By: Heather Gunn
Starting off on a predictable note, the Grammy’s opened with fan-favourite Adele skilfully belting out her hit single “Hello” in the middle of a darkened Staples Centre. Her performance was expected, and was just one of a string of performances that played it safe throughout the night.
For the past five years, rapper and TV personality LL Cool J has been the go-to Grammy host, but this year the academy changed it up by hiring Late Late Show host James Corden. After intentionally hurling himself down a flight of stairs, losing his shoe and mic pack in the process, Corden kicked off the night with a humorous rap that touched on famous attendees—steering clear of any obvious political commentary.
The lack of political statements continued as the night went on. Katy Perry and A Tribe Called Quest gave the only performances that took a noticeably political turn. Perry, who debuted her new disco-infused single “Chained to the Rhythm,” danced around a white house surrounded by a fence while wearing rose-coloured glasses and a simple armband that read “RESIST.” At the end of the song, the fence “broke” open and the words to the American constitution were projected behind her and guest artist Skip Marley.
A Tribe Called Quest gave a performance of their song “We The People….,” and were joined by guests Anderson Paak and Busta Rhymes, the latter making the most obvious jab at the new US administration when he passionately chanted “President Agent Orange.” Behind them, a group of people of different races and religions marched on the stage, breaking down a fake brick wall. It was immensely powerful, and was the most blatant politically charged moment of the otherwise dull broadcast.
Beyoncé evoked political undertones with a strong message of female empowerment. The moving opening video that played on the screen behind her included her mother Tina Knowles and daughter Blue Ivy, along with women of varying ethnicities in flowing yellow and gold Indian-inspired dresses – setting the tone as a tribute to motherhood and women. She ascended to the stage looking like a golden goddess, adorned in a fully beaded gown and large gold headdress, instantly commanding the attention of the audience. With her pregnancy on full display, she effortlessly glided around, weaving through her ethereal dancers while singing two ballads from Lemonade: “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles.” In a moment of awe, she sat on a wooden chair on top of a long table. The chair slowly started moving backwards until she was nearly facing the ceiling. It was an art piece, and the absolute highlight of the show.
On the other end of the spectrum, the worst part of the night was the duet between pop newcomers Lukas Graham and country sweetheart Kelsea Ballerini. They teamed up for a bizarre, and uncomfortable mash up of their songs “7 Years” and “Peter Pan.” If the producers were going for a quirky combo, they unfortunately ended up with a forced and forgettable mess.
One of the more interesting moments was the collaboration known on Twitter as “Gagatallica” and “MetalliGa,” a performance by Lady Gaga and Metallica, who sang “Moth into Flame” from Metallica’s latest album. Despite James Hadfield’s mic not working and Gaga almost falling down at one point, the set was a fiery, in-your-face rock and roll experience that set itself apart from the rest of the show. Gaga once again proved that she can perform almost any genre with ease–whether it be singing jazz standards with Tony Bennett or crowd surfing to a Metallica song, she is the embodiment of a well-rounded musician.
There were some other great performances during the lengthy broadcast, including Bruno Mars singing his new single “That’s What I Like,” Alicia Keys and Maren Morris coming together for a glamorous duet of “Once,” Ed Sheeran going solo on “Shape of You,” and The Weeknd smoothly serenading the audience with his Daft Punk-assisted single “I Feel it Coming.”
The tribute portion of the show were both hit and miss. Bruno Mars delivered an electrifying dedication to Prince, purple suit and all, while Adele nailed her emotional rendition of George Michael’s “Fastlove” despite re-starting the song after a slight mistake. The Bee Gee’s tribute, in honour of the band’s 40th anniversary, included a weird mix of performers who seemed to be randomly selected just to showcase a multitude of genres, including Demi Lovato and Tori Kelly.
The award recipients were partially expected, but there were undoubtedly surprises and snubs. Maren Morris, a new face in the country scene, won for “Best Country Song” with her track “My Church” – a surprising (but deserved) win over country veterans like Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert. Chance the Rapper won for “Best New Artist,” “Best Rap Album,” and “Best Rap Performance” – a huge victory for an independent, streaming-only artist. For “Best Pop Duo/Group Performance,” critics and fans alike were expecting Rihanna to take home the award for her drake assisted hit “Work”. To some surprise, alternative duo Twenty One Pilots took the category with the ubiquitous “Stressed Out.” They removed their pants to accept the award, an inside joke among the two members.
The biggest snub of the night was “Album of the Year,” which was awarded to Adele’s 25, leaving Beyoncé’s epic masterwork Lemonade out in the cold. Through tears, Adele accepted the award – but instead of simply thanking her team, she appeared to be in shock that Lemonade didn’t win, saying, “but I can’t possibly accept this award. And I’m very humbled, and I’m very grateful, and gracious. But, my artist of my life is Beyoncé, and this album for me, the Lemonade album, was just so monumental. And so well thought out, and so beautiful and soul-baring.” To end her acceptance, Adele literally broke off part of her new award, and reached out to Beyoncé (seated in the front row), to share with her. It was an emotional and endearing moment to end off a mediocre and mixed bag awards show.
Next year will be a landmark telecast for the Recording Academy, as they will be airing the 60th Annual Grammy awards, which is rumored to be moving to New York for the first time in Grammy history. Moving the location of the show from its home in L.A. to New York would mean a welcome fresh start for a show that has been continuously growing stale. Will changing location mean re-vamping the Grammy’s to regain their original appeal? Only time will tell.