The Grammy Awards have been frustrating for music fans for many years. The Beatles and many other Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees were never acknowledged adequately during their careers.
Worse, the “Record of the Year” award, arguably the Grammy’s highest honor for both the artist and the producer (and engineer since 1999), is a roster of musical lightweights. Winners include Percy Faith, Olivia Newton-John, Captain and Tenille, Christopher Cross, Kim Carnes, and Bette Midler, to name a few. Fortunately, Grammy has righted this mistake in recent years by awarding more significant artists like U2, Green Day, Amy Winehouse, and Coldplay.
In addition to the awards, there was the awards show itself. A largely stuffy affair that, in a good year, featured one memorable performance (or pairing) if we were lucky. The Grammy show became so out of touch with real music fans that two competing award shows, Dick Clark’s American Music Awards and MTV’s Video Music Awards (VMAs), regularly attracted more viewers. There was a good reason – both those shows were entertaining. Those shows had the added benefit of being more relevant as well.
Well, this year, Grammy finally got everything right. It was the best Grammy show ever. There was hardly a dull moment, and thanks to the cloud cast over the broadcast by pop diva Whitney Houston’s sudden death, the show managed to soar to some incredibly emotional and musical heights.
Much of the credit has to be given to first-time host LL Cool J, who steered the show in all the right directions right from the start. J is not only a true musical innovator but also someone with star charisma. The audience went with him to places others with less street cred couldn’t have taken them. He quickly addressed the evening tragedy with a group prayer – something you never see on network TV – then righted the show where it should be, a celebration of music. And what a celebration it was.
Bruce Springsteen’s band was tight and got the show to a great start. Bruno Mars, doing his very best, James Brown, was simply electric – delivering the night’s most energetic performance.
But the night belonged to Adele. Her record “21” has sold nearly 7 million copies – three times as many as her nearest competitor. Adele’s record has become nothing short of a phenomenon. 21’s sparse production emphasized the emotionally charged singing about a broken relationship. The level of authenticity on the recording is so striking it can only be labeled artistic.
There was also the drama to her evening. Unbeknown to many Grammy viewers, the 23-year-old siren would be making her first live performance since the vocal surgery that canceled her North American tour earlier in the year. Could she still hit those impossible notes? Did her voice still have that distinctive timbre?
The answer was a resounding yes, with the Grammy audience providing a nearly 5-minute standing ovation after singing her breakout hit “Rolling in the Deep.” Without any hyperbole here: her performance was terrific. This was one of those rare moments when an artist was in her moment, on display for all too. It was some genius that comes along once a decade. Adele is, in a word, transcendent across all musical genres and tastes.
And if Adle’s performance wasn’t enough, there was Jennifer Hudson’s tribute to Whitney, singing her signature song, “I will always love you.” The former American Idol contestant delivered a poignant version and a bit chilling in its restraint.
Adele won all the awards – like she should have – capping an incredible year for the youngster from London. But the show belonged to music. As Sir Paul McCartney proved when he took the stage for a rousing version of the Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End. This is the famous closing medley from Abbey Road.
The awards were over now – this was just music for performance’s sake. Paul and his veteran touring band sounded terrific. When it came time for the guitar duel originally done by George Harrison, John Lennon, and Paul – he was joined on stage by Dave Grohl, Joe Walsh, and Bruce Springsteen for what could only be called an outright celebration of great rock and roll. These songwriters and players shared the stage with a legend who had not tragically died early like so many others. Paul was up there doing what he does, and the guest artists were over the moon; the crowd was on their feet.
Perhaps this had something to do with what Dave Grohl said when winning one of his many awards – and I paraphrase – “it’s great we play our instruments and work on our craft to be recognized by this award!”
Indeed. Imagine that being gifted and woodshedding – are the necessities for developing a craft. Adele, in her early career, has it. Sir Paul and boys had it spending Malcolm Gladwell’s outlier 20,000-hour requirement.
So too, did the Grammy producer, who may have crafted the most entertaining award show ever.