grammy post mortem 2019

Alicia Keys and Michelle Obama at the Grammy Awards, Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Unlike the Grammy Awards, we know how to keep a lid on things. We have limited our annual post mortem of the three-and-a-half plus hour televised carnival to 10 vital takeaways. Here is what it all boiled down to for The Musical Box.

+ Michelle Obama may just have been biggest pop star of the night. As part of an entourage that included Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Jada Pinkett Smith and show host Alicia Keys, the former first lady barely got five words out on a reflection of Motown music before the crowd went wild, sending the Grammys’ assertion of female star power into the stratosphere.

+ After Camila Cabello began the ceremony with a multi-story dance-pop block party version of “Havana,” Kacey Musgraves brought the Grammys back to earth with a stunning and sparse reading of “Rainbows” accompanied only by piano that proved a complete antithesis of the usual Grammy glitz. The mood didn’t last. The show quickly shifted to a performance of Janelle Monae’s Prince-meets-Kraftwerk blowout of “Make Me Feel.”

+ Non-rapping rapper Post Malone continued to confound as a song stylist, opening with a solo acoustic reading of “Stay” before turning to the dance-pop groove of “Rockstar” as he seemed to wander through the illuminated bowels of the Staples Center. He eventually resurfaced to jam with the Red Hot Chili Peppers (with Anthony Keidis looking a lot like that creepy actor from “Manos, Hands of Fate”) on “Dark Necessities.” Though a sloppy summit with no one coming off as a Caruso, it was nonetheless a fun genre-bashing mash up.

+ Anna Kendrick introduced a salute to Dolly Parton that included the Divine Ms. Dolly singing Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” with Maren Morris and Miley Cyrus (with the lyric about “getting high” glaringly whited out), a capable duet exchange with Cyrus on “Jolene” and an anthemic take on “Red Shoes” with Little Big Town where Parton’s vocals agelessly soared. The highlight, though, was watching Kacey Musgraves make musical mincemeat out of an ill-prepared/ill-matched Katy Perry during “Here You Come Again” before Parton joined in to take full ownership of her own tribute.

+ Sure, it would have great to have Kentucky’s own Chris Stapleton walk off with Country Album of the Year for the third time, but you will get no argument from me in handing the trophy over to the great Kacey Musgraves for the second time. In an age where country has shamelessly strayed further than ever from its homegrown roots, Musgraves, for “Golden Hour,” now rejoins a list of Grammy winning country album winners that includes Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lyle Lovett, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Sturgill Simpson. The Album of the Year win was the real surprise, especially to Musgraves. It didn’t take a lip reader to decipher her on-camera reaction: “What? What? What?”

+ Alicia Keys was already in the running for Coolest Grammy Host Ever, but she fully earned the title with an ambitious performance overview that used the dual piano playing of the late (and shamefully blacklisted) Hazel Scott as an inspiration. From there, she offered a hit parade that went from Scott Joplin to Roberta Flack to Nat King Cole to Lauryn Hill to Jay Z and more. Effortless and stunning.

+ Who would have expected the most to-the-bone assessment of the music business and the Grammys themselves to come from Drake? After winning Best Rap Song for “God’s Plan,” he delivered an eloquent but pointed dismissal of awards and high profile accolades. “If you have people who are singing your songs word for word, if you’re a hero in your hometown, if there are people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain and the snow, spending hard earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don’t need this. You’ve already won.” The Grammys responded by immediately cutting to a commercial.

+ Introduced by her nine year old grandson, Diana Ross remained a way-larger-than-life presence during a medley of two songs that spanned nearly 25 years of her post-Supremes solo career – “The Best Years of My Life” and “Reach Out and Touch.” It was hardly a spotless vocal exhibition and the run of motivational banter that wound up with the singer wishing herself a happy birthday (she turns 75 next month) grew tiresome. But you expected subtlety from the still uproarious Ms. Ross?

+ Hard to fully grasp Lady Gaga’s performance of “Shallow.” It’s a killer song that lit the rock and soul fuse of “A Star is Born.” Here, she backed up the song’s potency with a vocal command few could have imagined when her career began to gain traction nearly a decade ago. So why all the histrionics and posing in a performance that, visually, bordered on the cliched? In a perhaps unanticipated manner, what you saw wasn’t necessarily what you got. Then again, that’s always been the way with Gaga?

+ Also choosing to de-glam from the Grammys was Brandi Carlile. She let the potency of “The Joke” speak through the lean drive of her band and projections of the song’s chorus lyrics onto a screen behind her. But the key to this prayer for marginalized souls was that voice – that booming, clear vocal bravado that Carlile sent to the moon and back by the song’s conclusion. In recent pop history, only k.d. lang has displayed anything that can match it. Carlile may have even outdistanced her.



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