Ultimately, as seems to be the case with every event she deems worthy of gracing with an appearance, the 2017 Grammy Awards ceremony was all about Beyonce.
Right or wrong, when the mega-star, visibly and radiantly pregnant with twins, took to the stage to perform an extended, gorgeously choreographed medley of pieces from her “Lemonade” album, her star power dwarfed everyone else’s. And there were a lot of stars there in the Staples Center in Los Angeles Sunday night.
One could interpret her lengthy performance as self-aggrandizing and perhaps even narcissistic, but there was also a quiet beauty and grace at play, as well as implied messages of self-empowerment and perseverance against tough odds. Her acceptance speech following her claiming of the "Best Urban Contemporary Album” trophy was classy, too.
Was Beyonce’s performance a towering one from a strictly musical perspective? Not really. But the Grammys are only ostensibly about music anyway. Each year, the performances get more and more over the top, and while this might increase the entertainment quotient in the eyes of many viewers, many lovers are growing increasingly alienated, if they even bother to tune in at all anymore.
Perhaps those folks felt a bit vindicated by the appearance of Metallica with guest Lady Gaga, a performance that offered visual spectacle but musical muscle in equal measure. This was everything Beyonce’s self-important performance hadn’t been – an invigorating blast of uber-tight hard rock with suitably “Uh oh, we as a human race are in a bit of trouble, huh?” lyrics. Gaga was on point, too. She’d be a good metal singer, truth be told.
Winner for “Best Country Album” Sturgill Simpson backed by the Dap Kings, following Dwight Yoakam's nod to the genius of the late Sharon Jones, was also an honest, pretension-free treat.
The show opened with Adele offering a powerful version of her 2015 tune “Hello,” but though the singer made up for a rough appearance last year – reportedly the result of a problem with her in-ear monitors – it still seemed like a bit too mellow of a show opener. Which is a nice way of saying it was pretty boring.
Things grew more confusing from there, as it became clear that, despite the fact that music has surely fueled much of the resistance movement sweeping large portions of the country, there did not seem to be much of anything unifying the artists chosen to perform during Sunday’s show.
A lot of great music was released during 2016, though much of it was honored prior to the televised ceremony. And yet, the takeaway suggests that the stars participating in “Music’s Biggest Night” are no longer leading cultural changes, but are rather fumbling about and trying their best to find their own place amongst those changes.
Adele paid tribute to the late George Michael as a video montage of Michael played in the background. She stopped the band, admitted to messing up, and said, “I have to do this right.” Then she made it through the tune, and stood there crying while the assembled offered her a standing ovation. This was all totally ridiculous, a complete drama fest during what was supposed to be a tribute to a singer whose work meant a lot to an awful lot of people.
Most Grammy tributes end up being a total bummer at worst, and a bit confusing at best. The Bee Gees Tribute, led by Demi Lovato tackling “Stayin’ Alive,” had the unfortunate odor of “overblown Las Vegas medley, though the singing was generally strong. Andra Day was better, giving her all to the stratospherics necessary to the singing of Barry Gibb’s “Night Fever.” But in all, this was a bit of a mess. Might I recommend the Grammys select a single artist possessing deep familiarity with the artist in question?
When A Tribe Called Quest was joined by Anderson .Paak and Busta Rhymes, the show was granted a badly needed infusion of old-school hip-hop, the kind best delivered with a live band.
When the band tore into “We The People,” and Rhymes called out President Trump as “Agent Orange,” and a host of extras dressed in clothes from various cultures and representing different racial backgrounds and nationalities kicked through a wall and circled the stage, while Q-Tip raised his fist and yelled “resist!” repeatedly – well, that was some powerful stuff.
The performances may have been a bit of a drag, but the fact that David Bowie’s “Blackstar” won every Grammy it was nominated for – including “Alternative Rock Album of the Year” – offered some balance to the universe. Not just because Bowie is no longer with us, but because “Blackstar” is a monumental musical creation, and it deserves the kudos.
Wins for Robert Glasper, Snarky Puppy, Sturgill Simpson, John Scofield, Lalah Hathaway, Chance the Rapper, Ziggy Marley and William Bell were also deserved.