“Music’s Biggest Night”? More like music’s longest night
Neil Portnow, soon-to-be-outgoing head of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, a/k/a NARAS, is an asshole.
That’s established fact, right? So after last year’s debacle of a Grammy show, producer Ken Ehrlich (more on him in a minute) and his team booked lots of female performers for this year. And NARAS voters responded correspondingly, for whatever their reasons, handing a lot of 2019 hardware to women, including New Artist and Album of the Year (more on that to come, too). So why was this year’s endless ceremony/concert, which clocked in well over 3.5 hours, so little fun?
Opening the Grammy Awards with a performance of a #1 single is always a good idea. Unfortunately, this year’s show chose to do so with one so old (released in September 2017) that NARAS had to find a live version to be able to nominate it (that would Camila Cabello’s “Havana”) for a Grammy this year — that’s the Recording Academy, always on top of trends and what’s hot. And apparently NARAS thinks that contemporary Latinx culture looks like — West Side Story? Remember, Ariana Grande was ready to perform the current #1 single on the show, but the Ken Ehrlich went for this instead because No one puts Kenny in a corner! You’ll do a medley chosen by us and you’ll like it, Ariana! Perhaps he thought that I guess that lightning would strike twice, having Ricky Martin on the telecast again 20 years after his breakthrough?
And clearly, since they included Arturo Sandoval for a whopping 15 seconds of the medley, that signals that the Grammys don’t hate/ignore jazz. (One can only assume that the only other Latinx musicians in Neil Portnow’s filofax, Gloria Estefan and Pitbull, were busy.) Good idea to work in part of J. Balvin’s “Mi Gente,” too, so that we don’t have to think about Latinx music again for the rest of the evening. All it made me think about, meanwhile, was a) Why wasn’t “Mi Gente” nominated for anything? and b) Where’s Beyoncé?
VIDEO: J Balvin, Willy William – “Mi Gente” (Official Video)
Before all of this excitement, however, NARAS does a three-hour ceremony at which most of their actual hardware is dished out. They livestream it these days, and because apparently NARAS hates America, this year the ceremony was hosted by Shaggy. Who, of course, inevitably won the Reggae Album award for his collaboration with Sting, 44/876, from which you may recall they got to perform something from on the Grammys last year — because of course they did. It’s called greasing the wheel, folks.
Four of the five awards for Christian music went to women, which means something. Gospel Song and Album went to Tori Kelly (and collaborator Kirk Franklin) for “Never Alone” and Hiding Place, well worth your checking out; Franklin did a great job helping Kelly craft a tight (8 songs), uplifting gospel record, with “Alone” one of its highlights. And Lord, they should’ve gotten a performance slot for it: the choir! The swell! The “surprise” Franklin rap mini-verse! The only gospel/Christian performance on the night, was gospel star Yolanda Adams taking part in a tribute to Aretha Franklin, alongside Fantasia (YESSSSS) and Andra Day (mehhhhhhh) on “Natural Woman,” which is apparently the only Aretha song besides “Respect” that the Grammy producers have ever heard.
VIDEO: 2019 Grammy Awards Aretha Franklin Tribute
CCM wunderkind Lauren Daigle (top 5 pop album! Single getting played on top 40 radio!) took home CCM Song and Album with “You Say” and Look Up Child, which will easily fill any “where’s Adele” musical sweet tooth you may have. I’m a fan because she’s not just sincere (most Christian singers are), she’s also a little goofy and not afraid to show it. And with Cory Asbury’s “Reckless Love” (arguably the CCM anthem of the past year), Tauren Wells’ “Known” (just knocked off the top of the Christian radio airplay charts last month), for KING AND COUNTRY’s triumphant “joy.” (my #3 single of 2018) nominated alongside Daigle (along with, well, MercyMe), the CCM Song category might’ve been the most rock solid of all of ‘em this year.
Brandi Carlisle won three Grammys in a row, for American Roots Song and Performance and Americana Album. I can see her talent, but she just doesn’t move me. And “The Joke” is a complete and utter “hide the knives” four minutes. How she beat Willie Nelson for Americana Album is truly befuddling. Yet Willie himself later won the trophy for Traditional Pop, for his Sinatra tribute record. I’d have given him Americana and given this to someone else, but I’m not a NARAS member/voter. YMMV.
VIDEO: Brandi Carlile – “The Joke” (Official Video)
Kacey Musgraves swept all of the country awards, save for Duo/Group, which went, inexplicably, to Nashville Ken dolls Dan + Shay (hmm, and they also had a performance slot on the big show! Coincidence?) (at least it wasn’t interloper Bebe fucking Rexha). I’m awfully partial to the heartbreaking “When Someone Stops Loving You” by Little Big Town, but Musgraves is the real deal, so I’ve no quarter with her wins. Her stripped-down performance of “Rainbow,” with just piano accompaniment, was lovely and dull.
Pop Solo went — you want inexplicable, we’ve got inexplicable — to Lady Gaga for a live version (I think) of “Joanne,” which no one liked, so unless her Little Monsters somehow got NARAS ballots, I don’t know how that happened. Duo/Group, of course, went to Gaga and noted vocalist Bradley Cooper for that goddamn song from A Star Is Born (Oscars in two weeks, just hold on! We’re almost done hearing it at every awards show!). Fun fact: Cooper’s now got a Grammy before an Oscar (which he ain’t winning this year, either, trust me). Album was awarded to the Grammys’ latest earned enemy, Ariana Grande (watch her got nommed for Record/Song/Album next year for “thank u, next” and pull a Kendrick and give ‘em the finger). But back to Gaga for a minute: without B Coop by her side (he was accepting their musical award across the pond at the BAFTAs), she attempted to turn “Shallow” into — hair metal? She prowled the stage in a sparkly catsuit and looked at one point like she was about to kill and eat Mark Ronson with her bare hands. I was scared, and not in a good way.
