Arts & Culture

Grammy Awards focus on bright lights, big performances

Beck accepts the award for best rock album, for Morning Phase. He also won album of the year.
Beck accepts the award for best rock album, for Morning Phase. He also won album of the year. Invision

Watching the 57th annual Grammy Awards often felt like flipping among a half-dozen channels, struggling to discern what, if anything, was the point of it all.

Touted as “music’s biggest night,” the 3 1/2-hour broadcast from the Staples Center in Los Angeles handed out just nine trophies, including four to Sam Smith, widely considered to be the year’s favorite to win everything for which he was nominated.

“Thank you all. This is the best night of my life,” Smith said, as he accepted the Grammy for record of the year. “I want to thank the man this record is about. I want to thank you for breaking my heart so much because I got four Grammys.”

Overall, the night’s winners weren’t much of a surprise, save for Beck’s startling upset in the album of the year category, for his well-received 2014 LP Morning Phase. (The alt-rock iconoclast won two Grammys in all.)

His win actually provoked a moment that wasn’t immediately clear on television: Kanye West bursting up the steps, in mock anger, to repeat his interruption of a ceremony, as when he hijacked Taylor Swift’s speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. (West was, in theory, upset that Beyonce lost out to Beck.)

The Kanye episode was a genuine “Grammy moment,” a vivid, shocking burst of unscripted activity, instead of the contrived, lifeless collaborations the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences created.

More than 20 performances unfolded over the course of the often glacially paced evening.

For all the breathless proclamations about watching “what people would be talking about tomorrow,” there were relatively few sparks.

Annie Lennox joined Irish troubadour Hozier for a stirring rendition of his hit single Take Me to Church and I Put a Spell on You, while quirky pop star Sia enlisted Kristen Wiig to dance onstage to Chandelier as the singer faced away from the audience.

ELO provided a bracing blast of nostalgia, while Miranda Lambert, who took home a Grammy for best country album, made country stardom look effortless. Brandy Clark and Dwight Yoakam joined forces on the former’s tune Hold My Hand, and Beyonce, clad in a diaphanous choir robe, helped bring the night to a poignant, gospel-tinged conclusion.

Eagerly anticipated showcases from the likes of Madonna, Kanye West and Ed Sheeran fizzled — even West’s collaboration with Rihanna and Paul McCartney felt stiff and disengaged.

Current events provided a much-needed jolt of reality to the glittering parade of music superstars.

The most potent segment involved President Obama and a survivor of domestic violence speaking bluntly about the need for increased awareness, prior to Katy Perry’s By the Grace of God, followed closely by Pharrell’s emotionally charged performance of Happy, which included an unspoken tribute to the unrest in Ferguson.

Prince, presenting the Grammy for album of the year, managed, as only he can, to sum up what the Grammys lost sight of.

“Albums — you remember those? They still matter. Like books and black lives, they still matter.”

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713

Twitter: @prestonjones

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