On Sunday night, the Grammy Awards returned to New York after 15 years in Los Angeles. CBS late-night host and “Carpool Karaoke” instigator James Corden hosted for the second consecutive year.
For the 60th anniversary show, TV ratings dropped 24 percent, to a still significant 19.8 million viewers.
As always, the show raised many questions.
What exactly do the Grammys reward?
“Best” designations are always arbitrary to an extent. They are subjective, with every Grammy voter applying his or her own criteria and taste. Sales figures are far more objective, but voters are supposed to consider only artistic merit, not commercial success.
In 2017, no rock or country album or artist seized the cultural moment. So it’s no surprise that the four major Grammy categories – song, record and album of the year, and best new artist – were devoid of rock or country. Moreso than rock, country still factored into the broadcast, in large part due to Chris Stapleton’s beard.
Did Bruno Mars deserve to win record, song and album of the year?
Not really. His “24K Magic” was fun, but did not dominate pop culture like his sweep of the major categories indicated.
How many times did cameras find New Orleans Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis in the audience?
At least three. Davis is pals with Grammy telecast producer Ken Ehrlich, so he generally gets a good seat. This year, Davis turned up onscreen more than Beyonce.
Did Jon Batiste’s alteration of “Ain’t That a Shame” during the Fats Domino tribute work?
Instead of singing “you made me cry when you said good-bye,” Batiste went with “bye-bye.” That minor change was amplified because the original lyric is so codified in the DNA of rock ‘n’ roll. Local writer Gabe Soria suggested Batiste was doing Domino in the style of James Booker, New Orleans’ late great madcap piano wizard. If so, it was genius.
Has Sam Smith always been so charisma challenged?
He exhibited no stage presence whatsoever during “Pray” (not to be confused with Kesha’s “Praying”). That wasn’t the sort of performance that will help sell tickets to his tour, which stops at the Smoothie King Center on July 17.
Who did themselves a favor?
Contemporary R&B/soul newcomer SZA was cool. A chill Lady Gaga showcased her considerable pipes from a white piano topped by enormous white wings. Pink dialed it way down, standing still in a plain white off-the-shoulder T-shirt. Little Big Town’s acoustic arrangement of “Better Man” worked. Alessia Cara came across as extremely likable and sincere in her statement after winning best new artist. Logic’s passion following his epic “1-800-273-8255” seemed genuine.
What was Sting thinking when he agreed to that lame “subway car karaoke” sketch with James Corden and Shaggy?
Their busking on a subway skit bombed big-time. Corden taking a fake punch to the nose from an angry construction worker was painfully awkward. The whole thing came across like one of those laugh-free sketches inserted late in a “Saturday Night Live” episode.
Going forward, what hoops will older white rockers be required to jump through to get air time?
Sting suffered through the subway skit. The four gents of U2 were stuck on a barge in the frigid Hudson River –wrapped in coats, gloves and scarves – to do “Get Out of Your Own Way” with the Statue of Liberty in the background. Bono and guitarist The Edge also served briefly as props in the extended, and dramatic, Kendrick Lamar production number that opened the show. The reward? Sting, Bono and The Edge not only performed, but served as on-air presenters, despite the fact that pop music has largely moved on from dudes like them.
Did Dr. Luke feel like the guy Alanis Morissette sang about in “You Oughta Know”?
In a 2014 lawsuit that temporarily halted her career, Kesha sought to get out of her contract with producer Dr. Luke’s record label, accusing him of abusing and belittling her. He has steadfastly denied her accusations as many, but not all, female stars offered Kesha support.
Surrounded by women dressed in white at the Grammys, Kesha, the closest thing the music industry has to a #MeToo poster child, sang “Praying,” a not-so-subtle rebuke of Luke: “You almost had me fooled/Told me that I was nothing without you/But after everything you’ve done, I can thank you for how strong I’ve become.”
Was there a worse technical malfunction than Maren Morris’ microphone not working on her intro to the Las Vegas concert shooting victims tribute?
No. Some critics have questioned the choice of “Tears In Heaven” for that tribute. Eric Clapton wrote it after a tragedy – the death of his young son – so the inspiration matched. And Morris, Eric Church and the Brothers Osborne, who performed it on the Grammys, had all played the Route 91 Harvest festival before the shooting broke out.
Did Kendrick Lamar fully appreciate getting a double-thumbs-up from Tony Bennett?
The 91-year-old Bennett, who won his first Grammy decades before hip-hop was invented, was paired with R&B crooner John Legend to present the first award of the night, for best rap/sung performance, to Lamar. After harmonizing with Legend on a bit of “New York, New York,” the eternally cool Bennett gave two thumbs up to Lamar, who seemed distracted with trying to coax collaborator Rihanna up to the microphone.
Was Jim Gaffigan really cool with losing to Dave Chappelle?
For some reason – possibly because the nominees were all so well-known – the best comedy album award turned up in the telecast. Jim Gaffigan, at his self-deprecating best, introduced himself with, “Thank you, thank you. I’ve never heard of me either.” He then correctly predicted he’d lose to Chappelle. At least he and the other losers, including Jerry Seinfeld, received "consolation puppies," a fun gag.
Were the Grammys too political?
Depends on your perspective. Immigration and #MeToo factored into the show, as might be expected. The Corden taped segment in which he auditioned celebrity readers for the audiobook of Michael Wolff’s controversial “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” struck a certain United States ambassador to the United Nations as “trash.” That Hillary Clinton was the surprise final reader earned a big cheer from the crowd inside Madison Square Garden.
Corden’s intro to the segment was more subtly political. He noted “some of the world’s most inspiring voices” have previously won spoken-word Grammys, and then named them: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore. Apparently only Democrats win Grammys.
Was Jay-Z offended to be anointed a Music Industry Icon – a recognition of past accomplishments – but not win anything for his most recent work?
He should have been. But then again, he’s Jay-Z. He’s probably fine.
Does any of it really matter?
Despite Bono’s insistence that the album of the year Grammy “is a very, very big deal” … no, it probably doesn't.
And yet we’ll all be talking about the Grammys again next year.