VIDEO: Lady Gaga – “Shallow” 61st Grammy Awards 2019
Why in the world do the Grammys need a fucking host, anyway? Alicia Keys, whose last album came out almost 2.5 years ago, and who’s not had a real hit since 2012, basically used the role to remind everyone of how much she loves herself. As part of her “opening,” she brought out Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Jada Pinkett Smith and Michelle Obama, I guess to talk about music + women? I don’t understand what, exactly, was going on there.
VIDEO: Alicia Keys & John Mayer | 2019 Grammys
Then there was that “I didn’t win Song of the Year in 2004” story. Oh, Alicia, FUCK YOU and your 15 Grammys. It’s like she was trying to make America hate her. (In that case, good job!) And while we’re at it, fuck Childish Gambino, too, for winning this year’s Song and Record prizes from a majority-white recording academy full of white liberal guilt. IT’S NOT EVEN A SONG, it’s a highly triggering video/meme in search of a song. But because white America has declared Donald Glover the black renaissance man of the moment, so it goes. Unsurprisingly, “This Is America” took the Video prize, too.
And now for an interruption from my Facebook page, originally posted about 1:15 into the show.
And I haven’t even mentioned that “look how talented I am!” two piano medley, which varied from Juice WRLD’s anthem to misogyny (good choice, Alicia!) to “Unforgettable,” climaxing in her own “Empire State of Mind.” The whole thing reeked of someone desperate for attention who’s not had a hit in, oh, 6 or 7 years. But I suppose I could be wrong. (I’m not.) That said, there was one lovely moment tucked in there, thanks to the booth producers: when they caught Ella Mai’s genuinely stunned face upon hearing Keys toss off a bit of Mai’s R&B Song winner “Boo’d Up” (though even that Keys had to fuck up, by inserting a mention of her goddamn husband — YES, ALICIA, we know that you’re married to Swizz Beatz).
Because nothing makes Ken Ehrlich harder, there were tributes galore this year: the aforementioned Aretha song; Diana Ross’s embarrassing tribute to, uh, herself (“HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!” she squealed, seven weeks before her 75th, and immediately after she croaked her way through a sub-bat mitzvah performance of “Reach Out and Touch”); and that Motown medley. First, Jennifer Lopez reminded us why we all thought involving her was a bad idea (and what she did to “Square Biz” should be tried as a war crime in the Hague), then Smokey Robinson’s wax figure basically molested her, and then she nearly showed America a beaver shot while atop a piano being played by Ne-Yo. It was some true UP WITH PEOPLE Vegas bullshit.
VIDEO: Dolly Parton Tribute at 61st Grammys 2019
Then there was the tribute to Dolly Parton, which was good enough to actually be considered a tribute! Kacey Musgraves opened with “Here You Come Again” — unfortunately, with an incredibly oversinging Katy fucking Perry, she didn’t seem to grasp what she was doing. Then Dolly herself appeared and good God, still, after all these years, breathtaking in every way. “Jolene” had the stuffing sung out of it by Dolly’s goddaughter Miley (with Dolly, of course). The two were then joined by Maren Morris to do “After the Gold Rush,” the Neil Young song that Dolly, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt covered on Trio II, and their harmonies sounded almost as gorgeous. They also did half a verse perfectly a cappella. Little Big Town were mostly used as backup for a “new” song, I think titled “Red Shoes”? And then, of course, everyone provide choral assistance on “9 to 5,” to close.
On the flipside, the Post Malone/RHCP collab was NARAS’s own definition of what they like to call a “Grammy moment.” And it was: embarrassing and poorly thought-out. Does anyone care about the Peppers in 2019, let alone their three-year-old single (I had to look it up) “Dark Necessities”? Certainly not those streaming Post Malone’s shitty singles. And for god’s sake, Anthony, put your shirt on, you’re not at the White Party.
I hoped that Cardi B would save us, and she did, performing her current victory lap for the past 12 months of success, “Money.” I didn’t even mind that she lip-synced, because Cardi understands the art of performance, writhing atop a diamond-encrusted piano and informing America that she “like[s] morning sex.” It was pure Vegas showgirl, and I ate it up with a spoon, begging for more. And then for her to win the Grammy for Rap Album — the first solo female to do so ever — was a real moment. Sobbing, she brought husband Offset onstage with her, and blubbered through a speech that was a genuine fountain of emotion. Cardi B is the epitome of realness, with plenty of talent that’s growing to boot, and I kinda love her.
VIDEO: Cardi B – “Money” Live at 61st Grammy Awards 2019
And whereas Janelle Monae’s pussy dresses et.al feel theatrical and forced — I want to love her and just can’t get past the archness, the phony feeling of it all — St. Vincent and Dua Lipa’s mash-up of “Masseducation” and “One Kiss” generated real sexual tension and heat, and I think turned me lesbian for about 5 minutes.
Other things happened during the broadcast, too, but I don’t want this review to be as long as the fucking show itself, which felt truly never-ending. I’ll close by sharing one more winner with you, that tidily sums up everything you need to know about the 2019 Grammy Awards: the prize for Rock Album went to Greta Van Fleet.
VIDEO: 2019 Grammys Open with Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett Smith, Alicia Keys, Michelle Obama, and Jennifer Lopez