The 55th Annual Grammy Awards: And The Winner Is…

The 2013 Grammys are officially in the books, and boy was this one a doozy! Once again, the awards themselves seemingly took a backseat to the performances, but in this case that wasn’t such a bad thing. On a year without a dominating force who comes in and sweeps the lot (like 2012’s Adele,) the prizes tend to be handed out to a more varied selection of winners. In fact, it’s pretty difficult to even say who “dominated” this year. fun. took home the award for Best New Artist  and Song Of The Year for “We Are Young,” while Gotye and Kimbra walked away with Record Of The Year for “Somebody That I Used To Know,” to which Prince (who presented the award) gave his stamp of approval. Album Of The Year had the stiffest competition of the night, pinning fun.’s Some Nights against Frank Ocean’s masterpiece, channel ORANGE, Jack White’s acclaimed Blunderbuss, and the Black Keys’ El Camino, which I thought would walk away with the prize, but it was Mumford & Sons who (surprisingly, yet deservingly) edged out the competition with their Babel. It’s hard to argue the outcomes of the four major awards, but Frank Ocean and the Black Keys deserved to take one home.

Outside of the majors, the genre-specific categories ended up being rather predictable. Although the Black Keys didn’t pick up Album, Record, or Song of the Year, they walked away with 3 awards in the Rock category. Frank Ocean, who was snubbed from many of the R&B categories, mind you, still managed to take home 2, while Skrillex ran the table in Dance, and Carrie Underwood scored herself half of the Country awards. Meanwhile, in Pop-land, the prizes were spread out a little more evenly with Kelly Clarkson taking home Best Pop Album (“Stronger,” and she gave the best acceptance speech of the night,) Gotye and Kimbra taking home Best Pop Duo/Group Performance (“Somebody That I Used To Know,”) and Adele walking out with Best Pop Solo Performance (“Set Fire To The Rain [Live].”) Overall, the only complete disappointment was that Jack White went home empty handed.

But, for better or worse, it was all about the performances again this year. Even many of the presenters began their shift with a small performance of their own, the best being the Lumineers, who had the whole place stomping with “Ho Hey,” and Kelly Clarkson’s pitch perfect tribute to Patti Page and Carole King. On the flip side, Miguel/Wiz Khalifa’s “Adorn,” Hunter Hayes’ “Wanted” and Juanes’ cover of Elton John’s “Young Song” were short and fairly awkward. As far as the main performances go, there was the usual mixed bag, but (surprisingly) none were particularly bad. Taylor Swift’s show opener, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” was bizarre, confusing, and over-elaborate to the point of being completely unconvincing… but it was certainly entertaining. Conversely, Elton John and Ed Sheeran’s duet of the latter’s “The A Team” was a forgettable snooze-fest. The fist knock-out of the evening was fun.’s “Carry On,” which climaxed in a rainy finale. The group let the song do all the work for them, and it ended up being one of the night’s best highlights. Unfortunately, Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley’s medley was shaping up to have the same outcome, but the poor sound mixing left the performance coming across as completely uninspired.

One of the clear highlights of the show came next with Justin Timberlake’s return to the public stage with his medley of new tracks, including his current single “Suit & Tie,” which saw Jay-Z stop by to drop his verse. His slick energy and smooth faucetto made for an entertaining performance, but the songs themselves weren’t strong enough to handle the hoopla. If it weren’t for his stage presence and the hype surrounding his return, I’m not sure this would have been all that great, but it came across as a masterpiece. Despite being a hard act to follow, Album of the Year winners Mumford & Sons triumphantly followed up JT’s performance with their “I Will Wait.” Despite lacking a real “wow factor,” once again, the music spoke for itself. Unfortunately, Maroon 5 and Alicia Keys’ collaboration quickly brought the momentum down with their completely uninspired medley. Starting with a useless portion of the former’s “Daylight,” Ms. Keys took over just in time with her “Girl On Fire” rendering the band completely useless. This was one collaboration that should have been left a solo slot.

