For better or for worse, the Grammys are the Oscars of the music industry. They are the height of prestige, but also stretch your patience and endurance with one overblown presentation after another culminating in a waste of three to four hours of your life that you might’ve condensed to about 20 minutes via youtube and reading the news online the following day punctuating the highlights. I will do my best to save everyone the pain of reliving one of the most interminable shows in recent memory, by focusing on the modicum of stand-out moments.
Someone at CBS had the bright idea to hire one of its stars to host the event, and since Morley Safer must’ve had a hip replacement surgery scheduled, they got LL Cool J. I love LL, he has an appealing presence and the camera loves him, but I don’t think the show needed a host per se, and if they were going to have one, why not a comedian (Kevin Hart, since he wasn’t the host of VMAs, but really was) who could wake the crowd back up after the Glen Campbell tribute? Where are the funny segments Ellen did when she hosted in the 90’s? (To this day, I can’t sing ‘Waterfalls’ by TLC without saying, “…and booty slap, and booty slap.”) It was nice that they acknowledged the untimely death of Whitney Houston right away since surely the audiences, both at the Staples Center and at home, were still reeling from the news and Bruno Mars’s lively opening performance was uplifting and set a nice tone for what could have been an exciting night. Unfortunately, the rest of the performances fell far below the bar he set.
Alicia Keys (Does she have to come every year?) and Bonnie Raitt did a simple, but lovely, rendition of ‘Sunday Kind of Love’ for the Etta James tribute and it felt appropriate and respectful. In retrospect though, I think they might’ve done a bit more. I’m not a huge fan of James, but she has inspired countless singers and it would’ve been nice to have Christina Aguilera come out and try to redeem her fluid-leaking performance at James’s funeral. Then again, I have heard ‘At Last’ abused by more karaoke singers than I care to remember, so not hearing it last night was a welcome change.
Chris Brown, who at one time was one of the most exciting performers in pop music, and a winner for Best R&B album, is starting to bore me personally. It feels like he keeps giving the same performance over and over again. He’s a great dancer, but he doesn’t have Michael Jackson’s artistry, Usher’s style, or even Bobby Brown’s raunchy sexual energy. All of these artists are clearly influences, but he’s just presenting a diluted version of what they do on stage. Five-time winners, The Foo Fighters gave a rousing outdoor performance of their hit “Walk” in front of The Staples Center and it was classic Foos, which was nice, but didn’t they do the same thing last year? When they came back later in the show with Dead Mau5 and did a mash-up remix of “Rope” I thought it went a lot better, and after Dave Grohl’s mini-diatribe about “real music” versus computers it was nice to see them embrace dance music and show that they’re not so elitist.
Speaking of dance music and Chris Brown, who also came back out to (pointlessly) duet with David Guetta during the dance music segment (Seriously, was Usher somewhere comforting Ray J. about Whitney?), his ex (and possibly current) lady-friend and Album of the Year nominee (Really, Grammys?), Rihanna came out to perform her annoying hit ‘We Found Love’ followed by Coldplay who did a pitchy rendition of their hit “Paradise”. The performance was billed as a duet, but I saw Rihanna, then subsequently tuned out, then came back and there was Coldplay. The duet component was lost on me, but it’s just as well.
Another annoying thing that the Grammys does is have the same artist come out for repeated performances. I get that this show is unique in that it’s basically wall to wall music with a few awards mixed in, but there have to be other artists that are available and could use the boost by performing at the Grammys. Why not have all of the Best New Artist nominees perform? Why not let a Producer of the Year nominee do a medley with artists they collaborated with? Why not leave Paul McCartney in
where he belongs?! (Seriously, did he need to come back so many times? Why academy, why?) Also, Glen Campbell is a respected artist, and I get that he inspired many country performers like The Voice coach Blake Shelton (also a nominee, who came out to perform with him), but I could’ve lived without that tribute as well. England
The one old-fogey performance that did go over well however, was the Beach Boys reunion. The original members, who all looked like wax figures of their former selves, were joined by Foster the People and Maroon 5, both multiple nominees. For all of their geriatric stiffness though, the Beach Boys’ harmonies still sounded fresh as a summer day in the sand (unless they were lip-synching). Maroon 5 did a solid take on 'Surfer Girl' and Foster the People did a good job with 'Wouldn’t It Be Nice,' but I couldn’t help thinking, what would’ve been nice (See what I did there?) was Foster the People singing one of their hit songs like 'Helena Beat' or the ubiquitous 'Pumped Up Kicks.'
And speaking of ubiquity, the belle of the ball was clearly Adele, who inevitably walked away with everything including Album, Record and Song of the year. The singer’s return to the stage after taking a couple of months off to have throat surgery was a bit overblown and added extra hype to her performance which ended up rendering it underwhelming. She sounded confident, albeit a bit twangy, but she has never been particularly exciting on stage, and I was looking for her to do something different with such a high profile performance, but alas, she did a really safe rendition of ‘Rolling in the Deep’ and I pretty much forgot it before it was over.
One of the last performances of the night, and one of the few I was looking forward to, was Nicki Minaj and I’m not sure if 'disappointing' is quite the word to describe it. Actually, I’m not sure what words would describe it. Apparently, she walked in with a pope or something and she wore a huge red bag of an outfit that looked like something that would be hanging outside of a Chinese dress shop, or more appropriately a church, with a light bulb or a candle in it. She was foreshadowing her on-stage “exorcism” that came later during her performance. I’m all for crazy, over-the-top, performance art madness when there’s something substantially interesting at the core, but this didn’t qualify, or I missed it. She was debuting a new song from her upcoming album Roman’s Revenge, which is always risky, and the performance, which managed to include a show tune and a Christmas carol no less, came off as all shock and no substance that I think Lady Gaga might’ve found “reductive.”
Speaking of Gaga, where was her performance? The multi-nominated Born This Way singer was sorely missed in the sea of mediocrity. I understand that Beyonce was at home lactating and Jay-Z was by her side, but what was Kanye doing? He couldn’t come in and interrupt Taylor Swift’s performance to suggest a better dress? Or couldn’t he have assisted Katy Perry with their song ‘E.T.’ and flown across the stage on a bicycle. Actually, he probably did that, I wasn’t watching so I wouldn’t know.
The only reason I hung in so long was to see Nicki (nice waste of time that was), and to see the Whitney Houston tribute. I understand they had precious little time to prepare something and I thought Jennifer Hudson did a nice job, with an understated rendition of ‘I Will Always Love You’ at the end of the In Memoriam segment. I have to commend her for holding it together during the performance. I was able to do the same when she sang, but the clip of Whitney herself doing it in the beginning left me weeping.
Overall, it was a horribly boring show. Let’s hope with all of the albums coming out from 90’s stalwarts like No Doubt, Bush, Fiona Apple and Garbage, not to mention the Jack White solo album and albums released too late in 2011 to be considered (Mary J. Blige, Robin Thicke, Miranda Lambert), that next year will have something more exciting in store.