The Tone-Deaf Grammys: A Bizarre Blend of Old and Young, Madonna and Sam Smith
Beck took home Album of the Year in a surprise upset and Sam Smith cleaned up, but the night was all about the strange, baffling, and (sometimes) brilliant performances.
The 2015 Grammy Awards was a potpourri of musical panic; a goulash of grandiosity; a big ol’ funky, designer-dudded mess slathered in more religion-tinged anthems than “Dubya’s Car Jams Vol. 1.”
It opened with a snooze-worthy performance by sexagenarian rockers AC/DC, whose biggest album, Back in Black, hit record store shelves 35 years ago—or before any of the Best New Artist nominees’ parents felt each other up for the first time. It needed a heavy dose of Viagra. And, as a testament to just how disorienting and tone-deaf this ceremony is, AC/DC was followed by the award for Best New Artist (Sam Smith), and whatever Ariana Grande did. But hey, at least we know where Titanic’s Hope Diamond went after it was tossed into the sea—fashioned into a nifty, Kangol cap-complementing pinky ring for LL Cool J, who exercised an outrageous amount of restraint by licking his lips just once during his entire mini-monologue.
For God knows what reason, the Grammys—in an effort to shoehorn as many disparate artists as possible from different generations—treated us to an endless array of combinations more head-scratchingly weird than Ric Ocasek and Paulina Porizkova. Feast your eyes on the aural calamity that is Tom Jones and Jessie J turning in a “tender mess” of a rendition of The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” Barry Gibb (or was it Jimmy Fallon?) presenting Sam Smith with Best Pop Vocal Album, or everyone’s favorite ginger-troubadour, Ed Sheeran, backed by the legendary Herbie Hancock, who must’ve been thinking, “How the f*ck did I end up here?”
Oddly enough, many of the performances by “current” artists left much to be desired, like the first appearance on the Grammys stage in six years for Kanye West, who turned in a spare, underwhelming twist on the auto-tuned ballad “Only One” illuminated by a single beam of light (later, the troika of West, Rihanna, and Paul McCartney did a perfectly decent interpretation of “FourFiveSeconds”), bellhop Pharrell Williams’ audition for The Grand Budapest Hotel 2 during his oddball version of “Happy” (this song is still being played at awards shows?), and the cruel imposition that was a Target-sponsored native advert of Imagine Dragons making everyone’s ears bleed in Vegas. That was just plain wrong.
Among the young bloods, a big highlight was Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” duet with Mary J. Blige. Despite his recent legal tussle with Tom Petty over the tune’s similarity to “I Won’t Back Down,” it was a helluva performance by the Brit crooner, who was the night’s big winner with four Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year and Record of the Year.“This is the best night of my life,” Smith said following his Record of the Year win. “Just a quick one: I want to thank the man who this record is about who I fell in love with last year. Thank you so much for breaking my heart because you got me four Grammys.” Burn him again, Sam.
Beck, meanwhile, pulled off a surprise upset by taking home Album of the Year for his 12th LP, Morning Phase. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bit of hilarity, Kanye West attempted to rush the stage and reenact his Taylor Swift fiasco, before turning around and heading back to his seat, sporting a big ol’ smile on his face. Jay Z’s reaction is priceless.
And SNL’s Kristen Wiig joining 12-year-old dance wizard Maddie Ziegler for Sia’s “Chandelier” was nothing short of herky-jerky brilliance—matching leotards, blond bangs, and all. It was a perfect fit for Wiig’s physical, expressive brand of comedy, and if you weren’t already excited for the new Ghostbusters movie, you should be now.
Oh, also Beyoncé, who can do no wrong—although that goes without saying.
Now about that glorious mess that Madonna dropped onstage. Her latest bid for cultural relevancy, a heavily auto-tuned performance of “Living for Love” in some sort of sexy matador-leotard flanked by a group of leather-clad dancers rocking Maleficent horns was bewilderingly batshit and, all things considered, pretty damn impressive (can you believe this woman is 56?!).In fact, AC/DC aside, some of the best musical performances of the night came courtesy of aging rockers, e.g. ELO frontman Jeff Lynne’s spirited take on “Mr. Blue Sky” and Annie Lennox bringing the house down with “I Put a Spell on You,” proving that this strange smorgasbord of young and old, talented and talent-deficient, isn’t just for the kiddies.
The Grammys was interrupted at its midway point by President Obama, who offered a somber PSA on violence against women—touting ItsOnUs.org with an aim to create a culture in which “violence isn’t tolerated.”“Together we can change our culture for the better by ending violence against women and girls,” Obama said. “Right now, nearly one in five women in America has been a victim of rape or attempted rape, and more than one in four women has experienced some form of domestic violence. It’s not OK, and it has to stop. Artists have a unique power to change minds and attitudes and get us thinking about talking about what matters.”
It was an important message to deliver on a big, international platform like the Grammys—but also an odd one, when you consider that the likes of Chris Brown and R. Kelly were up for Grammys this year. Oops.