They like telling you—as did Jennifer Lopez in presenting the night's first award--that it's about the music, but the annual, and this year at over three-and-a-half-hours, interminable Grammy Awards presentation is really all about the show, and in recent years, the bigger the better—at least for the producers, advertisers, and viewers who like seeing the same handful of superstars over and over again.
For sure, last night's 59th Annual Grammy Awards show had its moments, but even these were hindered if not ruined by the now traditional over-the-top productions. Katy Perry's performance (with Skip Marley) of new song "Chained to the Rhythm") was a good case in point: The song's surely a hit, as was Perry's sell—with kudos for wearing a "Persist" armband and flashing the Constitution at the end. But it looked like she'd just come out of a tiny house after landing on the Wicked President of the East, only to disappear in the clouds projected upon the surrounding picket fence and her own white pantsuit.
Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood could have been good doing "The Fighter," but it was all but unwatchable, what with the awful geometric lines shape-shifting behind them. Likewise, Bruno Mars strobe-laden "That’s What I Like," fine as he was, should have carried a seizure warning, while the light show put out more energy than The Weeknd and Daft Punk did on their "Starboy"/"I Feel It Coming."
Of course, there was plenty of the same old same-old, though Lady Gaga, whom you may remember commanded a national TV audience just a week earlier, was totally in her element with Metallica, and ably carried them through their scandalous microphone malfunction. Also on the plus side, country newcomer Sturgill Simpson was great in his "All Around You" pairing with the Dap-Kings after a welcome intro from Dwight Yoakam--and his hat tip to the band's late R&B vocalist-collaborator Sharon Jones.
But the best pairing in voice, music style, and outfit (down to the black hats) was R&B veteran William Bell and young blues-rock guitarist Gary Clark Jr. on Bell's co-written blues standard "Born Under a Bad Sign." Once he got past the predictable rhyming, Chance the Rapper, with a gospel group, was also very good on "How Great," though no doubt even the Lord got bored with the Rapper's piled-on praise during his Best New Artist acceptance speech.
Speaking of acceptance speeches, well, no comment on Twenty One Pilots' underpants reveal during theirs, though it prompted host James Corden's best bit when he also dropped trou right after. Corden was pretty lame otherwise, his tired "Carpool Karaoke" routine only showing how tall in talent Neil Diamond stands next to the current generation of stars. And the audience looked puzzled during Corden's opening stairway tumble shtick, which only compounded the show's slow start with Adele's 15-month old "Hello"—which while it won Song of the Year last night, hasn't aged well, though it wasn't helped by a huge black-and-white live projection of Adele behind her.
Other early low points included the suddenly scholarly Jennifer Lopez quoting Toni Morrison—a political comment about artists overcoming fear, no less, that momentarily made Morrison trend above Keith Urban on Twitter. Ed Sheeran's lyrically thin "Shape of Your Body" was elongated up to the next commercial break, while Maren Morris looked a lot smaller in stature next to Alicia Keys.
As for Beyonce's mother-introduced Cleopatra remake, it rivaled the four-hour 1963 epic in length, pace and huge cast (minus Richard Burton), and if cut in half could have given valuable screen time to other deserving musicians and genres. In fact, there was little jazz or classical representation on the show this year, though just when it looked like there wouldn't be the usual obligatory orchestral string section, one miraculously appeared for Adele's highly emotional but bland double-started George Michael tribute.
Also getting a second shot via tribute segment—and faring much better—was Bruno Mars, in an excellent Prince tribute, but by now the show was ticking into its fourth hour. The lackluster tribute to the Bee Gees—a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Fever—was memorable only for the reaction shots of surviving Gibb brother Barry, which begged the question of why he wasn't up there singing himself.
Mention of special Grammy award-winners—including such great artists as Shirley Caesar, Nina Simone, Charley Pride, Velvet Underground and Sly Stone, and music business luminaries Mo Ostin and Ralph S. Peer, went by way too fast for appreciation. Same with the year's departed, most notably including Merle Haggard, Bobby Vee, George Martin and Ralph Stanley—all of whom merited a memorial as much as Prince and Michael.
Bluegrass pioneer Stanley, by the way, could have been honored by Alison Krauss, still the female artist with the most Grammys, who has a new Windy City album of covers including "Losing You," by Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Carl Sigman. Bob Dylan has also cut a song by the late pop tunesmith, "I Could Have Told You," for his forthcoming set Triplicate; both Dylan and Krauss could have artfully been employed in a tribute to Sigman, and by extension, the woefully neglected "traditional pop" Grammy category.
Instead, there was Ryan Seacrest supplying the "on the Grammy stage" answer to his own musical question, Where else would a breakout country sensation from Knoxville, Tennessee—Kelsea Ballerini--and a breakout pop band from Copenhagen, Denmark—Lukas Graham--perform together?
Where else?, indeed.