The Best and Worst of the Grammys

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Her revamp of “Fastlove” was already going to be fraught. It deliberately turned a dance-pop song into an elegy, finding the more somber spirit of Mr. Michael’s later years in the song, and risking the wrath of those who (rightfully) love Mr. Michael for his grooves and flirtations.

But played as a memorial, with an orchestra on a basic-black stage, Adele’s version brought out other elements that Mr. Michael had also built into the song. “In the absence of security/I made my way into the night,” Mr. Michael had sung. “Fastlove Pt. 1” isn’t just an invitation to a pickup; it’s also a confession of need and an admission that “I ain’t Mr. Right.” Mr. Michael also sang, “I miss my baby”; was he someone planning to cheat, or on the rebound?

The tribute placed Adele’s voice into an arrangement that left it utterly exposed — and, when she slipped flat on her first attempt, painfully dissonant. She began the song singing against a lone repeated piano note; she ended it a cappella, and in between it was framed against low, grave strings. Adele turned it into the kind of crescendo of sorrow and desperation she does so well, then sang a final, pure phrase alone: “I miss my baby.” Clearly, she — like millions of fans — was missing Mr. Michael.

JON PARELES

Chance the Rapper’s Big Night

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Chance the Rapper, accepting the award for best rap album for “Coloring Book.”

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Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Naras

It was a blessed night to be Chance the Rapper, the devout Chicagoan whose every public showing is a sort of exuberant praise dance. “Glory be to God,” Chance said after winning best new artist, the first award of the night. “I claim the victory in the name of the Lord!” he shouted as the impatient house band played him off. It turns out he would have plenty more time later to give thanks: Chance went on to win best rap album for “Coloring Book,” the first streaming-only release to win a Grammy after a rule change this year. (Earlier, he was also awarded the trophy for best rap performance for the song “No Problem,” and actually showed up at the Grammys preshow to claim it.) But visibly electrified as he was by the wins, Chance really caught the holy spirit on the performance stage, where he delivered an uplifting medley of “How Great,” “Blessings,” “No Problem” and “All We Got,” joined by a church choir and the gospel stars Kirk Franklin and Tamela Mann. His rapping was quick and intricate without being prohibitively technical, much in the way his Christian worship feels inclusive rather than alienating. Faithful euphoria, with the right vessel, can be contagious.

JOE COSCARELLI

Katy Perry

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Katy Perry and Skip Marley, performing “Chained to the Rhythm.”

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Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Naras

Katy Perry arrived on the Grammy stage adorned in messages: The rose-colored glasses that she mentions in her new song, “Chained to the Rhythm”; a white pantsuit, an allusion to Hillary Clinton, whose presidential run she vocally supported; and an armband reading “Persist,” a reference to what the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said about Senator Elizabeth Warren when she was silenced on the Senate floor last week while reading a letter written by Coretta Scott King. Ms. Perry’s feet weren’t squeezed into heels — they were in white sneakers, freeing her to leap into the air when the spirit of the song required being airborne. This wasn’t a performance concerned with perfection; it was meant to telegraph passion. “Chained to the Rhythm” is a seductive song about awareness and action (or lack thereof) and Ms. Perry restlessly stalked a rotating stage as though she couldn’t be contained. By the end of the song, the white picket fence she sings about in the first verse has been dismantled and turned into a canvas for the United States Constitution. She stood in front of it, hand-in-hand with Skip Marley, who had rapped about “liars” whose “stumbling and fumbling” leads to riots, and looked intently at the audience, trying to pierce our bubble with a pleading stare.

CARYN GANZ

Maren Morris and Alicia Keys; Sturgill Simpson and the Dap-Kings

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Alicia Keys, left, and Maren Morris, performing at the Grammys on Sunday.

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Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Naras

The shared Southern roots of country and soul brought genuine connections to two Grammy matchups. One was the duo of Maren Morris, the newcomer who won best country solo performance, singing her breakup ballad “Once” with Alicia Keys. Under chandeliers, they both wore glittery black and worked themselves up, trading and then sharing verses, stoking the buildups and pouring on the melismas. If Ms. Keys sounded more natural but no less volatile in her vocal drama, it’s probably because she has had a lot more experience. The other collaboration bolstered a country singer with a soul band. Sturgill Simpson performed his “All Around You” (from the best country album winner, “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth”), with the horn section from the Dap-Kings, who had backed the soul belter Sharon Jones until her death in November. He started out strumming it on his acoustic guitar, like a country waltz, but when the band and horns came in, it easily turned into a rolling soul ballad that Mr. Simpson rode with a honeyed growl.

