What makes the Grammy Awards worth watching are water cooler moments: Lady Gaga being carried down the red carpet Cleopatra style while nestled inside an egg, Bob Dylan getting soy bombed, Ol’ Dirty Bastard hijacking the mic from a perplexed Shawn Colvin, or Busta Rhymes calling Donald Trump “President Agent Orange.”
Could a pandemic-friendly award show-in-a-bubble offer anything remotely close to the curious spontaneity of yore? In a word: Almost.
Host Trevor Noah seemed determined that the novelty of the entire night could be a water cooler moment in itself, that is if people ever gather around water coolers in offices again. He bounded off an outdoor stage in downtown Los Angeles, cracking wise about vaccines and the insurrection before entering a wisteria-filled soundstage.
Like an infomercial pitchman, he was trying to sell the show with energy, enthusiasm, and pluck. In the first 15 minutes, the Grammys quickly delivered by giving the people what they wanted, namely a leather-clad Harry Styles wearing what appeared to be a dead Muppet around his neck and no shirt.
“Ladies watch out, he’ll steal your heart and he’ll steal your dress and he’ll look damn good doing it,” Noah said in his introduction of Styles, who later accepted the award for best pop solo performance wearing another dead Muppet.
However Noah didn’t need to sell it, the music, the message, and the historic moments did it for him. When Beyoncé won the award for best R&B performance for “Black Parade,” she went into the record books. With 28 Grammy wins, she now has more awards any other female performer.
“I believe its my job, and all of our jobs, to reflect the times, and it’s been such a difficult time, so I wanted to uplift, encourage, and celebrate all of the beautiful Black queens and kings that continue to inspire me,” she said as she accepted the award. Let’s just acknowledge now that Beyoncé is a goddess who was sent to live among us paunchy mortals.
So it felt like an upset when Billie Eilish won the record of the year for “Everything I Wanted” in a category that included “Black Parade.” Eilish apologized to Megan Thee Stallion, nominated for “Savage,” for her win.
“Black Parade,” was one of the songs released in the wake of George Floyd’s death that the Grammys recognized. The Black Lives Matter movement was woven throughout the telecast. Atlanta rapper Lil Baby’s performance of “The Bigger Picture” was like a visual summary of the incendiary summer of 2020, complete with a staged police shooting, the burning of a building that looked like a Wendy’s, and a speech by Tamika Mallory directed at President Biden.
Mickey Guyton’s performance of “Black Like Me,” which was released just days after Floyd’s death, soared, and the small live audience at the awards show was clearly moved when H.E.R. took the song of the year award for “I Can’t Breathe,” another Floyd-inspired song.
There was no attempt at a contrived Zoom audience, which immediately made the production far superior to the Golden Globes.
But it turned out that Noah’s mile-a-minute pace was unsustainable. A series of short films highlighting nominees quickly gummed up the proceedings. These were about as informative as interviews with athletes and coaches after games. History was rehashed, clichés were tossed about, and then the obligatory “It was a difficult year, we miss the energy, etc. etc.”
And there always need to be clichés at the Grammys, even a show that Noah was selling harder than Mike Lindell pushes pillows. DaBaby and Roddy Ricch broke out the robed choir for “Rockstar,” which indicates that a song is to be taken seriously.
Dua Lipa’s tightly choreographed, pretty in pink “Don’t Stop Now” was a necessary palate cleanser. It’s the kind of dance-floor stomper that helped us survive the pandemic by offering living room discos. Not to be outdone, Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B gave us Vegas-worthy performances that were truly classy, bougie, and ratchet, in all the best ways possible.
While the performances buzzed, the pace of artist recognition did not. Where were the awards? Why were they taking so long to hand out? If the awards were as plentiful as the displays of décolletage, the night would have moved much faster. Also, it took nearly 3 1/2 hours to get BTS onstage. C’mon Grammys, Monday is a school day!
Thankfully Bruno Mars came to the rescue. First, he donned a rust-colored polyester suit and very convincingly played the part of 1970s soul singer with Anderson .Paak and their band Silk Sonic. He later transformed himself into Little Richard to pay tribute to the late singer. His performance as Little Richard was so good I think the Academy should just give him his Oscar now.
There was more theater from Taylor Swift, who went into the night with six nominations and took home the award for album of the year for “Folklore.” She performed a medley of her pandemic hits in what looked to be a moss-enrobed hut pulled from a Brothers Grimm fairytale.
At the start of the show Noah said that the music was all about bringing people together, as only “music and vaccines” can. The challenge facing the Grammys was making people come together, while also not forgetting about the splintering and pain of the past year.
And, at least at the Grammy Awards, people were coming together over music. It was heartening to see Styles cheering on Eilish and female country stars whooping it up while listening to each other perform. The show could have easily been trimmed by an hour, but the weight of its message seemed worth the extra time. Maybe next year, give Beyoncé more screen time, and put BTS on two hours earlier.