So, is it too late to talk about the Grammys? Maybe. Well okay, make that probably.
But, unlike so many Grammy telecasts in recent years, this one provided enough of those memorable, water-cooler moments that really got people talking the next few days, that it warrants the critical microscope — albeit a day late and perhaps even a dollar short. If nothing else, we can thank the Grammys for succeeding in getting people to stop talking about M.I.A.’s middle finger, right?
For this alone, we owe the Recording Academy a debt of gratitude.
But when it comes to whatever, or whoever might be impacting music at any given moment, the Grammys have never been that accurate a barometer anyway. Anyone who thinks otherwise is entertaining a notion that is misguided at best, and perhaps at worst, even a delusional one.
The truth is, as a credible meritocracy that supposedly rewards greatness in musical achievement, the Grammy Awards is far more famous for its spectacular blunders, than it is for getting things right.
Historically speaking, Grammy has a long standing, and mostly very consistent pattern of rewarding safety and mediocrity, over innovation, creativity and artistry. But every so often, the Recording Academy will seek to right the ship, by handing out belated, somewhat token awards, to those artists who for whatever reason, might have been overlooked the first time around.
Among other examples, this explains why Neil Young’s first Grammy Award didn’t come for a classic album like Harvest in 1972, but rather for art direction on the Archives boxed set in 2010 (Neil got his first music Grammy the following year for “Angry World,” from his Le Noise album).
The fact is, the Grammy Awards are infamous for playing “catch-up” this way. The idea here seems to be that for every Best Album award bestowed upon a minor, latter day entry in the Steely Dan catalog for example, previous miscues like picking Jethro Tull over Metallica in the heavy metal category might be forgiven or forgotten (Melody Maker ran with a particularly memorable and hilarious headline — “For Whom The Bell Tulls” — the year that atrocity happened).
What usually makes the Grammy TV show worth watching though, are the musical performances. This year’s blockbuster talent lineup promised a thankfully refreshing break from the dance heavy routines which have dominated TV music awards shows these past few years.
Not to begrudge Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and the like. But my biggest gripe about these big music awards shows in recent years, has been the way the term “music performance” has become redefined to mean something more like running a dance marathon on acid.
Just when did a “musical performance” become less about singers singing, and musicians playing music, and more focused on choreographed dance numbers, with so many dancers running about onstage, the “singer” is mostly obscured from any reasonable view anyway?
With the 2012 star-studded lineup including the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, the Foo Fighters, a Beach Boys reunion, and the expected coronation of Adele — but especially with the Whitney Houston tragedy hanging so heavily over the proceedings — this year’s show seemed to promise a much more music-focused, if perhaps slightly more subdued, slate of entertainment.
Not that the show wasn’t without some of the aforementioned dancing silliness. Lip-synced spectacles from Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj and Chris Brown, were every bit as over-the-top as expected, with each of them generating their own individual slices of controversy. I mean, damn you, Russell Brand anyway.
Still, though forgiving Chris Brown for his sins may have been the Christian thing to do, was it really necessary to do it twice over the course of a three hour telecast? But perhaps the most telling images of Sunday’s Grammy telecast, were the numerous crowd shots of Lady Gaga’s veiled face, looking for all the world like last year’s forgotten flavor of the moment.
Pity the poor Gaga.
This was contrasted by several tasteful tributes to the many musical greats who passed this year, including Bonnie Raitt and Alicia Keys’ paying their musical respects to the great Etta James, and a version of Whitney Houston’s signature song “I Will Always Love You” from Jennifer Hudson, that was a genuine tearjerker moment (perhaps most significantly for Hudson herself).
It was one of many such moments that Grammy performers acknowledged Whitney Houston. Amy Winehouse and Soul Train creator Don Cornelius were likewise recognized.
The other performances were mostly a mixed bag.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band kicked things off with their rousing new political call-to-arms “We Take Care Of Our Own,” in a rocking performance marred only by Springsteen’s somewhat questionable inclusion of the normally reliable crowd-starting catch-phrase “Is there anybody alive out there?” (Seriously Bruce, what were you thinking?).
A planned tribute to the late, great Clarence “Big Man” Clemons — reportedly featuring P-Funk great Maceo Parker — was apparently scrapped at the last minute, in light of the previous day’s unexpected Whitney Houston tragedy.
The Beach Boys reunion was pretty much what you’d expect. The Boys looked really old. Brian Wilson looked lost. But the harmonies were mostly still there. Still, the idea of pairing them with Maroon 5 (who seemed to dig it) and Foster The People (who looked like they were doing it at gunpoint), was probably misguided. The Backstreet Boys — who killed it at the MusiCares Brian Wilson tribute two years ago — probably would have been a much better choice.
Coldplay’s pairing with Rihanna also fell mostly flat, with Chris Martin singing noticeably off-key on that group’s otherwise great song “Paradise.” In fact, the best performance of a Coldplay song that evening came during Willie Nelson’s version of “The Scientist” for a Chipotle’s Mexican Grill commercial.
But perhaps the strangest spectacle of this Grammy evening came courtesy of the Foo Fighters David Grohl, who, in accepting one of his band’s many trophys that night, used the occasion to strike a blow for rock and roll, and rage against the machine of computer generated music. Yet Grohl was no sooner than that seen performing with the Foo Fighters in a bizarre “rave” sequence that also featured Chris Brown, David Guetta and electro-dub DJ deadmau5.
Way to fight the power, Dave.
It was definitely a night of contrasts.
But the most anticipated moment — as well as the biggest question mark — of the night belonged to Adele. If Adele’s expected sweep of the major categories was mostly a foregone conclusion, her ability to pull it off after having major laser surgery on her vocal chords just as surely was not. Fortunately, Adele’s stirring acapella intro to her smash single “Rolling In The Deep” laid any such lingering doubts to rest.
Adele is definitely the real deal.
In victory, Adele was also a refreshingly human winner. Accepting her accolades with an almost painful shyness, Adele showed that her natural talent is matched only by an earthiness perhaps unseen by a talent of her caliber since the likes of Janis Joplin.
As she accepted her award for Album Of the Year, Adele punctuated her acceptance remarks with tears and the quite funny admission she was “fighting back a bit of a snot.” You had to see it, but the whole thing was quite endearing — you really gotta’ like this Adele gal.
If Adele really is the future, we may just survive that Mayan apocalypse yet.