One key idea I’ve always stressed in writing about the Grammys for the Recorder is that the awards themselves are nonsensical. Just go back to my Album of the Year reviews and tell me how to compare Ed Sheeran and Beyonce. It’s impossible. We care about these awards not for what gets given (as in the Oscars) but for the performance factor, the chance to see all the biggest names in music on one stage, seeing who rises to the occasion and who…doesn’t.
With that in mind, here’s our official recap of the best and worst moments of last night’s show. And congratulations to Beck for winning Album of the Year for the difficult, but lovely, Morning Phase! And for getting all Simon and Garfunkel with Chris Martin on a lovely “Heart is a Drum!”
The Worst and the Weirdest
Ariana Grande, “Just A Little Bit of Your Heart” and Brandy Clark and Dwight Yoakam, “Hold My Hand” — Think about what the most predictable pop ballad and country song ever would sound like. Here they are. I appreciate Grande, aka Miss Never Walks Anywhere, attempting to project a grown-up image, and her voice, as well as Clark’s is sterling, but they had no sparks and no passion. Even Yoakam, who will be featured in our next Cage Match, couldn’t boost Clark, but Grande came off worse since she went on after the Big-Balls-to-the-wall opening from AC/DC.
Pharrell Williams, Lang Lang, and Hans Zimmer, “Happy” — Let me see if I can explain this. Pharrell was dressed as Zero Moustafa from The Grand Budapest Hotel but with yellow sneakers and gave this song a horrifying spoken introduction, Lang Lang randomly exploded with a piano solo in the middle, dancers were dressed in the most mismatched ethnic costumes ever, and a tuxedo-clad Zimmer played guitar and duckwalked. If anyone can parse all that out, comment immediately.
Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani, “My Heart is Open” — This had to have been a joke. The two are dressed in Sinatra/Lena Horne finery, backed by only piano and orchestra, and sing a song with lyrics that repeat the phrases “Let me hear you say yeah!” and “Yes yes yes!” over and over again. WHY? (Although wait two weeks. Levine is going to make us forget this with his performance of “Lost Stars” at the Oscars.)
Tom Jones and Jessie J, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” — The worst. Especially since it was performed to honor Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. This is a very tough song to ruin, and Sir Tom is a perfect substitute for Bill Medley. But Jessie J’s voice doesn’t match Jones’s, the May-December vibe is creepy, the music is a karaoke version of the Wall of Sound, and they randomly chop out lines from the bridge and the final chorus! A venial sin of a rendition.
Ed Sheeran and His All Star Review, “Thinking Out Loud” — The Grammys love pairing unusual artists together. Sometimes it’s too bizarre, as with the Beach Boys tribute two years ago, but sometimes the professionalism meets the feeling of the music and it works, as it does here. Sheeran, singing the most sincere of the romantic ballads off x, is joined by John Mayer (who is cosplaying Gary Busey as Buddy Holly), Questlove, and the one and only Herbie Hancock, and everyone is so clearly listening to each other and feeling the song’s mood that it takes the track to a new level. A miniature gem. Sheeran than earned bonus points by duetting with Electric Light Orchestra on a “Mr. Blue Sky” that got the entire crowd dancing.
Hozier and Annie Lennox, “Take Me To Church/I Put a Spell on You” — Two of the best voices imaginable singing the most brutally honest love song of the year and an R&B classic. Hozier deepens his vocal on “Church” and it works, but more importantly, Lennox doesn’t seem to have aged an iota since 1983 and she SLAYS the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins/Hocus Pocus classic. I have to dock this a little for two reasons: they cut out the second verse from “Church,” i.e. the one that truly trashes the worst of organized religion, and…this is weird…but Hozier’s smile is too big. You can smile during “Take Me to Church” but you can’t grin. I hope that makes sense.
Katy Perry, “By the Grace of God” — This trumps the sharks and the steel tiger. After President Obama and domestic violence survivor Brooke Axtell (who gave a beautiful live lit performance for a national audience) delivered a message against this stain on our country, Perry, in a flowing white dress and against a background of shadowy ballet, sang her own ode to escaping abuse and finding self-worth. She still isn’t the best of singers, but this number was pitch-perfect and immensely moving.
Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, “Cheek to Cheek” — Tony Bennett is almost 90…and is still laying down the best of the Great American Songbook in the best of styles, and in her Ladyship, prancing like Mae West reincarnated, he’s found the perfect duet partner, especially since they’re clearly playing around and not trying to simulate grand passion like Jones and J. This was three minutes of pure joy.
Sia, “Chandelier” — Because…Kristen Wiig, y’all.
The Two Very Best
THE UNQUESTIONABLE HIGHLIGHT: Beyonce Knowles, Common, and John Legend, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand/Glory” — The Grammys saved the best for last. After Beyonce, in Travis’s words, put on a clinic with an amazingly expressive interpretation of one of my favorite hymns, she didn’t miss a beat and cut straight to Common and Legend, backed by a massive choir and orchestra, performing their Oscar-nominated theme from Selma, a song that sends every chill down my spine every time I hear it. However, this time, seeing Common’s body transform with every lyric and Legend sing and play with the sense of expectant triumph so palpable was a thing of something beyond beauty. It was uplifting.
ANDREW’S PERSONAL FAVORITE: Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney, “FourFiveSeconds” — The greatest living pure pop songwriter in the world, rap’s biggest iconoclast, and one of the most powerful female singers of them all (and Rihanna has never looked more beautiful or felt more in control) basically devised one of the ultimate high school/college party anthems, a song you can rip out on a Tuesday night, or any night, with your acoustic guitar and organize an instant sing-along. And the performance was relaxed, joyous, and perfect. Make this tune a number-one hit. NOW.
Photos from Los Angeles Daily News, New York Daily News, rap-up.com, E! Online, and PBS.