The 2017 Grammys have come and gone; more than perhaps any awards show, the so called ‘biggest night in music’ invites a great deal of animosity, often accused of being a popularity contest that awards safe, commercial work as opposed to the truly groundbreaking and original.
This year, in many ways, was no different: Adele took home the top prize for Album of the Year for 25, a largely safe gestalt of a record whose notoriety hinged on the success of “Hello.” I am an Adele fan, but 25 simply did not have the thrilling originality of 18 or 21, relying far too much on belt-y ballads as opposed to the more diverse textures of her previous efforts. And Adele knew it too: her acceptance speech had her basically espousing the virtues of Beyonce’s Lemonade, which we all knew should’ve won; if there ever was year Kanye would’ve been in the right, it was this one. Lemonade is Beyonce’s most ambitious and mature work to date, a tour de force of sight and sound with deeply personal, moving and emotionally complex themes.
And yet, despite this blunder, this year’s shows had quite a share of highlights, and thankfully got quite a lot right: David Bowie, who only won one Grammy in his lifetime (for Best Music Video in 1985), swept every award that his brilliant swan song Blackstar was nominated for, though only one of the awards was televised (Best Rock Song, a surprisingly formidable category all around). Chance the Rapper made history, becoming the first artist to win for music that was exclusively streamed for his album Coloring Book; the humble Chicago artist seemed at a loss for words each time he went up, giving praise to God and his parents in both his speeches, before letting his music do the talking with a stirring performance of “How Great” and “All We Got.” And Megadeth, whom lead singer Dave Mustaine once dubbed the ‘Susan Lucci of the metal Grammys,’ finally won Best Metal Performance.
Performance-wise, there were several highlights: the mash-up between Lukas Graham’s “7 Years Old” and Kelsea Ballerini’s “Peter Pan” was surprisingly fluid and powerful, while Lady Gaga managed to rescue her much anticipated performance with Metallica with sheer power and energy as James Hetfield tried to emit his signature snarl into a broken microphone (someone definitely got fired); between her explosive vocals and boundless stage presence (that crowd surf!), Gaga may as well replace Hetfield full time.
Ed Sheeran proved why he is such a singular talent, with a sensuous performance of “Shape of You” that further exposed his multi-talented skills, accompanying himself on guitar, keyboards and a triggered drum machine. And what about that Barry Gibb tribute? Demi and Tori both destroyed, and Gibb was understandably moved.
Finally, A Tribe Called Quest made the night’s lone explicit political statement, bringing out Busta Rhymes to appropriately refer to Donald Trump as ‘Agent Orange,’ after the deadly herbicide dropped on the U.S. during the Vietnam War.
The performance of the night, however, goes to Bruno Mars: his first performance of the night, “24k Magic,” was your typical energetic performance from the diminutive soul king. It was later in the night, however, that Bruno proved why he is already a legendary performer: all year, we had been waiting to see how the Grammys would honor Prince in the wake of his passing; while it would be tough to top Sheila E’s emotional BET Awards showcase, there was no doubt that the Grammys’ version would be stirring in its own right. And boy it was: opening with a funky, nostalgic cameo by Purple protégées Morris Day & The Time, Bruno then crashed onto the stage, decked in Prince’s signature Lord Byron-esque ruffled purple and white outfit, and simply rocked the house with “Let’s Go Crazy.” Prince was definitely looking down, smiling, knowing his influence and spirit lives on in Bruno.
The other big tribute, however, was not quite as good: Adele was, on paper, the perfect choice to honor George Michael, as they both come from the same pedigree of British artists with an affinity for old school soul and belty ballads, but the dirge like rearrangement of “Fastlove” – not a particularly well known or emotionally compelling song – was a plodding bore. Anything from “Faith” to “Praying for Time” to “Careless Whisper,” or even a more uplifting choice such as “Freedom ’90,” would’ve been far more dynamic. It was touching to see Adele tear up towards the end, and her mid-song pause and apology certainly speaks to her humble and endearing character, but it definitely wasn’t her at her best.
Then there were the weird moments: John Travolta continues to prove that he is only going to get more awkward at award shows with each passing year, coming off as absolutely ridiculous with his ‘bling’ joke and notoriously stupid hair, and Cee-Lo Green entered the Meme Hall of Fame with whatever the fuck that gold debacle was. And finally, let’s talk about that Beyonce performance: should I have loved it because it was Beyonce? Am I wrong for finding it confusing and pretentious? My mind is still doing circles.
My last paragraph most heap some praise on the unsung hero of the night: James Corden, who brought his trademark sense of humor, humble demeanor and fearlessness to the evening, from incorporating his parents into a naughty bit with Heidi Klum and Nick Jonas, to an impromptu carpool karaoke that exposed John Legend for not knowing the words to “Sweet Caroline.” Corden killed it, and he should definitely host more shows down the line.
Overall, the 59th Annual Grammys were a flawed and wily ride, but overall it was a rather surreal and entertaining affair, with tons of highlights to make up for some of the evening’s more dubious moments.