grittiness in the vocal and not the magic sparkle dress BUT WHO KNOWS?!?!
10:40 – Prince is too cool for this shit. And HE HAS A CANE FOR NO REASON. Best.
10:41 – The Purple One presents record of the year. So many cool potential crossover meetings here: Prince and T-Swift? Prince and Frank? Prince says “I love this song” as Gotye takes the stage with the win for “Somebody I Used to Know.” Kimbra’s face is practically splitting in smiles at the fact that Prince is handing her a Grammy. On the track itself: struggling to recall a song this big that had such little interest in its own verses. Few hits in recent memory speak so strongly to the current supremacy of the chorus.
10:54 - Ryan Seacrest gets to do the “hang out with the head of the RIAA and talk about our industry feelings.” Timberlake also gets to join them as he talks about the Grammy Foundation and music education. It’s followed by the In Memoriam: Donna Summer, Robin Gibb, Davy Jones, Dick Clark, Andy Griffith, Patti Page, Ravi Shankar, Adam Yauch and, of course, many more, ending with Levon Helm…
10:57 – …into a Levon Helm tribute featuring Elton John, Mumford and Sons, Mavis Staples, Zac Brown, T-Bone Burnett and many others. It’s no better or worse than any version of The Weight that you’ve played or heard played at your local bar. No matter where or how it gets played, it always sounds the same. (Best performance? Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes. She slays. Staples is aces too.)
11:09 – Juanes is out with a guitar to sing a bit of Elton John’s “Your Song” for…some reason? I don’t even?
11:11 – Frank Ocean does “Forrest Gump” with some sort of video screen piano so it looks like he’s running on a mountain road while he’s performing and it’s pretty friggin’ cool. That said, “Gump” isn’t a highlight like some of the other tracks Ocean could have chosen, so all in all, it’s a bit underwhelming. But I was pretty smitten by the whole multimedia thing.
11:17 - Mumford and Sons take home album of the year, which is unsurprising. It’s a classic makeup Grammy: the slow burn success of Sigh No More meant that most Grammy voters discovered it after they could have voted for it, so now they reward the (lesser) followup album instead. I’m no fan, but even I’ll admit that Sigh No More has a number of well-written, catchy songs. Babel, in contrast, is really, really boring.
11:24 – One performance left to go: Chuck D, Tom Morello, Travis Barker and Z-Trip join LL for a big rap bit and while this whole thing isn’t without some awkardness, I admit I geeked out a bit when Chuck D launches into the first lines of “Welcome to the Terrordome.” After a Morello scratch solo, they launch into “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” for MCA and it’s actually all sorts of awesome. So, of course, it gets cut off by the rules lady and the Hilton hotels sponsorship because we just can’t have nice things.
11:29 – To bed! Goodnight, sweet false monoculture.