More than any other award show, the GRAMMY awards always seem to generate a fair amount of buzz and no shortage of opinions on the performances that take place during the course of the telecast. This year was certainly no exception.
The show immediately opened with a tribute to the Queen of Soul, the iconic Aretha Franklin. At first glance, it would appear that Florence Welch, of Florence + The Machine fame is perilously out of her element and I was nervous for her. Her inclusion seems like NARAS (The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) is already trying to appeal to a younger demographic. We’ll see. After a quick verse from (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman from each of the participants (Jennifer Hudson, Martine McBride, Yolanda Adams, Florence and Christina Aguilera) Christina was first out of the gate with her solo. She sings with the subtlety of a jackhammer and while there’s no denying her talent, I thought this was just ok. McBride follows and does her usual classy job. She’s not flashy and generally flies under the public radar so I always forget what an amazing talent she is. Thankfully, whoever booked this performance gave Florence the lead on Think which is well within her range and did not force her to step outside her comfort zone. Jennifer Hudson was next and she has a great voice but I felt like she was yelling at me. Not my favorite moment. Yolanda Adams’ solo was next and, as expected, she was great. The quintet closed the performance with the Franklin/Eurythmics duet from 1985, Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves. All in all, I thought this was a fitting tribute to Franklin and a pretty good way to open the show.
Train takes home the first televised GRAMMY of the evening. Nice humble speech from Pat Monahan although he looked like he just rolled out of bed.
Lady Gaga is the next performer, coming onstage in a weird egg/womb/pod thing. So after the tribute to Aretha Franklin, we get Gaga’s tribute to Madonna? I like the single but there’s no denying this is Madonna, circa 1990. Not a criticism, just an observation. All that aside, I did like the performance.
Blake Shelton is up to introduce his fiancée, Miranda Lambert. I’m a big fan of Miranda’s but she seemed a little off and maybe nervous and the song felt a little flat to me. Maybe because I’ve seen her perform at her spitfire/hellion best and the ballad didn’t translate well on live TV. I’ve watched the song a few more times and still can’t get into it.
Britain’s Muse is up next to perform Resistance. This is one of the best bands that virtually no one has heard of. Despite having opened for U2 on their 360 tour, Muse remains criminally underrated and unknown. Hopefully this appearance will elevate them to the next level. I could have done without the ‘protestors’ that were part of the show but the band sounded great and came across like first rate rock stars. Win.
I can’t say enough about Bruno Mars, B.O.B. and Janelle Monae. This to me was a career defining moment for all of them. I loved the arrangements, I loved the string section, and I loved how classy it all seemed. Janelle, however, stole the whole segment, taking total control and owning that stage and a room full of jaded artists and music industry executives erupted when it was over. They all gained a lot more fans after this, especially Janelle. Go buy her record “The ArchAndroid” (and thank me later).
Miranda Lambert wins for Best Female Country Vocal. First GRAMMY win for her and well deserved.
Justin Bieber is out for his performance with Usher. Snore. There are about three minutes left out of his original 15. Ninja back up dancers AND the new Karate Kid? Seriously? Neither Bieber nor Jaden Smith would win on American Idol and I simply don’t understand what all the fuss is about.
Muse wins for Best Rock Album. Four veteran acts and Muse takes it home. Would it have killed them to at least acknowledge Neil Young when they walked past him to grab their award?
Wait, two back to back awards? This is such an odd slate (Best Pop Vocal Album) with nominees Justin Bieber, Susan Boyle, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and John Mayer. Gaga gets the nod and seems genuinely surprised and thankful.
A great Top Ten list from David Letterman leads into an explosion of folk/Americana music with the awesome Mumford and Sons. Their debut record is amazing and I thought their performance came across and totally authentic. Their biggest gig to date and they totally delivered and another bright spot in what has been a great year for them. The Avett Brothers followed and as much as I have tried, I just don’t get it. They are pretty popular on the indie rock music scene and their fans are loyal but I just don’t see it. Sorry. The legendary Bob Dylan came out to close and probably should have stayed home. I don’t know who told him that singing (and I use that term loosely) on live television was a good idea. Clearly, Dylan is one of the greatest songwriters of all time and has never really been known for his performance ability but this was embarrassing. It was like a homeless person stumbled onstage and launched into Maggie’s Farm. This was only saved (by the slimmest of margins) by the enthusiasm the band had playing behind him.
