For a time, it seemed like the 55th Grammy Awards were going to be all about
fun. Fortunately, they weren't.
Fun (let's skip the gratuitous period from now on, OK?) won the first two
big, general awards (Song of the Year and Best New Artist) and threatened to
pull off a rare Big Four sweep, but the trio lost Record of the Year to Gotye
and Album of the Year to Mumford & Sons, restoring some balance to a long
and varied evening of performances and honors. Here are some of the best and
worst moments of the telecast.
Country music performances displayed a lot of restraint, and it paid off.
First, Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley joined forces to sing their gorgeous
"Over You" and "Home" hits, then Hunter Hayes sang a truncated, pared-down piano
version of "Wanted," and finally Carrie Underwood effectively reduced the scale
of her dazzling "Blown Away" (a double winner) before stepping up the intensity
for "Two Black Cadillacs." (OK, there was a light show on her dress, but I'm
talking about musical restraint.)
That same dialed-down quality was also apparent, unusually, in Rihanna's
poignant duet with Mikky Ekko, "Stay," and Miguel's stunning "Adorn" (with a
largely irrelevant Wiz Khalifa) was similarly moving.
By contrast, the Black Keys provided an object lesson in the best way to
augment a guitar-drums duo (bring in New Orleans' Preservation Hall Jazz Band
and Dr. John on keys in full gris-gris regalia), romping through a raucous
"Lonely Boy." They also won four Grammys (one for Dan Auerbach as top producer),
a great night spoiled a bit by losing their bids for Record of the Year and
Album of the Year.
Frank Ocean had quite a showcase, winning two awards and singing "Forrest
Gump" in an elaborate production. It was also a fine night for Gotye, who went
three for three with "Somebody That I Used to Know," 2012's best pop record, now
recognized as such by the Recording Academy. If winning Record of the Year turns
out to be his career highlight (a possibility difficult to dismiss), it was a
Elton John joined Ed Sheeran for the latter's "The A Team," and darned if the
chorus didn't sound like a vintage Elton hit on the chorus.
Bonnie Raitt stymied the three leading lights of the nouveau fauxlk-music
brigade, Mumford & Sons, the Avett Brothers and the Lumineers, by winning
the Americana Grammy.
Best Historical Album went to the Beach Boys' "Smile." Pretty good for a
45-year-old album that was never supposed to come out. Janis "Society's Child"
Ian winning over a president (Clinton) and first lady (Obama) in the Spoken Word
Album category was also one for the books.
Colombian star Juanes played a nice bilingual version of Elton John's "Your
Song," which was intriguing, in that a recent Billboard story had noted the
Latin music industry's resentment that no representatives of its many genres
were scheduled to perform on the Grammys. Voila there was Juanes. (That was it
for Latin music, the Academy apparently believing that Juanes enough.)
Taylor Swift qualifies in best and worst: "We Are Never Ever Getting Back
Together" is already something of a classic tune, and she enhanced it by
improvising a line about "I'm busy opening the Grammys" and placing a distinct
emphasis on the line about "some indie record that's much cooler than mine." But
her performance outdid even the song's over-the-top video with mimes, rabbits,
tricyclists and guys on stilts, and to make things worse, the song lost in the
Record of the Year category and Taylor won just one award, a songwriting award
for her contribution to "Safe & Sound" from "The Hunger Games."
Which leads to a discouraging number of less-enjoyable moments.
"This is Fun," said Neil Patrick Harris in introducing the band, but I'm
wondering if the name was meant ironically. Live, they're certainly the absolute
antithesis of fun, Nate Ruess grimly wandering on and off-key during "Carry On."
Rarely has a band so lightweight taken itself so deadly seriously, not since the
dreaded Maroon 5, in fact, but Maroon 5's performance with Alicia Keys seemed
blithe and carefree by comparison.
Justin Timberlake was pretty much introduced by Ellen DeGeneres and Beyoncé
(who stumbled over her cue cards, footage of which will soon be banned from the
Internet) as the second coming of, if not Elvis, at least some unholy
combination of Otis Redding and Frank Sinatra. A black-and-white,
tuxed-to-the-max retro set for new, underachieving single "Suit & Tie"
featured JT performing with Jay-Z and seemingly every musician on the local
union rolls; as uninspiring as that one was, it paled before the soul travesty
that was second song, "Pusher Love Girl." Leave the retro-soul pastiches to
Bruno Mars, who excelled thusly last year.
