Grammy recap: Swift triumphs on Kendrick’s big night
Taylor Swift won Album of the Year at Monday’s Grammy Awards, part of a night where the top prizes were as split as today’s fractured music marketplace.
Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar was the night’s top winner, taking home five awards but losing in the major categories. Swift’s “1989” topped his “To Pimp a Butterfly” in the Album of the Year field, and Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” beat out his “Alright” in the Song of the Year race. Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” took home the Record of the Year trophy.
Here are 10 takeaways from Monday’s show.
A Swift getaway: Swift’s Album of the Year victory made her the first female performer in Grammy history to win that category twice — her album “Fearless” won in 2010 — and allowed her to make a strong statement of empowerment and defiance just days after Kanye West made worldwide headlines for trying to take credit for her fame in his song “Famous.”
“I want to say to all the young women out there, there are going to be people along the way who try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame,” she said, a determination in her delivery that was far from the “aw shucks, me?” Taylor Swift of yore. “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’ll know that it was you and the people that love you that put you there, and that will be the greatest feeling in the world. Thank you for this moment.”
Lamar is ‘Alright’: Swift’s “1989” was the biggest commercial blockbuster of the five Album of the Year nominees, a slick pop juggernaut that completed her transformation away from country and into dance pop. Lamar’s sprawling “To Pimp a Butterfly” was undoubtedly the stronger artistic statement, but rap albums haven’t fared well in the Album of the Year race, with OutKast’s “Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below” the last to win the category in 2004.
“To Pimp a Butterfly” may have been too jarring for casual voters, and it makes Lamar a two-time loser in the Album of the Year category, following “Good Kid, Maad City’s” loss to Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” in 2014. Still, his fiery performance on the Grammy stage was one of the evening’s highlights, as he mixed “The Blacker the Berry,” “Alright” and a new song in a conceptual piece that saw him hopping from a jail set to a tribal theme with a closing image that superimposed the word “Compton” over a picture of Africa.
Lamar collected awards for Best Rap Album (for “To Pimp a Butterfly”), Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song (both for “Alright”) and Best Rap/ Sung Collaboration (“These Walls”). He also was honored for Best Music Video for “Bad Blood,” his collaboration with Swift.
When accepting the Best Rap Album trophy, Lamar thanked his team, his family and hip-hop as a whole, name-dropping Nas’ “Illmatic” and Snoop Dogg’s “Doggystyle” albums. “We will live forever, believe that!” the MC said, speaking on behalf of hip-hop itself.
Gaga does Bowie: Lady Gaga’s tribute to David Bowie, part of a show that at times played like one long in memoriam segment, was a scattershot eulogy for the fallen Starman. Gaga looked the part, her hair done up in bright orange, and some cool visual effects mapped various animations onto a close-up of her face early on. But the performance was erratic, cramming so many bits and pieces of Bowie’s songs — some “Space Oddity” here, a little “Fashion” there, a taste of “Heroes” thrown in for good measure — that nothing was given any time to leave an impression.
Bowie had a lot of styles, everyone knows that. But a single performance of any one of those songs would have made a more lasting impact, and been a more fitting appreciation.
Rest in Peace: Besides Bowie, there were memorials for Glenn Frey (the Eagles and Jackson Browne performing an easygoing version of “Take It Easy”), Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister (the Hollywood Vampires, a rock and roll nightmare featuring Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, Johnny Depp and several other exhumed corpses, doing “Ace of Spades”), and B.B. King (Chris Stapleton, Gary Clark, Jr. and Bonnie Raitt capably took on “The Thrill is Gone”).
Lionel Richie’s still alive, but even he got a remembrance, courtesy of the truly random grouping of John Legend, Demi Lovato, Luke Bryan, Tyrese and Meghan Trainor. But the evening’s top tribute was its most simple, with Stevie Wonder and the vocal group Pentatonix teaming up for a fun, funky version of “That’s the Way of the World,” a tribute to Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind & Fire. It wasn’t as elaborate as the other performances and there was no production, but it had a purity and a spirit the others lacked.
Hello, sound man?: Adele was done in by an atrocious sound mix during her performance of “All I Need,” rendering the superstar vocalist helpless against the technical difficulty. Her piano mics allegedly fell onto the piano strings, creating an effect where every piano chord sounded like Justin Bieber trying to tune his acoustic guitar. Adele seemed thrown off and tried to overcome the moment by outsinging it, but the performance came off uncharacteristically flat.
M Train leaves the station: Another flat instance came when Meghan Trainor was awarded the Best New Artist trophy. Trainor’s big moment came with “All About That Bass” two summers ago, but Grammy technicalities allowed her to be nominated for Best New Artist this year. A sobbing Trainor gave one of the evening’s most heartfelt speeches, but it was unfortunately also its most undeserved.
Music’s lamest night: Elsewhere the show was as sleepy as a lecture from Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow, who used his annual speech to shame viewers for streaming music instead of buying CDs. The Grammys are billed as “Music’s Biggest Night,” but the show is so caught up in trying to deliver a spectacle that it misses emphasizing the simple pleasures of live music.
During her opening performance of “Out of the Woods,” Swift strutted the stage and hit poses like a supermodel working a runway, which plays to her strengths of approaching routines like they’re acting gigs. Swift is a pop star who has always felt over-rehearsed; even her Album of the Year speech felt like a monologue rather than a moment.
That word, “moment,” was used throughout Monday’s three-and-a-half hour broadcast, usually by announcers hyping upcoming performances. But few of them lived up to those billings, and several missed the mark by a long shot, especially the closing number with Pitbull, Robin Thicke, Travis Barker, and “Modern Family’s” Sofia Vergara wearing a cardboard taxi cutout. Yikes.
Meanwhile, one of the night’s most exciting segments came during a performance from Broadway’s “Hamilton,” and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda gave the night’s best speech when he rapped his thank yous. Something’s amiss when Broadway is stealing the show on Grammy night.
Multiple winners: Song of the Year winner Ed Sheeran was also a winner for Best Pop Solo Performance, both for “Thinking Out Loud.” Sheeran was handed his Song of the Year trophy by Stevie Wonder, causing him to gush, “if you would have told my 11-year-old (self), 5-year-old, any age that I would have received an award from Stevie Wonder, I would have been shocked.”
Other multiple winners included Alabama Shakes with four awards, Swift with three, and Chris Stapleton, the Weeknd, D’Angelo, Diplo and Skrillex, Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, Little Big Town and Jason Isbell all with two awards.
LL getting lamer: LL Cool J, returning for his fifth straight year as host, continued to distance himself from his once charismatic personality, spouting social media catchphrases like a digital brand strategist. “I think Kendrick Lamar will be a top Trending Topic minutes into his performance,” he said during the pre-show, later asking fans to “hit me on my Instagram” to tell them what performances they were liking. His attempts to interject life into the show were similarly dull. “I love a ‘Lip Sync Battle’ just like the next guy. OK, OK, maybe a little more than the next guy,” the host of Spike’s “Lip Sync Battle” said. “But these people here, they sing for real. This is the Grammys!” Really, LL? Please tell us more.
Detroit vs. Everybody: Detroiters were shut out in several categories, with Big Sean, Bettye LaVette, Karen Clark Sheard, Dorinda Clark-Cole and Jack White’s the Dead Weather losing in their respective fields. Jack White was awarded elsewhere, however, when his Paramount Records box set, “The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records, Volume Two (1928-32)” was awarded Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package.