JON PARELES

Bruno Mars

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Bruno Mars, performing “That’s What I Like.”

Credit
Matt Sayles/Invision, via Associated Press

His turn as Prince in full Purple Rain regalia, from the purple sequin jacket to the black eyeliner, wasn’t ribald, but it was amiable enough. But Bruno Mars truly shined earlier in the evening, during his solo performance of “That’s What I Like,” which was louche, smooth and anthemic. That he came out to the front of the stage to directly serenade Jennifer Lopez, in stunning harmony with his two backup singers, was slick. That he sang while wearing a leather tracksuit was practically wet.

JON CARAMANICA

Target and Google Commercials

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The ads by Target, top, and Google.

Here’s to a set of ads that got closer to the zeitgeist than the ceremony during which they were broadcast. Target paired Lil Yachty and Carly Rae Jepsen (with producer Mike WiLL Made-It) for a remake of the seminal hip-hop party anthem “It Takes Two.” Their version — wacky, electric, colorful and more than tolerable — aired at full length at full product-placement-as-music-video format, and was a more current statement about pop music’s evolution than anything on the main show. Immediately after the Prince tribute by the Time and Mr. Mars, there was an ad for the Google phone Pixel, that movingly and seamlessly aggregated cover versions — across styles, and by amateurs and professionals, including Sampha, Deer Tick’s John McCauley and Brandi Carlisle — of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” And while there was no Spanish-language music performed on the show, Johnnie Walker ran an ad that included a swaggering bilingual cover of “This Land Is Your Land” by the Los Angeles tropical throwback-soul band Chicano Batman.

JON CARAMANICA

Metallica and Lady Gaga

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Lady Gaga, at the Grammys. She performed with Metallica.

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Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Naras

Look past the cheesy “metalheads” pretending to slam dance in the corners of the stage. Try to forget that James Hetfield’s microphone didn’t work. Ignore the fact that Lady Gaga was dressed in a costume shop’s approximation of “Sunset Strip, 1988.” This was one of the night’s most electrifying, unhinged and, perhaps most importantly, fun performances. There was one of pop’s biggest stars, fresh off a performance for more than 100 million Super Bowl viewers, gyrating like one of Mötley Crüe’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” while going lung to lung with one of hard rock’s premier growlers. Lady Gaga fully committed to this performance of Metallica’s “Moth Into Flame,” slithering around the drummer Lars Ulrich and the guitarist Kirk Hammett, and catapulting herself into the crowd. Lady Gaga has sung about being addicted to fame before (see her first album, “The Fame”), and she’s dallied with turning herself into a rock star. She’s also sung duets with Tony Bennett and tried to fashion herself into a rootsy balladeer. But as long as she’s turning out wildly entertaining performances like this, we won’t be asking for the real Lady Gaga to please stand up anytime soon.

CARYN GANZ

The Time and Bruno Mars’s Tribute to Prince

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Bruno Mars, performing “Let’s Go Crazy” in a tribute to Prince.

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Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Sometimes nostalgia is almost enough. The long-ballyhooed Grammy salute to Prince — who has a gigantic song catalog and admirers across the pop, jazz and probably classical spectrum — stuck to the familiar. It started with Prince’s protégé band the Time playing two of its own hits, “Jungle Love” and “The Bird,” songs Prince wrote with them (under the name Jamie Starr) and largely recorded himself. The Time had their old dance moves, which some audience members joined in on, but the choice of material was self-serving. Then Bruno Mars arrived to play “Let’s Go Crazy” like a Prince tribute band, with costumes (purple jacket, ruffled shirt), equipment (a white guitar with a long appendage) and showmanship modeled directly on the movie “Purple Rain”; Mr. Mars even handled the guitar solos. Mr. Mars is a skillful, well-studied mimic, and that was all it took to have “Let’s Go Crazy” rev up the room.

