Taylor Swift sang “Out of the Woods” like a runway fashion model in the low energy opening of the Grammy Awards last night, then coldly—if justifiably–dismissed Kanye West when she picked up her Album of the Year award for 1989. The start of Adele’s performance of “All I Ask” was marred when the piano mics fell on to the piano strings, then she made the worst of it.
So much for the female superstars whose Grammy performances were among the most-hyped. But they were hardly alone. Solo acoustic Justin Bieber barely improved after petulantly throwing down his guitar after “Love Yourself” and running back to join Diplo and Skrillex for a rock band version of “Where Are U Now.” Sam Hunt and Carrie Underwood showed little chemistry on their interminable “Take Your Time” and “Heartbeat,” during which the back of Underwood’s head was given more camera time than her face. And as for Tori Kelly and James Bay, well, with songs like “Hollow” and “Let It Go,” some reviews write themselves.
The Weeknd fared far better, even if his performances of “In the Night” and “Can’t Feel My Face” threatened to spill over into the rest of the week. While such “twofers” have become the Grammy norm, Little Big Town was well-served by sticking to “Girl Crush,” done well even with the Grammy-formulaic “Eleanor Rigby” string section.
The live performance of the Hamilton opening from Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre was great, of course, though if it hadn’t been a hip-hop show it would never have happened. The quick look at the other category nominees before Hamilton’s anticipated win for Best Musical Theater album showed that any of them would have been a welcome change from the show’s mainstream pop focus, and the Recording Academy would do well to make it a regular Grammy Awards feature, perhaps combining all the nominees into an artful medley.
Also outstanding were Alabama Shakes on “Don’t Wanna Fight,” and Kendrick Lamar, with “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright” in the prison/bonfire setting, easily the night’s most interesting performance musically and production-wise, and living up to Don Cheadle’s intro that it would combine jazz, funk, soul and poetry.
The other high points all involved memorial tributes, starting with Stevie Wonder’s brief a cappella version, with Pentatonix, of “That’s the Way of the World,” honoring Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White, and followed by the Glenn Frey tribute featuring surviving Eagles playing “Take It Easy,” sung by Jackson Browne, who co-wrote it with Frey. Chris Stapleton, Bonnie Raitt and Gary Clark, Jr. took loving care of B.B. King on his “The Thrill Is Gone.”
Lady Gaga was good in her 10-hit David Bowie tribute, but it’s time to let the Grammys—and for that matter, the Oscars and Super Bowl—in on an apparently heavily guarded secret: She’s not the only talented female recording artist in the world, and in regards to Bowie, her tribute was really more about herself.
Dave Grohl’s heartfelt praise of Lemmy Kilmister, meanwhile, was way better than the pointless performance of the Hollywood Vampires (Alice Cooper, Joe Perry and a ridiculous Johnny Depp) that he introduced, even if they did cap their way-too-long time-waste with Lemmy’s Motorhead classic “Ace of Spades.”
If only they’d have put a stake through the Vampires hearts there would have been room for a wonderful tribute number to Allen Toussaint, who deserved better than being given short shrift in the annual memorial roll of the recently deceased, same with Ornette Coleman. And instead of ending with Pitbull (with Travis Barker, Joe Perry and Robin Thicke) on “El Taxi” and “Bad Man,” a finale tribute to Earth, Wind & Fire would have commemorated Maurice White’s “vision of love, compassion and unity,” to use the words of his brother and band mate Verdine White in presenting the Album of the Year award with fellow E,W&F survivors Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson.
Maurice’s vision, added Verdine, “has been heard around the world,” and bore repeating last night.