Show put stars in wondrous light
Maybe you can’t appreciate every last thing the pop world is doing in 2019. At least you don’t fall asleep while someone is giving the acceptance speech for best hair and makeup.
The Grammys, unlike that awards show coming up in two weeks, turned out to be another fast-moving affair that showed the artists in their natural habitat, with an occasional award interrupting the proceedings.
It seemed to cover all genres — moving from Janelle Monae to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Dolly Parton to Cardi B without blinking — while also spotlighting alternative artists like St. Vincent and Brandi Carlile.
Here are some highs and lows from Sunday’s show:
Camila Cabello’s “Havana” came out in September 2017, so it was hardly the freshest song of the night. Nonetheless, it was a smokin’ hot opener on a lavish Broadway-style set with Ricky Martin adding to the Latin fireworks.
Katy Perry is an excellent choice to launch a Dolly Parton tribute, because it can only get better from there, and it did with the arrival of Miley Cyrus for a fine “Jolene” duet with Dolly and a soaring “After the Gold Rush,” even if it did nix Neil Young’s line about getting high. Little Big Town brought it to the proper climax.
While “Dark Necessities” may not be the most explosive song out of the gate, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, representing old guys who rock, eventually got there in their jam with Post Malone.
H.E.R. — who probably had a lot of people at home saying “who?” — had the evening’s best take-it-tochurch moment, with her choir and lucite guitar.
Her street style’s not for everyone, but Bronx stripper-turned-rap sensation Cardi B left not a shred of doubt that she’s an entertainer. She also took the best rap album award that could have gone to Mac Miller, who got just a quick mention during the In Memoriam segment.
Former Mac tourmate Travis Scott delivered one of the most physical performances of the night, jumping backward out of a cage. The most physical was J-Lo, whose vibe was more Tina Turner than Motown tribute.
Drake, accepting best rap song for “God’s Plan,” gave the motivational speech of the night, telling young, striving artists, “You’ve already won if you have people singing your songs, if you’re a hero in your hometown.”
No disrespect to Diana Ross. She did her diva thing and roused the crowd on her 75th birthday. Just wishing that rather than back-toback blowout ballads, it had been something more Supreme. Add to that the uncomfortable feeling that at any moment she was going to trip on that red dress.
Doing “Shallow” as Ally Maine, the character in “A Star Is Born,” was too predictable for Lady Gaga, who took it over the top into glam-rock performance art. Even if you didn’t like the inyour-face approach, there’s no debating the power of the vocals. On guitar was Allderdice grad Jonny Goood, a member of her touring band.
Speaking of guitar, those who stayed up late were rewarded with a mass-seductive duet between guitar goddess St. Vincent and Dua Lipa looking almost like mirror images of each other.
Despite all the star power flanking her In Memoriam — fine host Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Jada Pinkett Smith — one of the most ecstatic receptions of the night was for Michelle Obama, standing before a crowd that seemed downright nostalgic for a bygone era of American politics.
Brandi Carlile won best roots performance and American roots song, deservedly so, for “The Joke,” which was the standout vocal performance of the year, as she displayed on stage. The singer from the Seattle area, who was at KeyBank Pavilion in September to play the Outlaw Music Festival, thanked her wife and two daughters and said, “Americana music is the island of misfit toys. I am one of those misfits.” She also won best Americana album for “By the Way, I Forgive You.”
Best traditional blues album is a virtual lock for Buddy Guy, the reigning king of the blues, who won another one for “The Blues Is Alive and Well.” He thanked the crowd in the Premiere Ceremony for the standing ovation, saying he doesn’t get that very often, but clearly he was just being modest.
Legendary jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter, 85, took the stage in a wheelchair to accept the Grammy for best jazz instrumental album for “Emanon” and thanked his labels and supporter for allowing him to “take a trail less trodden.”
Back in 1974, Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions” beat Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” for album engineering. The “Dark Side” engineer was the legendary Alan Parsons, who also engineered The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be,” among many others. He won his first Grammy, for production, immersive audio, for the Alan Parsons Project’s “Eye in the Sky: 35th Anniversary Edition.”
In a powerful political moment, the best large jazz ensemble album went to the John Daversa Big Band for “American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom,” a work featuring more than 50 “Dreamers,” some of whom filled the stage to accept the Grammy.
In the most touching moment of the Premiere Ceremony, two of Chris Cornell’s kids accepted a posthumous Grammy for the late Soundgarden singer, who took his own life at 52 in 2017. Accepting the best rock performance for “When Bad Does Good,” daughter Toni said, “His voice was his vision, and his music was his peace.”
Childish Gambino snatched record of the year, song of the year, music video and best rap/sung performance for “This Is America,” the startling Black Lives Matter statement that shocked America when it hit YouTube in May. Unfortunately, he was up to something somewhere else.
Same with Ariana Grande, who beat Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson and more to win her first-ever Grammy for pop vocal album. Mac Miller’s former flame said “no thank u” to the Grammys after a dispute over her performance and stayed home.
It was exciting to see album of the year winner Kacey Musgraves, one of the genre’s freshest voices for years now, on the Grammy slate, but the piano ballad “Rainbow, pretty though it may be, didn’t show her doing what she does best. We got a slightly better taste of that during the Dolly tribute.
Greta Van Fleet, a virtual Led Zep tribute band, winning best rock album over a pretty weak field goes to show how little thought the Grammys put into best rock album. And what’s the difference between best rock album and best alternative rock album, anyway? All these years later, still no one knows.