JON PARELES

The Worst

Lukas Graham and Kelsea Ballerini’s Mash-Up

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Kelsea Ballerini and Lukas Graham, in a performance arranged as a literal mash-up.

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Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Naras

While the Grammys is known for jamming together seemingly incongruous collaborators — Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons, for instance, or Lady Gaga and Metallica this year — pairing Kelsea Ballerini, the young country singer, with Lukas Graham, the gentle Danish pop group, wasn’t actually so jarring in theory. Both write slick pop melodies and were just happy to be there. But the performance was arranged as a literal mash-up, with Ms. Ballerini inserting bits from her song “Peter Pan” within Lukas Graham’s big hit “7 Years.” It made little sense. “Peter Pan” is a high-class kiss-off to an immature boy, while “7 Years” is a weepy coming-of-age tale about making it in the music business. With the artists alternating sections, it was hard to get a grasp on either song. And because “7 Years” was a bigger pop hit (and has been out as a single longer), Ms. Ballerini couldn’t help but feel like an afterthought. As one of the night’s few Nashville representatives — and especially as that rare breed: a new female country singer — she deserved better.

JOE COSCARELLI

The Bee Gees Tribute

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Demi Lovato, performing “Stayin’ Alive.”

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Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

There can be a thin line between campy and cheesy, but there’s no question where the Grammys’ tribute to the Bee Gees fell, and it wasn’t campy. Flashing lights and disco dancers on stage were a homage to “Saturday Night Fever,” the 1977 blockbuster that mainstreamed disco and gave the Bee Gees a clutch of hits. The movie’s star, John Travolta, had made an appearance earlier in the show. But songs that are lodged in pop’s collective memory weren’t a comfortable fit for Demi Lovato, who shrilled through “Stayin’ Alive,” or Tori Kelly, who tried to turn “Tragedy” into rock, or Andra Day, who overplayed “Night Fever.” (At times Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees was shown gamely singing along in the audience.) Little Big Town’s country harmonies worked amiably enough in “How Deep Is Your Love,” but it was a brief respite. The real, if undesignated, Bee Gees tributes came earlier; both the Keith Urban-Carrie Underwood duet “The Fighter” and the Weeknd’s “I Feel It Coming” (with Daft Punk) had the thump of disco Bee Gees deep in their DNA.

JON PARELES

Cardboard Karaoke

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The Grammys host James Corden doing a version of his “Carpool Karaoke” with Jennifer Lopez.

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Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Naras

The night wasn’t going to go by without a plug for James Corden’s signature bit. The late-night host, who was given the Grammy keys for the first time by his parent network CBS, has endeared himself to the music industry with a playful recurring segment that, at its best, can be more revealing than a sit-down interview — and is always less risky. With its frontseat singalongs, “Carpool Karaoke” has proved humanizing for untouchable stars like Justin Bieber and Mariah Carey (and further endeared fans to Adele and Michelle Obama), but forcing it live at the Grammys, sans a real vehicle, fell flat. Jennifer Lopez, John Legend, Keith Urban and others all seemed to struggle with the words to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” — though Mr. Diamond looked pleased to be there — and the segment couldn’t help but feel like a transparent bid to recreate Ellen DeGeneres’s Oscar selfie. The fact that it followed Beyoncé’s performance did Mr. Corden no favors, but it was fitting that a cameo from her daughter, Blue Ivy, was the skit’s one saving grace.

JOE COSCARELLI

The Fumbles

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James Corden’s opening number included a staged tumble down the stairs.

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Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Naras

Grammy host James Corden opened the show with vaudevillian shambles: a stuck platform, an exaggerated series of fumbles down a staircase, and a performance executed with one shoe missing, ostensibly a sort of meta-commentary on his not-quite-steady footing as Grammys host. It was perhaps a strange way to open a show about flawless execution, but turned out to be mildly prophetic for a night that was pockmarked with missteps, from Adele’s live call for a restart during her George Michael tribute, to the way the orchestra played over her producer Greg Kurstin when they accepted the song of the year trophy (and misspelled his name earlier in the night, to boot), to the Metallica performance during which James Hetfield’s microphone was nonfunctional for the first half.

JON CARAMANICA

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