It seems as though another “epic” Grammy night is in the books. The 56th annual award ceremony was gearing up to be largely uninspired and embarrassing after a largely head-scratching list of nominees and a mismatched lineup of performers. Maybe it was because we were going in with so little expectation that it ended up being one of the best Grammy Awards in recent years from multiple perspectives. There’s very little that takes place during the ceremony (and beyond) that isn’t either a performance or an award, so I’ll break the night down into those two categories so we can truly gauge how successful the night was.
There honestly wasn’t a “bad” performance of the evening, just some that were better than others. Beyoncé’s opening performance of “Drunk In Love” was an incredible way to start the show, especially when hubby/collaborator Jay-Z walked out to lay down his verse. There was something “next level” about it that really stuck out from all of the performers that followed. Most of them can either be filed under “show-stopping” or “nice, but forgettable.” Next up came Lorde‘s ultra-stripped down “Royals,” which easily gets classified under the former category. There weren’t any massive visuals or intricate dance routines, but she lured us in with her charisma and on-point vocals, which is where many other performances missed the mark. For examples, Hunter Hayes, who debuted a new song, “Invisible,” tried his best to captivate us with his empowering message, and while it was a nice performance, his vocals weren’t completely on-point, and the song wasn’t interesting enough to keep our undivided attention. Next up came Katy Perry, who provided one of the most visually stunning moments of the night for “Dark Horse.” With intricate choreography, big staging, and a guest spot from Juicy J, the performance felt a little more geared towards the VMA audience than the Grammys, but it was solid nonetheless. Simply for just how it was overshadowed by some of the other performances, I would file it under the latter category.
Similarly, I would classify Robin Thicke and Chicago’s collaboration as “nice, but forgettable” as well. The pairing makes a lot of sense, and their medley of songs really worked, but there was nothing that really stood out about their performance. Unfortunately, “Blurred Lines,” the song that was actually nominated, only made up a small portion of the medley, which should have been the main focus. The next few acts were some of the most musically solid of the evening, but I’m not sure if any of them stole the show. Keith Urban and Gary Clark Jr. gave us a rousing rendition of the former’s “Cop Car,” which was followed by two piano-driven performances by John Legend (“All Of Me”) and Taylor Swift (“All Too Well.”) For as great as they all were, the spark wasn’t bright enough to stick in our minds for long after their songs ended. Thankfully, Pink injected some much needed excitement back in the show with a reprise of her acrobatic stunts that she made famous four years ago at the Grammys. While there was an initial sentiment of “again?!” when we first saw her dangling in the air over the crowd, she took the opportunity to up the ante with her incredible skills that didn’t waiver her vocals one bit. After a run-through of “Try,” she got herself back on the ground, where she was joined by Nate Ruess, where they blew us away with a vocally impressive rendition of “Just Give Me A Reason.” It ended up being a highlight of the night.
After a pointless nostalgic and totally forgettable performance by Ringo Starr of his hit “Photograph,” we were granted another “show-stopping” performance, this time, an unlikely collaboration between Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar. Their medley of “Radioactive” and “m.A.A.d. City” (respectively) was so intricately woven together, that you’d think the songs were made for eachother. Kendrick’s possessed energy was alluring, and the way band kept up with him really made for one of the best performances of the night. In an interesting juxtaposition, the next performance came from Kacey Musgraves (“Follow Your Arrow,”) which was rather reserved in comparison. Out of all the country moments of the night, this was the most well-executed, though. Her natural charm did wonders for keeping our attention. Conversely, Paul McCartney’s run-through of “Queenie Eye” (featuring Ringo on drums) was sadly a snooze-fest. If we were having a Beatles celebration (and there was a consistent Beatles undertone to the whole show,) then a performance of an actual Beatles song would have been great. Oddly enough, the best nostalgia moment of the night came from a four-way collaboration from Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, and Blake Shelton, who really just had a bit of fun singing classics like “Okie From Muskogee.”
