For a ceremony that, by and large, seemed intent on endorsing the next generation of pop superstars rather than handing out trophies to the tired old guard, the 58th Grammy Awards was remarkably lacking in vitality onstage.
Maybe it was the ugly business of death — which required a fair bit of dealing with at Los Angeles’s Staples Centre on Monday night in the form of tributes to David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Lemmy Kilmister and Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire — casting a pall over the proceedings that rendered this year’s Grammy broadcast on CBS extra joyless, but the show was even drearier and self-consciously “serious” than it usually is.
Nothing works better as a sleep aid than a three-hour awards show someone has seen fit to program with ballad after ballad after ballad after ballad.
Yet that’s precisely what the producers of this year’s Grammy extravaganza, which slipped swiftly into “snooze” mode after opening on a reasonably, if not entirely peppy note with Taylor Swift’s performance of “Out of the Woods.”
Even two-time winner and Toronto-boy-made-good the Weeknd was given just a single verse of his smash hit “Can’t Feel My Face” before the beats cut out and he was off to warble “In the Night” with a cellist and a grand pianist on the proscenium.
Ditto Justin Bieber, who was compelled to turn “Where Are You Now” into a plodding, timpani-abusing “Kashmir” rewrite.
But they saved that stuff for the end. And, boy, did they make you work for it to get there.
Thank the higher power of your choice for Kendrick Lamar, then. He was the Grammy getter to beat on the night with four trophies earned.
Those awards were Rap Album of the Year for To Pimp a Butterfly, Rap Performance and Rap Song of the year for “Alright” and Rap/Sung Collaboration of the Year (with Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat) for “These Walls” — and, eventually, just the shot in the arm the show needed at the hour-and-45-minute mark to convince you to keep watching for another hour.
His theatrical medley of tunes from To Pimp a Butterfly, including a flame-bedecked run at “Alright,” was actually a more accomplished piece of hip-hop theatre than the snippet of the Broadway musical Hamilton (also a winner on Monday night) and testament to the soaring ambitions and ferocious devotion to craft that put Lamar out in front heading into Monday’s ceremony with 11 nominations.
The Grammys went back to the balladry with Miguel doing Michael Jackson’s “She’s Out of My Life” five minutes later and Adele doing the Adele thing shortly thereafter, but at least we’d finally seen a genuinely invigorating performance — and invigorating is, arguably, what all the performances on the Grammy Awards should be, since we’re supposed to believe this is the best that music has to offer.
That’s rarely the way it plays out, of course. But there were a lot of talented people scooping up hardware on Monday. Alabama Shakes wound up with three trophies for their psychedelic soul-rock opus Sound & Color; affable, whiskey-lovin’ country singer/songwriter Chris Stapleton wound up with two awards pegged to his acclaimed 2015 album Traveller; Little Big Town’s sticky pop-country ballad “Girl Crush” was good for three Grammys of its own; the Weeknd, D’Angelo and Bieber approved EDM production team Skrillex & Diplo all got a pair.
These are all respectable moves for the Grammys, so you can forgive them the odd travesty — Meghan Trainor taking Best New Artist over Courtney Barnett, for instance, or Ed Sheeran’s anodyne “Thinking Out Loud” besting monsters like Lamar’s “Alright” and two-time winter Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” for Song of the Year.
Hell, bring back Kendrick Lamar and Lady Gaga every year and the Grammys can do all the Lionel Richie tributes they want in perpetuity.
Record of the year: Uptown Funk, Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars.
Album of the year: 1989, Taylor Swift
Best new artist: Meghan Trainor
Song of the year (songwriter’s award): “Thinking Out Loud,” Ed Sheeran and Amy Wadge.
Best pop solo performance: “Thinking Out Loud,” Ed Sheeran.
Best pop duo/group performance: “Uptown Funk,” Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars.
Best pop vocal album: 1989, Taylor Swift.
Best dance recording: “Where Are U Now,” Skrillex and Diplo with Justin Bieber.
Best dance/electronic album: Skrillex And Diplo Present Jack U, Skrillex and Diplo.
Best metal performance: Cirice, Ghost.
Best rock song: Alabama Shakes’ “Don’t Wanna Fight.”
Best rock album: Drones, Muse.
Best alternative music album: Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes.
Best urban contemporary album: Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd.
Best R&B song: D’Angelo and The Vanguard’s “Really Love.”
Best R&B performance: “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey),” The Weekend.
Best R&B album: Black Messiah, D’Angelo and The Vanguard.
Best rap performance: “Alright,” Kendrick Lamar.
Best rap/sung collaboration: “These Walls,” Kendrick Lamar Featuring Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat.
Best rap album: To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar.
Best rap song: Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.”
Best country album: “Traveller,” Chris Stapleton.
Best country solo: “Traveller,” Chris Stapleton.
Best country duo/group performance: “Girl Crush,” Little Big Town.
Best country song: Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush.”
Best musical theatre album: Hamilton.