Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Grading the Grammy Performances

I'll be skipping over the majority of the approximately 2543 performances from the show and will write about only the most interesting ones, namely, the very best and worst of the night.  You can assume that anything that isn't listed here grades around a C or low B.

Lorde, "Royals".  D.  Anyone under the age of 20 has no business performing on the Grammys wearing the kind of clothes my mom would wear on a night out in the late 1980's.  On a night that's usually dominated by bombastic performances, unlikely collaborations, and outrageous costumes, some people might claim that Lorde's no frills rendition of "Royals" was a breath of fresh air.  The problem is that watching the kitchen sink get thrown into every onstage segment is about 90% of the reason to watch the Grammys.  

Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons, "m.A.A.d City/Radioactive".  A-.  Like Jay-Z getting inexplicably saddled with Linkin Park at the Grammys several years ago, this collaboration was surprisingly, shockingly great.   Lamar was on an absolute mission to impress people and steal the show.

Ringo Starr, "Photograph".  B+. There is no conceivable reason for Ringo Starr to give a solo performance on a major awards show in 2014  (or 2004, or 1994 ...), but I couldn't stop smiling while watching this.  The Beatles scrapbook photos were nostalgic in the best way and everyone on stage looked like they were having a blast.

Robin Thicke and Chicago, "Chicago Medley/Blurred Lines". F. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during the conversation between Robin Thicke and the Grammy organizers ... "we know that having Pharrell on stage to perform your megahit would be the best thing for your career, but he's booked elsewhere.  Hey don't worry though, we got you the next best thing ... Chicago!"

Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers, Stevie Wonder, "Get Lucky".  A+. I can't think of anything else I could possibly want in an awards show performance -- a dream collaboration that actually makes perfect sense, a cool mashup(s), and everybody from Jay-Z to Keith Urban to Yoko Ono dancing along with it.  If you found something to dislike about this (yes, even Pharrell's ranger hat) then we can't be friends.

Metallica and Lang Lang, "One". D-. The lighting and visuals deserve an A, but the two musical halves meshed together like oil and water.  There was nothing collaborative about this at all -- barring the brief piano solo interlude, each act performed as if the other wasn't even there.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, with Miranda Lambert, Madonna, and Queen Latifah, "Same Love".  C-.  They pulled out all the stops to make this into an EVENT and judging by the tears from some of the audience members, it worked.  But look beyond all the (church) bells and whistles, and the performance was lacking in substance because the performers are simply not that good.  Even the usually reliable Madonna sounded off her game.  Elton John and Eminem made a much more significant breakthrough a decade ago because both are awesome, the air was full of tension, and nobody expected the lions to lie down with the lambs, but somehow they did and sounded great together.  Macklemore's performance was about everybody slapping each other's backs and feeling good about themselves for being so progressive, even CBS, who got to present themselves as open minded and caring despite somehow avoiding showing any same sex couples kissing.

Nine Inch Nails, QOTSA, Dave Grohl, Lindsay Buckingham, "Whatever this 'jam' session was supposed to be".  F.  Trent Reznor was pissed about CBS cutting them off (and you can't blame him ... the ceremony lasts a million years, so what's another two minutes of airtime to let your closing act finish up?) but they actually did him a favour, because this performance was a train wreck from start to aborted finish.  Buckingham's picking sounded hokey over Reznor's industrial thrash.  At the close of a never ending awards show, once the pressure is finally off and the winners are revealed, people want to stretch their legs, smile, and dance a bit.  This performance was the polar opposite of that.

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