As a viewer, watching the 55th annual Grammy Awards felt like a Black Friday mall trip—there were some good finds, but you had to wade through racks of cheap sweaters first. Last night’s Grammy performances had a few standouts, but mostly just filler.
Swift kicked off the show with her breakup anthem “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” dressed as a ringmaster (a motif already done by both Madonna and Britney Spears in the last 5 years). Due to Swift’s weak live vocals, the performance was a circus of whiny middle school emotions.
Swift’s biggest attempt at grown-up drama came during the spoken bridge. “Baby I still love you,” Taylor said, imitating the British accent of her 18-year-old ex and One Direction boy bander Harry Styles. It was like Revenge: Tiger Beat Edition.
Especially since the memory of last Sunday’s Superbowl halftime show is still fresh, I just kept thinking “but Beyonce had one of the best performances of all time!” throughout Taylor’s entire routine. The Grammys should have picked a stronger opening.
Elton John and Ed Sheeran
Aging diva Elton John accompanied newcomer Ed Sheeran on “The A Team” which was nominated for best song. I hate to hate, but pairing Elton with an up and comer has been done. He sang with Lady Gaga in 2010 and joined Eminem in 2001.
The Gaga duet was most appropriate, as the two singers share both a stylistic aesthetic and fetish for Muppet costumes. But the Ed Sheeran collaboration, while a good duet, just seemed random.
Finally, an hour into the show came the moment the broadcast had been hyping incessantly: Justin Timberlake’s big “return to music.” While it was nice to see Timberlake rock “Suit and Tie,” the song itself needs a bit of an energy kick. The Jay-Z rap was fun, during which the camera panned to the pair’s wives. I have to wonder what Beyonce and Jessica Beal talked about….hmm?
Timberlake ended the performance with an even slower new song, “Pusher Love Girl,” which wailed on for just a little too long. I love JT, but I got up to make popcorn mid performance. There, I said it, I’m ashamed.
Alicia Keys and Maroon 5
Alicia Keys and Maroon 5 joined forces for yet another awards show rendition of Keys’s “Girl on Fire.” Keys has now performed the number at the VMAs, the EMAs, and Grammys with no second single in sight. The addition of drums was a nice twist, but mid-song I was very tempted to see what was happening on Downton Abbey.
I always get nervous when the chords of a Rihanna ballad sound. However, she really surprised with “Stay.” Rihanna rocked some diva extensions, trying her best at diva vocals—to shockingly good results. She did better than Taylor Swift for sure, and thankfully didn’t attempt many Mariah runs.
“Stay” was unexpectedly understated and a sad nod to her relationship with Chris Brown. It was 4 years ago last night where Brown and Rihanna got into the domestic dispute. Tonight, she was sitting front row on his arm.
Clarkson, winner of Best Pop Vocal album, gave stunning performances of two covers, in a tribute to Patti Paige and Carole King. “Tennessee Waltz” was exquisite, soulful and nuanced all at once—a vocal style that is Clarkson’s specialty. She also rocked the Carole King-penned (but, never forget: Aretha-sung) “Natural Woman.”
Bruno Mars/Tribute to Bob Marley
Bruno Mars started off the tribute with an electrifying version of his own song, “Locked Out of Heaven,” with Sting. The number then transitioned into the Marley number “Could You Be Loved,” joined by Rihanna and Ziggy Marley.
I’m still trying to figure out why Rihanna was in a Bob Marley tribute, other than the fact that she’s also from an island and likes to smoke weed.
The Marley tribute was weird, but entertaining.
Tribute to Levon Helm
Finally, nearly 3 hours into the broadcast, an all-star collaboration. Elton John, Mavis Staples, Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard and Mumford & Sons joined forces to pay tribute to Helm, a longtime rock musician who passed away earlier this year. With each star chiming in with strong vocals, the show finally felt like the Grammys.
Sadly, Ocean’s performance did not live up to the hype. Situated at a keyboard in front of a large screen of running bodies, Ocean’s “Forest Gump” was a bit restrained and oddball, perhaps a little too out there for such a mainstream audience. By the end, Kanye rushing the stage would have been a good thing.
Arguably, no Grammy performance matched up to Beyonce’s at the Superbowl. There were definitely some high points, but on the whole, it just felt tiring.