Semi-Random Takeaways From Monday's Grammy Awards

Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar may have grabbed the headlines, but Alabama Shakes put on a strong showing themselves, winning three Grammys and turning in a soulful performance of "Don't Wanna Fight."
Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar may have grabbed the headlines, but Alabama Shakes put on a strong showing themselves, winning three Grammys and turning in a soulful performance of "Don't Wanna Fight."
Photo by David McLister/Courtesy of The Fun Star

Three and a half hours of live television is a lot of air time to fill. The producers of the Grammy awards telecast understand this, so they know there are much better ways to spend that time than actually handing out all but a few awards. Leave all the boring acceptance speeches for categories like editing and sound design to the Oscars. At Monday night’s 58th annual Grammys, all that air time left room for so many other things: sound glitches (Adele); awkward introductions (Ariana Grande for The Weeknd); cringeworthy commercials (Gwen Stefani for Target); tributes that ranged from half-baked to overly ambitious to just right; and important questions like, “Who the hell are Hollywood Vampires?” “Who the hell let Pitbull and Robin Thicke go on last?” and “Why the hell couldn’t Hollywood Vampires have gone on last?”

Seriously, all those memes and GIFs running amok on social media during and after the show weren’t just going to make themselves. But just when Monday’s Grammys threatened to OD on one innocuous and/or anodyne performance too many by artists who haven’t fully earned their stripes, lackluster show-opener Taylor Swift included, things got real serious real fast when the grownups showed up to pay tribute to their fallen colleagues or heroes or, in Lady Gaga’s case, “Heroes.” The cast of Broadway hip-hop musical Hamilton and Kendrick Lamar permanently raised the bar for what a Grammy performance should look like, and how it should make us at home feel (speechless, if not on Twitter), while Alabama Shakes and Chris Stapleton showed that guitar-toting underdogs still have a secure place in the music industry. And Hollywood Vampires — an unholy glam-metal alliance of Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, Johnny Depp and Guns N’ Roses’s classic rhythm section of Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum — merely showed that rock isn’t dead after all. It’s undead, of course.

Soon enough, Swift’s 1989 won Album of the Year over Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and managed to toss some shade the absent Kanye West’s way in her acceptance speech, touching off a three-way free-for-all that will surely rage on well into the morning. The Grammys excel at getting people talking, and every so often those people even have some interesting things to say. So before the media train moves on to the Oscars, here are a few more thoughts from “Music’s Biggest Night,” otherwise known as The Night That Almost Wouldn’t End.

** That feeling when you’re witnessing greatness is easy enough to articulate: It’s what it feels like when Kendrick Lamar and his band, all dressed in county blues and some playing in mock jail cells, incinerate “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright” in a skronking, jazz-inflected musical and metaphorical bonfire whose embers will be smoldering for months, if not years. The spastic jump-cuts between tight shots of Lamar’s face during the climax deserve an Emmy, too.

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** That sound you heard is the phones at Theatre Under the Stars ringing off the hook with people wondering when the touring company of Hamilton will make its way to Houston. Or maybe it’s the Internet breaking. Either way, sit tight, folks…but don’t hold your breath.

** Attention, RodeoHouston fans: Little Big Town (Monday, March 18) put on one of the night’s classier performances with a version of “Girl Crush” that minimized the song’s blown-out-of-proportion bedroom politics in favor of Karen Fairchild’s heartache-y lead vocals and her bandmates’ savory harmonies.

** To the surprise of absolutely no one, except maybe Little Big Town, Chris Stapleton won Best Country Album for Traveller. Now can country radio play him?

** Ditto for Alabama Shakes and rock radio; what a groovy band they're turning out to be. Singer Brittany Howard is already all-world.

** Clad in a leopard-print blazer I like to think was his tribute to Elvis (or else Bruno Mars), Justin Bieber did nothing to derail his ongoing image rehabilitation during his appearance with Skrillex and Diplo’s Jack U; Skrillex turning in the night’s best non-B.B. King-tribute guitar performance was a nice bonus. Bieber does need to lose the backward trucker cap ASAP, though.

** Is it okay for LL Cool J to retire after this year and The Late Late Show’s James Corden take his place? LL has done his duty, but he seemed bored a lot — and sometimes it was hard to blame him, true — but the “Red Carpet Karaoke” possibilities alone are tantalizing.

** The Grammy tributes, ranked:

6. Maurice White: Stevie Wonder and Arlington-based a cappella kids Pentatonix sang half of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “The Way of the World” before presenting Song of the Year. Even if White’s surviving bandmates (and Grammy Lifetime Achievement award winners) got to present Album of the Year later in the show (much later), he deserved better.

5. Lionel Richie (best to worst): Demi Lovato, “Hello” (drew chills and applause from the crowd, including Richie himself); John Legend, “Easy” (classy); Tyrese, “Brick House” (strong); Richie & friends’ “All Night Long” finale (smiles all around); Meghan Trainor, “You Are” (adequate); Luke Bryan, “Penny Lover” (gross). Thankfully, Richie is still with us — he was honored as MusiCares’ person of the year — but Neon Lionel Richie is already haunting my nightmares.

4. David Bowie: We all miss Bowie, terribly, but Lady Gaga tried to squeeze in waaaaaay too many songs. However, Let’s Dance producer/Chic founder Nile Rodgers was spot-on anchoring the band, and letting spiders crawl on your face will score a lot of points.

3. The Eagles: In memory of Glenn Frey, the surviving band members and co-author Jackson Browne’s moving performance of “Take It Easy” may have been dad-rock’s last hurrah in front of such a wide home audience, but these guys — obviously missing their friend — found the melancholy underneath the mellow.

2. B.B. King: Chris Stapleton and Gary Clark Jr. showed how to do a tribute right: Pick one song, King’s signature “The Thrill Is Gone,” and massage every last sorrowful note out of it. Then Bonnie Raitt strolled onstage and shut them down.

1. Lemmy: “Ace of Spades”!!! Whether or not Hollywood Vampires had a few minutes to kill thanks to Rihanna’s sudden cancellation, they killed all right. Somewhere — on the video screen behind the band, in fact — Lemmy had a shit-eating grin as wide as Sunset Strip.

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