It was at this point that the show reached its pinnacle. When it was announced that Daft Punk were going to take the stage, we all knew that something special would take place, but we never could have guessed it would have been this great. The robotic duo brought collaborators Pharrell and Nile Rogers with them, and, for good measure, included Stevie Wonder as well. The “Orgy of Genius Medley” (as I’m calling it) was mostly made up of “Get Lucky,” but wove in elements of the duo’s own “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and “Lose Yourself To Dance,” Chic’s “Le Freak,” and a significant portion of Stevie’s “Another Star.” This was the performance of the night by far. The energy in the room was palpable even on television, really going to show that these guys are legends this project will go down in history as one of the greatest ever. It was almost unfair for anyone to have to follow it up, and the pair of collaborations that followed were residually eclipsed. Sara Bareilles and Carole King‘s rendition of “Brave” was sweet, but forgettable and Metallica and Lang Lang’s collabo on “One” was cool in theory, but pointless in the grand scheme of things. There was only one match for Daft Punk’s performance and it was Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’. Now, I’m not saying they stole the show, but they took part-ownership. The pair took the opportunity to make a statement with their performance, and they executed it flawlessly. After running through “Same Love,” brining Mary Lambert along to sing the chorus, Queen Latifah came out to simultaneously officiate the marriages of 33 couples (both same sex and opposite sex.) To make it even better, Madonna then walked out to offer up a bit of her own “Open Your Heart.” This was the kind of Grammy moment that people remember forever.
There wasn’t much that could follow that performance, so they were smart to keep it towards the end. As per usual, following the In Memoriam segment, the Grammys paid tribute to a major influence we lost this past year, and they were smart to take the time to honor Phil Everly. Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and country star Miranda Lambert provided a touching, but respectful rendition of “When Will I Be Loved,” that was never designed to be a “show-stopper.” The ceremony then wrapped up with a highly anticipated collaboration between Nine Inch Nails, Queens Of The Stone Age, Lindsey Buckingham, and Dave Grohl. While it was cool to see such legends sharing the stage together, the network unfortunately cut off the tail end of it, so we were left with a sour taste in our mouths. Overall, though, it seemed far less exciting than it was hyped to be. Nonetheless, this was one of the greatest lineup of performances in Grammy history, as far as I’m concerned. Even the ones that got lost in the shuffle were simply because the ones that dared to “go big” were successful. Time will tell which ones will be remembered, but, looking back, it’d be hard for anyone to complain.
We’ve come to terms with the fact that the Grammys barely ever get it “right.” There’s too much room for error with the way the awards are set up, and over the years, it’s become increasingly clear that these guys don’t have the greatest pulse on what’s actually happening in music at any given time. This year, the nominees were suspect, leaving out some big players in favor of more pop oriented artists, but what can you do. Over the major four awards, there were at least one or two deserving nominees that anyone with two ears and a brain should have been rooting for (namely Daft Punk and Lorde,) but I, at least, had come to terms with the fact that they’d get passed over in favor of more commercially viable artists. Well, the Grammys stunned me once again, but this time in a good way (for the most part.) They didn’t get it perfect, but what they got right, they really got right.
Across the major categories, Best New Artist was their only major flub. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis easily nabbed the prize, beating out the far more deserving James Blake, Kendrick Lamar and Kacey Musgraves. All things considered, though, this prize has gone on to mean very little in the grand scheme of things, and therefore was a harmless victory for the duo. My biggest gripe is that they almost swept the rap category, beating out Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West, both of whom should have been heavily awarded for their incredible works. As far as the other three major awards (Record, Album, and Song of the Year) go, they actually hit the nail on the head. Lorde was the dark horse in the Song of the Year field, but pulled out a major “W,” upsetting the likes of Katy Perry (still Grammy-less,) Bruno Mars, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and Pink. She was really the only one that actually deserved a win in this songwriters category, and I was shocked that she walked away with it, but overwhelmingly pleased at the same time. Lorde also walked away with Best Pop Solo Performance, which she absolutely deserved.
The biggest success story of the night, though, goes to Daft Punk, who walked away with both Record of the Year for “Get Lucky” and Album of the Year for Random Access Memories. If you take a look at my year-end lists (here and here,) you’ll see that I overwhelmingly agree with this decision. The duo also won for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Dance/Electronic Album. For a rare time in history, an incredibly talented and legendary act found copious amounts of simultaneous commercial and critical success that translated into major Grammy victories, and that’s something pretty special. Elsewhere, Bruno Mars won Best Pop Vocal Album for Unorthodox Jukebox, Zedd won Best Dance Recording for “Clarity,” while the Rock categories were evenly split between Imagine Dragons, Black Sabbath, and Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, Paul McCartney, and Pat Smear, sadly leaving David Bowie and Queens Of The Stone Age in the dust. The R&B awards went to Justin Timberlake, Gary Clark Jr., Alicia Keys, Rihanna, and Snarky Puppy with Lalah Hathaway, while Kacey Musgraves picked up two awards in the County Categories allowing Darius Rucker and The Civil Wars to pick up the other two.