We can’t totally fault this year’s Grammys for being so melancholic. After all, we lost an unsettling number of music legends over the past few weeks and I’ve never written the word “tribute” so many times before in one entry. But then, how do they account for the sappy ballad overload they subjected us to in the first hour? Did those performances really have to be so dreary?
There were exciting moments, of course. Aside from certain performances, most of the drama actually happened backstage – like Rihanna cancelling her performance due to laryngitis, Gwen Stefani attempting a guerilla shoot, and Lauryn Hill arriving late for her duet with The Weeknd (Don’t worry. He nailed it solo anyway).
But overall, the vibe really was atypical of “music’s biggest night”. As much as we want to stretch our understanding (given the somber circumstances), we hope they break away from this spell next year.
Here are some noteworthy highlights from the 2016 Grammys:
Foreshadowing. Taylor Swift opened the show with her latest single Out of the Woods, where she repeatedly chants “Are we out of the woods yet?” and “Are we in the clear yet?” Little did we know that it would set the tone for the entire telecast – which itself mostly felt like one staggering walk in the woods.
Salute to Lionel Richie. Banding together John Legend, Demi Lovato, Luke Bryan, Meghan Trainor, and Tyrese to honor Lionel Richie was an intriguing move, to say the least. The results were mixed, but nobody enjoyed the homage more than Lionel himself, whose bobs of approval said it all. He capped off the mini-celebration with his classic All Night Long. Call it a drag, but it was the proper pick-me-up after all the water-cooler ballad numbers that preceded it.
In praise of EWF and accessibility. Pairing Stevie Wonder with acapella quintet Pentatonix in presenting Song of the Year was a nice enough novelty (Oh, cool! They blend!). But they managed to pull more heartstrings with their simple tribute to Maurice White. What had the audience cheering, though, was Stevie playfully taunting the audience for their inability to read braille. Kudos for your inclusiveness, Grammys.
Honoring Glenn Frey. Every Eagles fan knows that Jackson Browne and the late Glenn Frey were great friends. So, it was a delight seeing Browne on stage along with the surviving members of the Eagles performing Frey’s Take it Easy. It was a solemn and straightforward tribute fit for one of the undisputed legends of easy listening.
Hamilton steals the show. Most of us have yet to see Hamilton, the recent Broadway smash based on the life of Alexander Hamilton. So, it was a treat watching the cast perform live via satellite from the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York. As if that glimpse wasn’t enough, playwright Lin-Michael Miranda rapped his acceptance speech upon winning Best Theater Album. How’s that for a curtain call?
Kendrick Lamar on fire. Those kvetching about the show’s dull first hour (Read: All of us) had no idea that they were in for a sensory overload, courtesy of Kendrick Lamar. The Best Rap Album winner churned out what was probably the evening’s most jarring performance. He began with a jazzed up The Blacker the Berry bound in chains and glowing the dark. He then transitioned to Alright against a blazing backdrop. Then, he capped everything off with a yet-to-be-released track, replete with jolting jump cuts and a visual of the African map labeled “Compton”. The whole bit was a statement against senseless violence and dedicated specifically to Trayvon Martin, who died in a shooting back in 2012. Time to update your “Best Grammy Moments of All Time” lists.
We still love you, Adele. Audio issues botched what could have been a glorious comeback for Adele, who last graced the Grammy stage in 2012. The singer blamed falling piano mics for her *gasp* off-key bits in her performance of All I Ask – a reminder that vocal legends also fumble. Luckily, she walked away from this episode with dignity and an In-n-Out Burger.
Bieber Bounces Back. There’s no doubt that Justin Bieber‘s back in full swing. And now, he has a Grammy to prove it. He kicked off his celebratory performance with a stripped down rendition of Love Yourself. After which, he was joined by Jack Ü in an amped-up version of the winning piece (for Best Dance Recording), Where Are Ü Now? Biebs never looked so euphoric.
Not So New. It was peculiar to see Meghan Trainor among this year’s Best New Artist nominees, when her breakout single All About that Bass already earned nods last year. So, it’s no surprise seeing her win with ease over relatively newer acts James Bay, Courtney Barnett, Tori Kelly, and Sam Hunt. The minor oversight didn’t make Meghan less appreciative, as she tearfully thanked producer L.A. Reid and her kin. It was another one of those raw, tender speeches that we’ve come to associate with winners of this category.
Gaga’s Monster Bowie Medley. Love it or hate it (I loved it), Lady Gaga‘s tribute to David Bowie, who succumbed to cancer last January, was quite the showstopper. The Fame Monster whisked frantically through Bowie’s greatest hits and looked like she was having the time of her life. Very few pop icons can emulate the Starman’s other-worldy qualities and chameleonic swagger. But with this performance, Gaga sure came close.
Long live B.B. (the) King. Chris Stapleton, fresh out of his Best Country Album victory, joined Gary Clark Jr in an earnest ode to blues legend B.B. King, who passed away last year. Eliciting more cheers was Bonnie Raitt, who joined in just minutes after introducing the tribute.
Alabama Shakes (and Belongs). Oh, they shook the show all right. Blues band Alabama Shakes dominated both the rock categories and the stage with a triumphant performance of their award-winning hit, Don’t Wanna Fight. They owe this largely to Brittany Howard’s soulful growl.
No Natalie Cole Tribute. In an evening chock-full of tributes to departed legends, you’d think there’d be a special spot reserved for Natalie Cole, the first African-American to win Best New Artist, among eight other Grammys. Alas, she was only granted a 10-second exposure towards the end of the In Memoriam segment. Sorry, producers, but I’m with Cole’s family on this one: the Unforgettable songstress deserved so much more.
Hollywood Vampires suck it up. Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, and Johnny Depp (Yes, that Johnny Depp) joined forces to form heavy metal supergroup called the Hollywood Vampires and performed Ace of Spades in honor of late Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister. It was a mesmerizing and electifying enough jam, until they spent too much time in introducing a new track, thus making the whole bit feel more indulgent than commemorative.
Swift Justice. Just when we thought Kendrick Lamar had it in the bag, Taylor Swift pulled the biggest upset of the night by winning Album of the Year for 1989. The real highlight, however, was her speech, in which she reportedly alluded to her mortal frenemy Kanye West for dissing her in one of his new songs: “As the first woman to win Album of the Year at the Grammys twice, I want to say to all the young women out there: There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success, or take credit for your accomplishments, or your fame.” Much as I feel that her cloying histrionics and cutesy humblebrags are getting old, I have to admit: that was one solid power-punch of a message.
Don’t believe me, just watch. In a year that seemed to heavily favor crowd-pleasers, it’s no surprise that the Record of the Year award (presented by the always-immaculate Beyonce) went to Uptown Funk, a track that’s still looped ad infinitum with still no signs of saturation. With this victory, the Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars collaboration would have made the perfect closing number (For that matter, why wasn’t it performed at all?). Instead, we got Pitbull, Robin Thicke, and Sofia Vergara dressed as a taxi. Roll credits!