grammy post mortem 2020

Gary Clark Jr. performing at the 62nd Grammy Awards on Sunday. Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/ AP.

What’s the real worth of this year’s Grammy Awards when Central Kentucky’s lone hope for a win loses out before the evening ceremony even begins? That was the question facing local audiences Sunday when word arrived that Lawrence County native Tyler Childers lost out to country colossus Willie Nelson for Best Country Solo Performance.

Beyond that, the Grammys had to contend with the sudden, sobering reality that it was unfolding in “the house that Koby built” – specifically, the Staples Center, where Kobe Bryant established an NBA dynasty with the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant and his 13 year old daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash earlier in the day, a tragedy that rocked the Grammys far harder than most of the performances.

There was a glimmer of love for Kentucky rock ‘n’ roll, however. The Bowling Green-bred Cage the Elephant’s “Social Cues” took honors for Best Rock Album, a win also announced prior to the telecast.

Here’s our annual Grammy Post Mortem of all the televised grandstanding, self-promotion and occasional performance sparks that ruled CBS on Sunday night.

+ Lizzo: “Cuz I Love You,” “Truth Hurts.” “Tonight is for Koby,” the breakout artist of 2019 shouted before belting her songs out over a sea of strings. The medley boasted a ballet interlude that allowed for, what else, a costume change.

+ Alicia Keys: “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.” “We never in a million years thought we would have to start the show like this,” said the ceremony’s host, a multi-Grammy winning artist, again referencing Bryant’s death. Her response was an understated a capella tune aided by the group that made the song a hit, Boyz II Men. Simple and emotively effective.

+ Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani: “Nobody But You.” Back to business as usual. Standard Grammy fare with the usual manufactured pathos.

+ The Jonas Brothers: “What a Man’s Gotta Do.” A featherweight tune dressed up and weighed down with dancers, horns and unremarkable harmonies.

+ Tyler the Creator with Charlie Wilson and Boyz II Men: “Earfquake” and “New Magic Wand.” Visually impressive meshing of ultra-modern beats and old school soul, complete a stage full of wigged-out Tyler clones.

+ Usher, Sheila E and FKA Twigs: “Little Red Corvette,” “When Doves Cry,” “Kiss.” How very telling that one of the highlights in a ceremony honoring today’s pop music comes from a glance back at a previous generation. That aside, Usher nailed the vocal and physical stamina necessary to ignite a medley of Prince hits from the ‘80s.

+ Camila Cabello: “First Man.” Sentimental overdose as the Cuban-American singer serenaded her tearful father. Shameless but effective.

+ Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile: “Bring My Flowers Now.” A no-frills performance of a song penned by the two cross-generational artists with Tucker’s weathered, world weary vocals front and center.

+ Arianna Grande: “Imagine,” “My Favorite Things,” “7 Rings,” “Thank U, Next.” A song of hope and a classic tale of innocence led to Grande singing in fluffy lingerie with a pack a similarly attired dancers on two stages – the second being a bedroom. A mash-up of tired dance-pop theatrics and the evening’s silliest choreography.

+ Billie Eilish: “When the Party’s Over.” Backed by brother Finneas, the 18-year old pop celeb offered a moody, surprisingly tender ballad before her clean sweep of the Grammys’ top trophies for Album, Record and Song of the Year and Best New Artist.

+ Aerosmith and RUN-DMC: “Living on the Edge,” “Walk This Way.”  An energetic rekindling of the genre busting alliance both groups assembled three decades ago. Watching Flavor Flav dancing in the audience, though, was the highlight.

+ Lil Nas X: “Old Town Road.” A country/hip-hop hybrid performed with an extensive guest list that included Kentucky’s own Billy Ray Cyrus. Impressive as a cultural mash-up. Pretty pedestrian, however, as a pop document.

+ Demi Lovato: “Anyone.” A stark, if somewhat overblown confessional, penned just before the former teen star’s hospitalization for what was widely reported as a drug overdose.

+ John Legend, Kirk Franklin, DJ Khaled, Roddy Rich, Meek Mill and YG: “Higher.” A massive tribute to West Coast rapper Nipsey Hussle who was fatally shot last year. Leave it to Legend, together with a recorded clip of Russell, on the Khaled song “Higher,” to make the medley his own.

+ Rosalia: “Juro Que,” “Malamente.” In a refreshing diversion from Latin music’s usual dissent into faceless dance-pop, Rosalia modernized tradition by setting her singing to flamenco rhythms.

+ Alicia Keys and Brittany Howard: “Underdog.” Staged initially as a simple acoustic affirmation, the performance faded into a generic, glossy pop-soul ritual.

+ H.E.R.: “Sometimes.” A good intentioned but ultimately unremarkable pop meditation that broke through its shopworn gloss only when H.E.R. briefly erupted on guitar.

+ Bonnie Raitt: “Angel from Montgomery.” A criminally abbreviated slice of solo acoustic grace and soul honoring Lifetime Achievement Award winner John Prine. At least the sagely Prine, seated in the crowd, was given a standing ovation.

+ Gary Clark Jr. and The Roots: “This Land.” Perhaps the most honestly urgent performance of the night. A slab of raucous psychedelia that slugged the specter of racism right in the kisser.

+ Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band: In a long overdue change of mood, the In Memoriam segment was sent off not with a musical dirge but with a blast of brassy carnival soul indicative of the New Orleans spirit.

+ Camila Cabello, Cyndi Lauper, Joshua Bell, Ben Platt, The War and Treaty, Lee Curreri, Gary Clark Jr, Misty Copeland, Debbie Allen Dance Company, Common, Lang Lang: “I Sing the Body Electric.” A rare all-star collaboration that worked, blending music, dance and hip hop. The performance, dedicated to music education, honored retiring Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich

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