Last Monday night, Feb. 15, CBS aired the 58th Grammy Awards, an event that celebrates excellence in the music industry in the past calendar year. LL Cool J hosted for the fifth straight year and did a less than satisfactory job in terms of participation, introducing only three out of the 15 presenters. The focal point of the show was without a doubt the musical performances, given that several of the awards were presented before the actual telecast aired.
The nominations were announced on Dec. 7, revealing Kendrick Lamar as recipient of the most nominations (11) in a single night, surpassing Eminem’s previous record. Taylor Swift and The Weeknd received an impressive seven nominations each.
Most notable among the nominees were Lamar’s album, To Pimp A Butterfly; Swift’s album, 1989; Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ single “Uptown Funk”; Alabama Shakes’ track “Don’t Wanna Fight”; and The Weeknd’s album, Beauty Behind The Madness. Both the critics and the public anticipated a highly competitive show.
The show began with the presentation of Best Rap Album, by Ice Cube and his son O’Shea Jackson, Jr., to Lamar. As the audience rose to their feet to congratulate him, Lamar thanked his mentors and the evolution of hip hop for his award.
Ed Sheeran received his first Grammy, beating out close friend Taylor Swift, for his song “Thinking Out Loud” (Best Pop Solo Performance). When Sheeran’s name was announced, Swift immediately jumped up, hugged him, and started crying, a reaction that left many viewers uncomfortable and questioning her sincerity. Countering this suspicion of Swift was the fact that she currently holds a total of seven Grammy awards and has no real need to be jealous or steal the spotlight from Sheeran.
In a surprising turn of events, Meghan Trainor was deemed Best New Artist and accepted her first Grammy with a very genuine, emotional speech thanking her parents and her manager, L.A. Reid. There is no denying Trainor’s songwriting skills, but considering the other nominees included Tori Kelly and James Bay, her win was certainly unexpected.
Kelly is one of the first artists to successfully make the transition from a career on YouTube to the more official music industry while keeping the respect of her fanbase. Bay’s single “Let It Go” received certifications of Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America and peaked number ten on the UK singles chart.
Album of the Year was awarded to Swift for her self-described breakup album, 1989. Reactions to her win, which beat out Lamar’s album, ranged from disappointed to outraged. Actor Don Cheadle, for example, went to Twitter to express his dissatisfaction and promoted Lamar’s album as the better compilation.
Although many felt disillusioned by Swift’s win, her acceptance speech asserted her power as a singer and songwriter and reminded her opponents that her success was a result of her own efforts as well as her team.
“I want to say to all the young women out there: There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame,” she proclaimed. “But if you just focus on the work, and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there. And that will be the greatest feeling in the world. Thank you for this moment.”
Swift was also responding to Kanye West’s allegations in his new single, “Famous,” that implied that her success is the result of his interruption of her acceptance speech for Best Female Video at the Video Music Awards in 2009.
“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous,” West raps in a line from the single. West has been highly criticized for the reference’s misogynistic message. Indeed, some have suggested that it is an attempt to silence Swift’s strong female voice.
In addition to the awards themselves, the Grammys are known for the musical performances and novel collaborations featured in the telecast. This year’s programming began with a killer performance of “Out of the Woods” from Swift. She took the stage in a blue sparkling jumpsuit and chose to highlight her vocal capabilities rather than put up a flashy performance routine.
A surprising mashup of Andra Day’s “Rise Up” and Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” showcased these two ladies’ vocal chops. Before the show, many would have deemed these two an unlikely match, much like 2014’s daring combination of Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons. Yet once again, the public was proven wrong, awed by the two women’s stunning collaboration.
Lamar put on an iconic performance that will most likely go down in history for its incredible power and raw energy. Lamar entered as part of a chain gang in prison garb, rapping “Blacker the Berry” before transitioning to a fire set with African dancers for “Alright,” considered an anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement.
To close out his appearance, Lamar performed a portion of an as-yet unreleased song, addressing modern slavery and the tragedy of Trayvon Martin. Lamar has received both criticism and praise for the political nature of his performances, an aspect that was especially prominent during Monday’s show.
Another performance, the opening number from Broadway musical “Hamilton,” was broadcast live from the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York. The cast effectively stole the show, bringing the musical to 25 million viewers at home and ultimately receiving an award for Best Musical Theater Album. Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 accepted the award over live stream with a rap congratulating all of the contributors, cast, and, of course, Alexander Hamilton.
Adele returned to the stage and performed “All I Ask,” enduring a series of audio mishaps that included the piano mics falling onto the strings of the instrument. Professional that she is, she pushed through and still wowed the crowd.
Justin Bieber undoubtedly had the worst performance of the night, which began with a stripped down version of “Love Yourself.” He then joined Diplo for their Grammy-award-winning collaboration “Where Are Ü Now,” which they attempted to inject with rock flair.
Bieber focused on his performance rather than his vocal capabilities and shocked the audience with a violent episode of guitar-smashing after his first song. Moreover, the remixes used were unwarranted and undermined his Grammy win.
The biggest upset of the night came from Rihanna, who was absent due to a case of bronchitis. The Grammys would have been Rihanna’s first show since the release of her highly anticipated but surprisingly eclectic album, Anti, and audiences were crestfallen at the lost opportunity to hear a track from the album.
In addition to the astounding original music on display, over half of the Grammy performances were tributes to past and present musical icons. The show began with a tribute to music legend Lionel Richie, during which artists John Legend, Demi Lovato, Luke Bryan, Trainor, and Tyrese performed a medley of Richie’s songs. Lovato sang “Hello,” blowing everyone away with her vocal capabilities. Richie helped close the tribute by joining the other musicians in singing “All Night Long (All Night).”
Later, renowned a capella group Pentatonix joined music legend Stevie Wonder for a performance of “That’s the Way of the World” as a tribute to Maurice White.
Finally, Lady Gaga offered up an enthusiastic tribute to David Bowie with the help of Intel. Gaga performed a medley of Bowie’s songs, surrounded by stunning visuals and garnering yet another standing ovation from the audience.
A select few, however, were underwhelmed by Gaga’s performance, most notably Bowie’s son. He tweeted a disparaging definition of the word “gaga” as a sideways jab at the pop star. Yet many found his comments unsettling and were confused about his intentions.
For the final act, Pitbull and Robin Thicke took the stage. Why they were chosen to close out the show with songs entitled “El Taxi” and “Bad Man” is unclear, but their performance was predictably cringeworthy. It goes without saying that this pair is not widely liked, let alone talented: Thicke is scorned for his so-called rape anthem “Blurred Lines,” while Pitbull is simply not of the same caliber as the previous performers, despite receiving his first Grammy earlier in the evening for his most recent album Dale.
The only redeeming element of Thicke and Pitbull’s performance was the surprise appearance of Sofía Vergara, who was obviously brought in last-minute. Vergara had no idea what her purpose was on stage, looking to Pitbull for cues as she danced alongside him in a shimmering dress.
The show faded out with the painfully blaring music of Pitbull and Thicke, leaving the audience disoriented after a contradictory night that combined disappointing performances and wins with awe-inspiring manifestations of musical talent.