by Wilfred Okiche
At the beginning of every year, the American music industry gathers to honour in a special way, the year that was. Stars are born, careers are revived, legends are crowned and a few duds are rewarded. Welcome to the Grammys.
But of recent, the annual televised show has been less about rewarding talent and more about the spectacle. The spectacle comes mostly in the form of the ‘Grammy moments’; the careful, strategic and unusual collaboration of artistes to create awesome epic-ness on stage. There have been many of them. Eminem and Elton John, Elton John and Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Tina Turner, Beyonce and Prince, Beyonce and Beyonce. You get the point.
This year wasn’t short on the Grammy moments. There was Beyonce and hubby Jay-Z opening the show with a sex-drenched update of ‘Drunk in love’ from her self titled album, there was also a sleep inducing semi-reunion of the living members of the legendary band The Beatles. Add to that, a thorough jam session with ‘Album of the Year’ winners Daft Punk, producer Pharrell Williams, Nile Rogers and Stevie Wonder. Throw in a high energy, indefatigable combination of rapper Kendrick Lamar with rock group Imagine Dragons, veteran songwriter Carol King with surprise nominee Sara Bareilles and you have a pretty wild show already. But the Grammy moment to outshine all others was the show-stopping historic moment when Best New Artist winners Macklemore & Ryan Lewis teamed up with openly gay singer Mary Lambert to perform their nominated single, the equal rights anthem ‘Same love’. At the tail end of the song, they were joined by queen of pop Madonna who segued in a scratchy version of her 1986 hit ‘Open your heart’ and Queen Latifah as she joined 34 couples (both gay and straight) in matrimony. Fifty years from now, that is probably the one performance everyone will still be talking about.
All that bombast did not obscure the night’s more understated solo standouts. 17 year old New Zealander Lorde who claimed the ‘Song of the Year’ diadem for her anti-excess hit anthem ‘Royals’ had a gothic, stripped down turn, Taylor Swift shimmied with a stirring piano-backed ballad ‘All too well’ (complete with some furious head banging) and John Legend gave a solid account of his wedding favourite ‘All of me’.
Daft Punk emerged big winners wih 5 trophys including album and record of the year. Lorde picked up 2 awards and Jay-Z, Rihanna and Alicia Keys were some other winners. Pharrell Williams- and his hat- won for Producer of the Year (Non-classical). The most head-scratching part came in the rap categories as the duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis trounced the obviously better competition- a line up that includes Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z and Kanye West- to win both Rap album (for The Heist) and Rap song.
So what are the lessons from this year’s awards? The most important is the obvious, even the Grammys still cannot get it right. In trying to reward almost every music genre known to man, they end up becoming the proverbial Jack of all trades and master of none. Sure a couple of winners like Lorde, Daft Punk, Kacey Musgrave were deserving but the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Rap domination stinks to high heavens, not because the hit making duo aren’t good enough, but because of the quality of the competition. Lamar’s ‘Good kid, m.A.A.d city’ and Kanye’s ‘Yeezus’ in particular were 2 of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year.
Macklemore himself was embarassed by the win and promptly fired a (public) message to Lamar apologising on behalf of the recording academy for robbing him of Best Rap Album. Maybe we should expect a similar mea culpa from Iyanya for claiming the Headies Artiste of the Year. Will Sean Tizzle chat up Burna Boy or Phyno at night offering to return the car prize? Can we keep dreaming? Perhaps we should go easy on the Headies organisers over last year’s very messy awards. Even the Grammys are not entirely above board.
What artistes can however pick up from Sunday’s telecast is the art of the performance. Whether it was Beyonce dripping sex onstage, Pink doing another aerial acrobatic routine, Taylor Swift playing a grand piano or the over the top collaborations, the hard work and professionalism of these artistes were visible to see. It goes far beyond prancing around onstage screaming yes oh!
There were some glitches like the misspelling of Cory Monteith’s name in the In memoriam segment, LL Cool J’s largely irrelevant hosting and the poor time management that marred the broadcast but the performances made up for the shortcomings. Great live music indeed covers for a multitude of sins.