Unfortunately, this year Bruno was into Police pastiches, namely his recent
hit "Locked Out of Heaven," on which he was joined by Sting on bass and vocals,
segueing into the Police's own "Walking on the Moon," featuring Bruno and Sting
unforgettably trading "ee-yos." This was the circuitous route taken toward a
tribute to Bob Marley that eventually evolved into "Could You Be Loved," as
rendered by Ziggy and Damian Marley along with Rihanna and the rest of the
Mumford & Sons' "I Will Wait" wasn't unbearable, but I still wait to hear
a good song by this mystifyingly successful band. However, their performance was
preferable to the Lumineers, who -- if we don't take precautions soon -- may
teach an entire generation that folk music means alternating "hey"s and "ho"s
(which have previously been restricted to rap records) throughout a song.
The worst voting result of the night came in the Pop Solo Performance
section, which should have been renamed Best Female Pop Vocal, since there were
no males nominated. Instead, two of the year's biggest and best pop smashes, the
sublime "Wide Awake" by Katy Perry and Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe," plus
strong records by the estimable Kelly Clarkson and Rihanna, were up for the
award. But it was won by a redundant live version of Adele's "Set Fire to the
Rain," which was part of the British singer's stunning sweep a year ago and in
no way deserving of further commemoration. It was a particularly lame example of
a venerable and deplorable Grammy trait: adopting a favorite artist and
continuing to vote for any record connected to that artist, even if she just
stopped by the recording studio to say hello to the engineer.
There were more miscarriages of justice in various awards categories: Fun's
Song of the Year award deprived the stronger "Call Me Maybe," "Adorn," "The A
Team" and, well, "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)" of a trophy, and while the
Best New Artist lineup wasn't the strongest, Frank Ocean would have been more
deserving than the fun ones. Miranda Lambert clearly deserved country album
honors over the Zac Brown Band, and Little Big Town's "Pontoon" is more a
forgettable novelty than a Best Country Duo/Group Performance. Skrillex's sweep
of the dance-music field was another example of the voters battening on to an
acknowledged favorite they're convinced is hip. But when you balance those
against Gotye's three wins, the Black Keys' success, and wins for "Blown Away"
and Drake, the voters did OK.
Which is about the verdict you'd have to hand down for this year's show.
There were plenty of highlights, but also lowlights galore and more neutral
performances and results, all of which added up to a show that was not so much
terrific or terrible as & really long.
As music editor at USA Today, music obsessive Ken Barnes started the
Idol Chatter blog and reports on "American Idol," "The Voice," "X Factor" and
other TV music competitions for MSN TV and MSN Music. He also dissects music
awards shows when permitted.
Frank Ocean cannot sing and that "Forest Gump" song has to be one of the worst ever written. He's pitchy with no power behind the voice so he needs lots of "noise" behind his vocals...just like Bieber does. He would not make it to Hollywood if he competed on "Idol"
I'm not sure what alternate musical universe you've been living in, because there are two albums full of great Mumford and Sons songs, wonderfully arranged and astoundingly worded songs. And commenting on how the Pop Solo Performance category was filled with female nominees as if that is a contributing factor as to why whatever you believed should have won did not is ridiculous. I noticed you failed to point out that there were no women in the Big Six, the six artists/groups nominated for six awards each. My overall point is that you seemed to be writing about a completely different award show, one that didn't have a rude Chris Brown, a desparate Taylor Swift, or rampant misogyny. Good for you.
Have to agree with jhig. The Frank Ocean number was horrible. I was watching this and wondering how he got nominated for anything.
But our Mr. Barnes here put that in the best category while putting the fantastic Marley tribute in the worst category? You want to know the sign of a good performance? When a theatre full of musicians ranging from country to hard rock are on their feet and singing along, you are doing pretty well.
You didn't say a word about Mavis Staples and Brittany Howard destroying "The Wait" with Zac Brown, M&S, T. Bone, and Elton, therefore, your commentary on this event is trash. And I'm sorry, there was absolutely NOTHING wrong with Bruno & Sting or with the Marley tribute. Time for new gig, Mr. Barnes. But I guess maybe reporting on American Idol and all that other BS nonsense has made you forget about real music and real artistry. Wonder how you paid YOUR dues to get in this business.
The Grammys are here, hosted again by LL Cool J. It's going to be a big night for Mumford & Sons, Frank Ocean and fun., who are only some of the people who scored six nominations. The big show is Sunday, so check out our thoughts now on who should win the major awards, who got snubbed and the first President to win a Grammy. Also, we solve the eternal debate that is the difference between Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
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