Thursday, February 18, 2016

Mike Drinan Looks at the 2016 Grammys

by Michael Drinan

The Grammys happened this past Monday night to much fanfare and people like me, who hope the trainwreck has to end sometime, tuned in. As a whole the Grammys were not a success, pulling in some of the lowest ratings since 2009. There were sound issues, weird performances, and “wrong” winners. Not all of it was bad, there were a few good moments but some pretty ugly ones as well. Let’s run through it together shall we?


  • Kendrick Lamar - I’m starting off with THE reason I tuned in to the ceremony. I wanted to see Kendrick and his 11-time nominated powerhouse album To Pimp A Butterfly clean up. I wanted to see this event be the culmination of his album being considered a modern day classic. It didn’t happen. The album didn’t clean up as I’d hope. Kendrick did walk away with five Grammys including Best Rap Album, Best Rap Performance and Rap Song for “Alright” along with his collaboration on Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” music video. The real reason I started off with him was his performance. Expected to put on a politically-charged show, he came out onstage wearing chains and prison clothes in a stage set that resembled a prison and kicked things off with his emotionally, racially-charged song “The Blacker the Berry”, a song inspired by the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin and the protests that followed that tragic event. A shot of the audience during this performance showed people (a lot of white faces) watching as if they were unsure how to feel or think about what they were seeing. Before they could come to grips with it, Kendrick switched into his song “Alright” before launching into a what ended being his third performance of an untitled (aka unreleased) song (The first untitled was performed on The Colbert Report shortly before Colbert took on duties of his new late night show, and the second was on The Tonight Show a couple of months ago). The performance ended and immediately triggered a huge response. I was on Twitter that night and saw reactions like “Kendrick just asked 'Kanye who?' and “Kendrick giving out lessons every time he steps on stage.” Even BET made a bold statement saying “Kendrick Lamar is Everything We Hoped Kanye West Would Be”. It's his second Grammy performance that has been considered a classic.  His performance two years ago with Imagine Dragons had so much intensity and power and this year’s performance followed suit. It certainly was one of, if not THE highlight of the night.
  • Lady Gaga’s tribute to David Bowie - After she wowed me and the world with her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl with her gorgeous voice that makes you ask the question “Why doesn’t she do that more often?”, Lady Gaga performed a medley of songs in tribute to one of her idols and inspirations, David Bowie. Her tribute has been catching a lot of criticism because, well, it’s dealing with Bowie. Whatever she did wouldn’t have been good enough for Bowie fans so, whatever. She was introduced by having a lot of references to Bowie projected on to her face. The famous lightning bolt dripped its way over her eye as a spider traversed her face. She then began a medley of Bowie’s hits and popular songs. I’ve never been a fan of Bowie’s music. I’m in that category of “not a fan but I get why he’s great” and this medley was perfect for someone like me. Diehard fans are always going to have a problem but most of the people watching the Grammys are young people watching their favorite artists win awards, so it was a fitting tribute in my opinion. People need to relax, including Bowie’s son.
  • Demi Lovato Brings the Fire - One of the few moments that I thought was going to end up as a disappointment was the Lionel Richie tribute. John Legend started things off because John Legend has never had a bad performance (I’m convinced). He was great as usual. Then Demi Lovato came out and, like Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl performance, unleashed this voice that makes you question the decisions most of these performers make regarding their albums. WHY DON”T YOU PUT THAT VOICE ON YOUR ALBUMS!?!?!? It was spectacular even though she took it a little too far and hammed it up a bit but still, it was the most impressive thing Lovato has done or will ever do, as far as I’m concerned. She was the highlight of what turned out to be a rather disappointing Lionel Richie tribute.
  • Honorable Mention: Twelve year old pianist James Alexander made everyone feel like a failure in life with his tremendous playing. Hopefully we’ll see his name again on future Grammy broadcasts, in the ticker at the bottom of the screen for the pre-broadcast winners because his style of music won’t be hip enough for the actual broadcast.


  • Adele’s Sound Issues - Adele could sing through a damn hurricane just fine so I’m not as worried for her as I was for the audience watching at home. Her performance started and I was intrigued, waiting to hear that brilliant voice of an angel. Instead, I heard a guitar like strum that was grating and bothersome. I tried looking for the guitarist onstage, the one who’d be unemployed in a few minutes, but didn’t see one. Then I saw a tweet suggesting it was a broken piano string but I found that odd considering it’s the Grammys and they usually prevent those things from happening. Turns out we were both wrong. Adele tweeted after her performance that one of the piano mics had fallen onto some of the piano strings causing that odd guitar strum sound. Guess the Grammys still know how to fuck up a good thing.
  • Justin Bieber’s Performance - Railing on this kid never gets old. He’s always supplying people like me with ammunition each and every day and his Grammy performance wasn’t any different. He started out with just him and his guitar singing some song about a girl (Aren’t they all?). He was then joined onstage by Skrillex on guitar and Diplo on computer. The songs were alright, I could take them or leave them, except for all of his “Oh oh ohs," they just sounded horrible. However, his performance, though flawless, almost felt like a rip off of Kendrick Lamar’s performance with Imagine Dragons two years ago. Maybe it was the kettle drums? I don’t know. All I know is the performance was unoriginal, uninspiring and just plain ol' boring. I’m still waiting for this talent that he supposedly has to come through and shut me up but I’ll keep waiting.
  •  Too Many Performances - The worst part of the Grammys is the lack of awards presented on the broadcast and the abundance of performances. There were a total of 19 performances that caused the broadcast to span almost 4 hours, which is completely insane. I don’t see what the harm is in cutting the performances down to like seven and handing out more awards from other categories. Oh what, that’ll give exposure to lesser known artists from unique genres of music? GASP! We wouldn’t want to grow a little culture and have people experience different types of music now would we? 
  • Honorable Mention: James Bay and Tori Kelly’s performance was one of the most strained and off-key performances of the night. It's right up there with Sam Hunt and Carrie Underwood’s performance. It wasn’t good.


  • The Hollywood Vampires Tribute to Lemmy - I appreciate the Grammys doing something for Lemmy, but this was just awkward and sad. You could tell there was no connection between the audience and the performance of a bunch of old rock stars and one movie star (Seriously, how the hell does Johnny Depp work his way into these kind of things? Also, who gives the guy a microphone!?!?!). The real bullshit part of this tribute was they played an original song before they played the Motorhead classic “Ace of Spades”. Plus, their original song went on for so long that it wound up losing the audience because they didn’t know what they were listening to. Even I sat there wondering “Is this a Motorhead song?” because I never listened to the Hollywood Vampires before. Why would I? It's like the worst supergroup ever. Here was the time to celebrate a legend, one who most likely inspired all people on stage, and instead they made it about themselves. Yet another example of ego getting in the way of what could’ve been a memorable performance. Also, Alice Cooper should just stick to golfing because his vocals are shot.
  • Eligibility Rules - It’s so difficult these days to know who is eligible for these things and why. It made the ceremony feel so out of date because a lot of the nominees were for songs and albums that go back to 2014! The eligibility period for the Grammys runs until September 30th of each year. So, recordings that were released from October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015 were eligible for the 2016 Grammys. Follow that? That is a very long stretch of time and causes some pretty horrible nominations and wins. Like, Meghan Trainor, who won this year for Best New Artist even though her song “All About That Bass” garnered two Grammy nominations in last year’s ceremony. Ed Sheeran won “Song of the Year” for his song “Thinking Out Loud” even though that song appeared on his album that was released in June 2014, which was nominated for Best Album at last year’s Grammys as well. Taylor Swift’s album 1989 was released in October 2014 and ended up winning Album of the Year this year. It’s gotten to the point where there are shades of grey in the rules for eligibility and it doesn’t make for a good awards show when you’re awarding recordings from a year and a half ago. They should make the eligibility period run up to the end of December like they do for the Oscars. Nobody needs four months to consider their vote on these recordings. 
  • Taylor Swift Wins Album of the Year - If you don’t know me, you should know that I am a big Taylor Swift fan. Ever since her second album Fearless came out, I’ve been hooked. You can yell at me all you want about how pop music sucks and she’s fake and she doesn’t write her own songs and yadda yadda yadda. I will only argue with you that last point. She does write her own songs. Always has. I think she’s a great pop songwriter and her songs, even though easily digestible, are also easy to relate to and have great hooks and melodies. So, I wasn’t terribly upset that her album 1989 won Album of the Year. It’s a great pop album. I have been going back to it ever since it was released. I can’t get tired of listening to it. Every song is good and it’s not a happy, upbeat, “poppy” pop album. Sure, there’s that one track ("Shake It Off") that is like that but overall the album is pretty serious, and kind of dark and sad. HOWEVER, the award should’ve gone to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and even though I knew the award was going to be between those two albums, it’s pretty sad the Grammys couldn’t see and understand not only the musical achievement of Kendrick’s album over Swift’s but also the historical significance. Was there ever an album as socially relevant and politically poignant as To Pimp A Butterfly? The Grammys awarding it to Taylor Swift was a safe choice and a widely accepted one. Swift’s reach and acceptance is undeniable, plus she’s very likeable. But it also exemplifies the Grammys inability to fully accept hip hop. There have only been two hip hop albums that have won Album of the Year, Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999 and in 2004 with Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, both over a decade ago. Now, during a time in which racial tension in this country is at highest in over 20 years, the confrontation of white privilege, the police brutality resulting in the murders of unarmed black citizens, and political maneuverings that seem to be racially motivated, an album like Kendrick’s deserved the award for discussing these issues. It would have validated his work as being representative of the times but also a relatively new and young artist pushing the boundaries of a genre. To Pimp A Butterfly will no doubt go on to be a considered a classic recording, an important hip hop album. It’s just a shame the Grammys were so shortsighted and dropped the ball, refusing to reward an album simply because it challenged them to see past themselves and their own experiences. 
  • Honorable Mention: Sofia Vergara dressed up as a taxi during Pitbull’s final performance. How ridiculous can we get? (Hint: wait until next year)

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