Lady Antebellum are next to pay tribute to Teddy Pendergrass. The country trio also performed a pair of their singles, American Honey and the blockbuster Need You Now. This was fine. Not great, not terrible. For a band that was about to take home two of the biggest awards of the night, I was hoping for more. Lady A then wins for Best Country Album. No surprise there.
Next performer was Elton Jo…oh, wait, it’s Cee-Lo Green, some puppets and Gwyneth Paltrow. This may have seemed like a good idea on paper but it’s just weird. I love that Cee-Lo doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously but this was overkill. And I liked Paltrow better on Glee. Criticisms aside, I still love this song, although I prefer the non-sanitized version.
Katy Perry starts with her new single, Not Like The Movies. Meh. A bland ballad and what appeared to be footage of her wedding to Russell Brand that segued into Teenage Dream. This was pretty awful. She was off key and desperately in need of the recording studio trickery that makes her radio hits so accessible and popular. Next!
Norah Jones, Keith Urban and John Mayer came out to pay tribute to Dolly Parton with a great rendition of Jolene. But why not have Dolly herself come out? And shouldn’t John Mayer have learned the words and not relied on having to read them?
In a bit of an upset (I was expecting Love The Way You Lie by Eminem), Lady Antebellum wins Song of the Year for Need You Now.
Rihanna and Adam Levine opened the next performance of Love The Way You Lie and despite reports of have laryngitis and bronchitis, I thought Rihanna sounded ok. Levine’s vocal presence was minimal and he barely got any screen time. Eminem is out and you can feel that this is already something special. He’s an amazing rapper and always seems to give it his all. I did, however, think he was going to break a blood vessel. Skylar Grey (formerly known as Holly Brook) starts with a verse from Dr. Dre’s new single I Need A Doctor (she was also a co-writer on Love The Way You Lie).
Eminem seems so angry and unhappy, that dude needs to lighten up. The only time he seems to be enjoying himself is when he’s performing alongside Dr. Dre. I loved the track and this was, by far, one of my favorite performances of the night.
In a shocking turn of events, Esperanza Spalding wins the Best New Artist GRAMMY. No one has ever heard of her but she is an amazingly talented performer and composer. Check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15M62OtLrBQ
But I can’t help but feel like this is NARAS’ way of being ‘unpredictable’ and ‘edgy’ by having someone with zero name recognition win a high profile award. This isn’t to say she wasn’t deserving, but still….
The “In Memoriam” segment segues right into Mick Jagger’s tribute to the late, great Solomon Burke. I hope that every young up and coming artist in the room and watching from home took notes as Jagger and his amazing backing band (including R&B/soul singer Raphael Saadiq) put on an absolute clinic with the classic Everybody Needs Somebody To Love. This was everything a live performance should be. Fun, full of energy and it got everyone up and moving. It reminded me of some of the great performances from the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony (more on that next month). This was awesome.
Barbra Streisand is out to sing her classic Evergreen. I bet she has liver spots older than Justin Bieber. This is making me sleepy. Time for a snack.
Eminem wins for Best Rap Album. He seemed surprised. I wasn’t.
After the commercial break, Drake and Rihanna are onstage to sing What’s My Name? All Rihanna was missing was a stripper pole. I actually kind of like this song, though, and for those of you who are fans, she’s coming to the 1st Mariner Arena on June 4th.
Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez have such awkward chemistry. Someone called them the new Sonny & Cher last night and I think that sums it up perfectly.
Lady A out again after scoring Record of the Year honors. They seem as shocked as everyone else.
The final performance of the night was from indie darlings Arcade Fire. This was a frenetic mess including BMX riders and strobe lights that made it nearly impossible to actually see the band. I don’t think this did them any favors at all.
Barbra Streisand then presents that with the ‘coveted’ Album of the Year award. I’m speechless and so were they. I don’t think anyone saw this coming. It won’t mean anything for their career, they will remain just outside the edge of the blockbuster acts. The Montreal based seven piece closed the show with Ready To Start, the second track from their 2010 release, The Suburbs.
Overall, it was a pretty good night for the music industry. The GRAMMY awards are typically painfully out of touch and while there was some evidence if that this year, they continue to slowly open their doors as evidenced by the Arcade Fire win. The show scored the best ratings since 2001 with more than 26 million people watching some amazing music (Jagger) and some not (Katy).
For a complete list of winners, visit www.grammy.com