beck performing last night at the grammy awards in los angeles. photo by kevork djansezian/getty images.
It was the year of duets and all-star mash-ups at the Grammy Awards. But as we dig into our annual Grammy post mortem, we discover too much star power just gets to be a drag.
Between the mismatches and self-promotion (CBS set a new record for product placements of its TV programming) there were a few awards given out and even a surprise or two. Here, however, is what The Musical Box saw.
AC/DC: Undettered by trends, Aussie rockers AC/DC opened the evening with the new Rock or Bust followed by the classic Highway to Hell, complete with front row fans Paul McCartney and Katy Perry wearing makeshift devil horns. Good cranky fun.
Best New Artist: Sam Smith, in what would be the first of four Grammy wins.
Ariana Grande: Pop princess shelves the dance moves to sing Just a Little Bit of Your Heart stationary and straight.
Jessie J and Tom Jones: A salute Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil with an oddly truncated You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling. Zero chemistry.
Best Pop Solo Performance: Happy by Pharrell Williams. Fine choice, but let’s hope his pants don’t trend the way his hat did last year.
Miranda Lambert: Suitably energetic and immediate performance of Little Red Wagon that was about as country as Isaac Hayes.
Pop Vocal Album: Sam Smith won for In the Lonely Hour in a Grammy presented by Barry Gibb.
Kanye West: Sings the new Only One while dancing on a lone floor spotlight. An awkward and uninvolving performance
Madonna: Introduced by Miley Cyrus as “my bitch,” the singer offered a new and somewhat droll dance tune called Living For Love. She also cavorted with a pack of shirtless male dancers with masks and horns. Just another day at the office.
Best Rock Album: Beck’s Morning Phase. A great choice in, for once, a very strong field. Strange, though, that Morning Phase is one of the least rockish records of Beck’s career.
Best R&B Performance: Beyonce and Jay Z, Drunk in Love. Guess it was too much to hope for a Ledisi win.
Ed Sheeran with John Mayer, Questlove, Herbie Hancock: A serviceable enough summit version of Thinking Out Loud that left little for the guest list to do.
Jeff Lynne: A heady ELO flashback with Evil Woman, then the heavily Beatle-esque Mr. Blue Sky with Sheeran. Lynne acted liked Sheeran wasn’t there. An odd pairing and odder performance.
Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani: Ryan Sechrist called them “two of our finest” as they launced into the syrupy Maroon 5 hit My Heart is Open. Given how heavily CBS was pushing actors from its network series, having two stars from NBC’s The Voice was probably the biggest surprise of the night.
Hozier and Annie Lennox: I used to think Lennox could make any song sound righteous. That was until she took to Hozier’s dreadful Take Me to Church last night. Her adjoining version of the Screaming Jay Hawkins hit I Put a Spell on You was an impressive save, though.
Best Country Album: In a category that sometimes shells out a surprise, none came. Miranda Lambert’s Platinum took top honors.
Pharrell Williams with Lang Lang and Hans Zimmer: What a mess. Happy is the perfect radio single, so why fuss it up with minor key variations, choirs and ill matched performance partners? Leave well enough alone.
Katy Perry: An atypically stoic performance of By the Grace of God? that followed two striking anti-domestic violence pleas by Brooke Axtell and, in pre-recorded message, President Obama.
Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga: She may have been dolled up like a drag queen, but Gaga managed the impossible. She sang Cheek to Cheek with Tony Bennett and held her own.
Usher: In a straightforward salute to Stevie Wonder, Usher sang If It’s Magic accompanied only by a harpist until Wonder himself came out of the shadows to briefly play harmonica. In an evening of relentless bombast, this serving of understatement was an oasis.
Eric Church: Nice job on Give Me Back My Hometown, an unsettling rocker from The Outsiders than possessed a refreshingly non-pandering country spirit.
Dwight Yoakam and Brandy Clark: Two guitars and two voices representing two country generations singing Hold My Hand. Simple and potent.
Paul McCartney, Rhianna and Kanye West: I expected a train wreck. Instead, we got a stripped down gospel-flavored pop tune, FourFiveSeconds. Not a revelation, but not a collision of mismatched egos, either.
Sam Smith and Mary J. Blige: This is undeniably Smith’s star moment, but he and his delicate vocals seemed like also-rans in an arrangement that stressed everything except the singer.
Juanes: A performance of Juntos that properly recognized the Latin music categories. On its own, though, this was pretty unremarkable stuff.
Album of the Year. Prince offered words of comfort (“Albums still matter”) but appeared out to lunch as a presenter. But Beck’s Morning Phase beating out Beyonce? Who saw that coming?
Sia: A reenactment of the Chandelier video that was acted out instead out of sung. Please.
Song of the Year: Smith again for Stay With Me. Funny – didn’t see or hear Tom Petty’s name anywhere.
Beck and Chris Martin: To his credit, Martin purposely tried to serve Beck’s light and luminous Heart is a Drum instead acting like a bored co-star like most of last night’s collaborators did.
Record of the Year: Sam Smith, again a worthy winner because the rest of the field was so tepid.
Beyonce: “I am tired,” Beyonce sang with sterling conviction as the gospel favorite Take My Hand, Precious Lord took the Grammy Ceremony to the 3 ½ hour mark. I could relate.
John Legend and Common: A suitably dramatic reading of Glory with choir and strings. Then again, Legend would have been just as commanding if he were performing alone with his piano.