Politics top of mind at Grammy Awards

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Music’s biggest night threatened to become music’s most political night as the issues of the day were never far from the forefont during Sunday night’s Grammy Awards.

Host James Corden raps at the 59th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles.

Host James Corden, taking over for LL Cool J after five years of anchoring the show, opened the evening with a slapsticky bit where he fell down a set of stairs on stage at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. He then offered an intro rap where he encouraged the evening’s performers and nominees to live it up while they could, because “with President Trump, we don’t know what comes next.”

What came next on the show were political messages from everyone from Katy Perry, who ended her performance of her latest single “Chained to the Rhythm” in front of a projection of the U.S. Constitution, to Michael Jackson’s daughter, Paris, who advocated for a pipeline protest, to Jennifer Lopez. When J. Lo starts talking about the power of music to heal civilizations in times of unrest, you know we’ve entered rare air as a culture.

But thankfully, not everything on the show was Trump-centric. Adele opened the show with a flawless rendition of her mega smash “Hello” and redeemed herself after her performance at last year’s show was marred by technical difficulties. She clutched her chest and let out a sigh at the end of the song, signifying her relief in getting through it in one piece. She and her producer Greg Kurstin snagged the coveted Song of the Year award for “Hello.”

Adele and her producer Greg Kurstin won the Song of the Year Grammy for “Hello.”

Things didn’t go so smoothly for her later in the show, when she paused mid-song and ordered a do-over while performing a slowed-down version of “Fast Love” in tribute to George Michael. After cussing (the censors caught it), she said she needed to start over, a decision that was met with a standing ovation from the crowd.

James Hetfield didn’t get a do-over when his microphone cut out during Metallica’s performance with Lady Gaga, a screaming hellfire version of “Moth Into Flame.” He kept going and worked around the technical difficulties, joining Gaga at her mic as they both tore through the song’s chorus. The two incidents offered two different schools of thought on the old show business adage, “the show must go on.”

The show went on for Chance the Rapper, who won three big awards, including Best New Artist and Best Rap Album (for “Coloring Book”). The Chicago rapper dedicated his Best New Artist win to the man above, proclaiming “Glory be to God, I claim this victory in the name of the Lord!” He also thanked his parents and his hometown of Chicago. His win was a victory for streaming artists as Chance was seen as a pivotal agent of change in the Grammys’ decision to allow artists whose albums aren’t available in physical form to be eligible for awards for the first time this year.

Chicago native Chance The Rapper accepts his first Grammy for best new artist Sunday night.

Columbus, Ohio, duo Twenty One Pilots, picking up an award for Best Pop Duo/ Group Performance, stood up from their chairs and dropped their pants on their way to the podium.

A bit of viral-bait goofiness? Sure, but there was an unexpectedly sweet message underneath. When the pair were just struggling musicians and the Grammys were a far-off dream, they would watch the show in their underwear and vowed to hit the stage in their undies if they ever made it that far. Their message: “Anyone from anywhere can do anything,” frontman Tyler Joseph explained, “and this is that.” (Corden expertly played off the moment by hitting the stage in his boxer briefs soon thereafter.)

Adele was an early winner Sunday, picking up two awards in the pre-televised ceremony. The late David Bowie picked up four awards in the pre-show ceremony and one more on the big show, bringing his win total to five and making him the early leader in the night. (It’s worth noting Bowie only won one Grammy while he was alive, an award for Best Video in 1985, and he was controversially overlooked in this year’s Best Album of the Year field.)

Beyoncé during her performance of “Sandcastles” from her Grammy-nominated “Lemonade” album.

And then there was Beyoncé, who performed “Love Draught” and “Sandcastles,” a pair of songs from her “Lemonade” album. She was dressed like ancient royalty and she didn’t have to get political to make her presence felt: the world’s most famous pregnant woman, and perhaps its most famous woman period, was positively regal in a performance that celebrated womanhood and which will be gif’d in your newsfeed in perpetuity.

Later, while picking up the Best Urban Contemporary Album trophy for “Lemonade,” Beyoncé spoke of the importance of positive images for younger generations, especially her daughter, Blue Ivy, who looked on from the crowd. “This is something I want for every child of every race, and I feel it’s vital that we learn from the past and recognize our tendencies to repeat our mistakes.”

It was similar to a message from her performance. “If we’re gonna heal,” Queen Bey intoned at the end of “Sandcastles,” “let it be glorious.”

Amen to that.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama