Whitney Houston’s sudden death on Saturday at the age of 48 was sad and strange for many reasons, the least of which being that it cast an inescapable pall over the 2012 Grammy Awards before the ceremony even began. (And let’s be honest with ourselves: this thing needs no further diminishing if it’s to remain sellable.) So it was, uh, a little weird that the telecast began with a grandiose performance from Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band; he played a new Very Patriotic number called “We Take Care of Our Own,” about America, and it was good because it’s the Boss, but it was still like, what about the reverence? “America! Are you alive out there?” Bruce yelled, and America was all, “I guess?”
But the mood did indeed drop immediately afterwards, as host Ladies Love Cool James, dressed, like much of the celeb-filled crowd, in all black (how many harried, underpaid stylists had to figure that out at the last minute?) offered a short, tasteful prayer for the recently departed, a gesture that could’ve felt empty in someone else’s hands but that in LL's seemed really sincere. Thank goodness for that.
Of course the other big story of the evening was the return to the stage of one Adele Adkins, the unapologetically British singer whose recent throat problems, culminating in surgery on her vocal cords (which, by the way, just sounds like an awful thing), had sidelined her from performing for some time. But Delly was back! And ready to sing! And so LL tried his best to pump some life into the proceedings, giving a Hoosiers-type speech about music and love and all that. Hooray, I think!
Bruno Mars just sort of freaks me out. He’s undeniably talented, and his dance moves are pretty sweet, but there’s something about him that gives me the jeebs. “He has the bone structure of a Twilight character,” my fiancée noted. “He is bronze,” observed CL music editor Rodney Carmichael. Yes, and yes.
So here comes Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt, an odd pairing, sure, but that's basically the thing the Grammys are known for at this point. “I’ve got it!” they’ll proclaim after Axl Rose’s demise (from being fat and crazy, probably). “Let’s get Tyler, the Creator and Taylor Swift together for a totally rock 'n' roll tribute to Axl! This is our best idea yet!” I’m kidding, of course. Axl Rose will never die, and Tyler, the Creator will never, ever, be invited to the Grammys. Anyway, Alicia and Bonnie were to pay tribute to the late Etta James, and they did. At first I thought Alicia had been shredded, because the first three notes out of her mouth sounded like a cat dueting with a baby, but then she pulled it together and it was nice.
Adele won Best Pop Vocal something or another. It was only the beginning.
Chris Brown. What a punk. Who let this guy remain a superstar after he sent Rihanna to the hospital? Oh yeah. Everyone did. Way to go, everyone. Also, nice lip syncing, jerk.
The Best Rap Performance category featured some songs that weren’t actually rap songs, which is unsurprising because the ratio of hip-hop to all other forms of music at the Grammys is approximately 1:325246. Never mind that it sells the most records of any contemporary genre. (Don’t worry about it, Grammys. Your New Country fetish is totally, totally normal.) Jay-Z and Kanye West won for “OTIS,” a track from their recent excess-fest Watch the Throne. They weren’t there to accept the award because, as everyone on Twitter noted, they were probably, definitely at an Illuminati meeting. Good detective work as always, Twittersphere.
Reba McEntire looked ten years…scarier?
Some country stuff happened. Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson performed a song that sounded like all the slow country songs ever written minus the good parts. The Foo Fighters played on a tented outdoor stage, and the song sounded like all the Foo Fighters songs ever written minus the good parts. Back inside, LL introduced Coldplay as “a brilliant rock band from London.” I am dubious about that. They went on to play a song that sounded like all the… well, you get the picture. Rihanna was there. In a shocking turn of discernment, the Grammys resisted the urge to cut back and forth between camera shots of Rihanna and her former abuser Brown. Good job, Grammys!
There was a really long Chipotle commercial featuring Willie Nelson covering a Coldplay song. It made me hungry for salsa.
Speaking of salsa, New York Giants receivers Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz introduced the Best Rock Peformance award, because of course they did. Cruz did his trademark salsa touchdown dance, which didn’t look nearly as good out of uniform. The Foo Fighters won the award. Push that envelope, Grammys! “We made this record in my garage,” proclaimed Dave Grohl. Cool and all, except I suspect his garage is the size of an airplane hangar. Also, Butch Vig.
Ryan Seacrest introduced the big Beach Boys reunion performance, which featured accompaniment from Maroon 5 and Bananas Foster the People. I don’t even really wanna touch this one. It was badsad.
Stevie Wonder sent a message “to Whitney up in heaven.” Then he played his harmonica. Then he kept talking. He introduced Sir Paul McCartney, but they did not play “Ebony and Ivory,” thank all the goodness. Instead, Paul teamed up with Diana Krall and Joe Walsh for a schmaltzy number about Valentine’s Day. Is it me, or is Paul looking more and more like a vampire? Yes, the kids are into vampires these days, but c’mon Paul, that’s taking it a little too far. We love you the way you are!
Chris Brown won an award and everyone acted like it was the greatest comeback ever. I’ll say it again: WAY TO GO, EVERYONE.
Alt-country duo The Civil Wars, here playing the role of Token Indie Act, thanked “all our opening acts, especially that promising kid from Liverpool.” It was chuckly. They played a tiny song and then introduced Taylor Swift who, with her band, appeared dressed in, uh, period garb, I guess, and played in front of some backwoods redneck stage set that looked like Monster Plantation come to life and was horribly offensive to anyone who’s ever spent any time in the actual, present-day South. I hate you, Taylor Swift. But I love you, because you’re still cute. Just don’t let it happen again.
Adele won Song of the Year for "Rolling in the Deep," which was the only thing that was true. (That initial half step up in the backing vocals in the chorus still slays me every time.) More to come…
Katy Perry was steppin’ out, y’all! Terrible crimped blue hair and all! Dang, though. She’s just recently divorced from that lunatic, and so I feel bad saying anything negative about her performance. Next up was Best Country Album, which went to Lady Antebellum over some dude who had a song about a “jacked up tailgate.” (What is wrong with you, America?) Lady Antebellum always wins the Grammys. And then oh no, here comes Gwyneth Paltrow, but phew, she didn’t sing this time. No, she was there to introduce the performance of the night. Thankfully, Adele’s vocal cords did not explode during her rendition of "Rolling," but I thought it did sound a little timid given what the girl is capable of. No hard feelings here. I wouldn’t wanna take any chances for the Grammys, either. Afterwards, everyone clapped like Adele had cured cancer.
The Glen Campbell tribute had to happen this year, I reckon, because the man was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and, well, you know how that goes. (It doesn’t go well.) He rolled through his classics with conviction, including “Rhinestone Cowboy,” the song that features a damn solid gold hook that everyone — yes, everyone — still knows and loves. (It also always makes me think of this scene from High School High. Lovitz!) Still, the Grammys’ delight in parading declining stars of yore before confused/pitying audiences continues to astound me. Is it a death fetish? Sadism? A total psychic removal from day-to-day reality? All of the above? Yes.
It was around this time that I was like, oh yeah, Whitney. The telecast began to feel like watching a bunch of opening acts at a funeral, and I think everyone else had the same realization, too, because the mood went suddenly sour. The harsh reality set in. We shuddered and pulled our blankets tight, because this would inevitably be the most understated or the most tasteless thing all night and either way it was gonna be chilling, and sad.
But first, like a watery-eyed apparition, Tony Bennett materialized on stage. My fellow watchers and I were convinced he was introduced as “Tony Bennetts” by co-performer Carrie Underwood. “Thank you,” she oozed, "Mr. Bennetts.” An under-enthused Adele was spotted in the crowd forging a half-smile. I feel you, Delly.
The Best New Artist award went to Bon Iver for his
Peter Gabriel tribute record breakout self-titled album. Justin Vernon had been conspicuously uncomfortable about the band’s nomination prior to the ceremony, and they only attended, he claimed, “for our parents.” But ruh-roh! They won! Vernon gave a rambling, half-dissenting semi-acceptance speech wherein he thanked “all the non-nominees that have never been here and never will be here.” Way to stand up for the little guy, Vern! Also, I dunno what it is (the Bushmills ads, maybe?), but you’re sorta getting reeeeally annoying. (Also also: Bonnie Bear! A meme is born.)
Dead folks montage. Bert Jansch was briefly recognized, which was cool. Of course, this meant it was time for the Whitney tribute, and I, for one, was very nervous. Thankfully Jennifer Hudson did a pretty excellent, if clipped, rendition of “I Will Always Love You” that was well within the realm of good taste. I would even venture to say it was moving. Shocking, right? Until I realized that the Grammys had only had all of one day to prepare for this. If they’d been given a week — fuhgeddaboutit. There woulda been streamers and midgets everywhere.
Record of the Year and Album of the Year both went to Aduuuhhhhhhhle. I know she’s the only one that really deserved it, but it was just boring at this point. Throw us a curveball, for shit’s sake! And poor Lady Gaga; can you believe this is the first time I’ve mentioned her? She was just sitting in the crowd, constricting black fishnet on face, wondering when it was exactly that Adele stole her crown and undoubtedly feeling a bit nauseous at this unexpected turn of events but still forcing a smile, that plastered smile that says “I’m so happy for yoooooooo.” Don’t forget to turn in your badge on the way out, please, Stefani.
Why oh why are the Grammys soooooooooo loooooooong? Four hours? Really? This could easily all be accomplished in two. Hand out the awards, show some performances, bang bang boom you’re done. But Grammy insists on taking it above and beyond every year, which is why last night we got a double dose of awful in the show’s final minutes: first, a deadmau5/David Guetta/Chris Brown/Lil Wayne/Foo Fighters thing, an ear-piercing few minutes that was billed as a tribute to Don Cornelius, who no doubt looked down from heaven very confused, and then a weedly-weedly-wah closer of a performance from all the old white guys in attendance (and Dave Grohl, who is everywhere and nowhere all at once).
EDIT: How could I forget?! The strangest thing all night, of course, was Nicki Minaj, who opened her appearance with an Exorcist-themed film clip and went on to deliver a skullfuckingly bizarre live performance, a devilish mess of Catholic and secret society-themed imagery featuring Minaj's increasingly cartoonish British(ish) accent and a whole mess of hooded dancers and backup singers. It. Was. So. Strange. Like, not even good strange. Just...strange. I still don't know whether it was the best thing to ever appear on the Grammys or the worst thing that's happened in popular culture in the last twenty years. I'M SO CONFUSED. The Catholic League is pissed. Still the world turns...
To recap my recap: So long! So many guitars! So many wanky solos! So much general excess! You did it again, Grammys. And like a moth to a flame I return, year after year, hoping for a different outcome each time and hey, isn’t that the definition of insanity? Thank you, Grammys. You done made me crazy.
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