Luckily, from this point forward, the performances just kept getting better and better. Rihanna was next to take the stage with assistance from the relatively unknown Mikky Ekko. The two sang their single, “Stay,” and ended up becoming one of the night’s highlights. RiRi hung up her “barley there” outfits for a classy dress, her provocative dance routines for a vocally-focused show, and her elaborate staging for something visually understated… and she nailed it. This was one of her best television performances to date, and really exemplified her vocal abilities. Things kept moving in the right direction with the Black Keys, who brought out the legendary Dr. John as well as the Preservation Jazz Hall Band to perform “Lonely Boy.” Although Dr. John, in his feathery get-up, didn’t look like he even knew where he was, the boys completely nailed their slot. The next portion of the show, a tribute to Bob Marley, was easily one of the most anticipated, and it ended up being probably the night’s best, but in the most sweet and sour way possible. The performance kicked off with Bruno Mars who performed his own “Locked Out Of Heaven,” which was bringing the house down. Clearly a Police-inspired song, when Sting came out to join him, the whole thing was taken to another level; it was the collaboration the track was made for! The pair then broke out in the Police’s “Walking On The Moon,” which was also fantastic… but still no Marley! Finally, Rihanna, Ziggy and Damien Marley joined the stage and the party began! The group performed an enthusiastic rendition of Bob’s “Could You Be Loved” that had the entire crowd on their feet dancing. Clearly the medley was designed to exemplify his influence on music, but it was just a little strange that the majority of a Bob Marley tribute featured so little Bob Marley!

The award from most intriguing performance of the evening came in the form of Jack White’s medley of “Love Interruption” and “Freedom At 21.” The first part of the show relied heavily on antiquity as White was surrounded by an all-female band huddled around the piano, which juxtaposed incredibly with the pure rock and roll that fueled the second half. Despite walking out empty handed, his performance was one of the night’s absolute finest. Next, Carrie Underwood brilliantly carried the torch for Country music for the evening as Taylor Swift officially abandoned the genre altogether and the Miranda/Dierks medley (to no fault of their own) fell by the wayside. Underwood had one of the more visually interesting performances as her large, plain dress became a canvas for an array of visual projections that transitioned seamlessly from simple designs to a burst of butterflies. However, it was her voice that held the attention. Preceding the usual “In Memoriam” portion of the show was a pretty glossed over tribute to Dave Brubeck, but was brilliantly followed by a tribute to the late great Levon Helm of The Band. Despite no members of the group, or even Bob Dylan, there to pay tribute, the line up brilliantly consisted of T Bone Walker, Elton John, Mavis Staples, Zac Brown, Mumford & Sons, and Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard. The group took on “The Weight” and each artist absolutely nailed their part.

The final main performance of the night was fittingly given to Frank Ocean who kept things musically simple with “Forrest Gump” which masterfully incorporated video projections. Being the only main performer to take the stage completely on his own, his fragile simplicity made a bigger impact than most of the other performances. It’s almost criminal that he wasn’t able to walk home with any of the night’s biggest prizes, but he certainly left an impacting mark on the evening. The night came to a close with one final group performance that featured host LL Cool J, Chuck D, Travis Barker, Tom Morello, and DJ Z-Trip, which acted partly as a tribute to the Beastie Boys’ Adam “MCA” Yauch. It’s really a shame that the network found it more important to roll ads and credits overtop the last couple of minutes of it, though, as the energy was through the roof. My biggest gripe of the evening, though, was a complete lack of tribute to the legendary (and multi-Grammy award winning) Donna Summer! I consider this to be a downright snub. Overall,  I’m not sure there was a legendary moment (last year’s Adele performance, Prince & Beyoncé, Madonna & Gorillaz, Eminem and Elton John, etc.,) but it’s pretty hard to complain about any of the performances that did happen, or even awards, this year. All we can really do now is wait until next year and hope for exciting new music!

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