If there were an awards show for awards shows, I’d totally give the trophy to the Oscars instead of the Grammys.
Look, I don’t DISLIKE the Grammys, and I’d certainly prefer them over the Adam Sandlerized brutality of the People’s Choice Awards. They provide some memorable performances (Macklemore), and offer important exposure to up-and-coming artists (Adele)””that is, if those artist’ awards categories aren’t presented in a throwaway ceremony before the actual show.
But overall, they’re just not my favorite. Because there are fifty musicians for every one filmmaker, the Grammy contenders and victors are always twice as random as the Oscar ones (Oh, we’ll do Daft Punk this year! Mmm, I’m feeling a Coen Brothers movie soundtrack right about now…) And, because musicians are not screen actors or screenwriters or directors, their acceptance speeches rarely provide us with the kind of quintessential TV Moments that Oscar speeches do.
If you think I’m griping just to gripe, you’re not entirely right. It seems to me that, regrettably, this year’s Grammys are best viewed, for the most part, as a particularly potent mixture of randomness and boredom. The sound and fury may not have been signifying nothing, but it was rarely signifying anything interesting.
This year’s chief occupant of the randomness category was Beck, who, as all sentient beings now know, knocked Beyonce off her throne to win Album of the Year. I’m not a huge worshipper of either one, but I couldn’t help but feeling as if Bey was a little jipped. Beyonce’s album was a sonically adventurous blend of two things that I once thought fell under the oil-and-water category: music video sexuality and commentary on the monogamous life. Beck’s “Morning Phase,” meanwhile, feels like a lesser version of his best album, 2002s “Sea Change.” That album was an awesome, aching cry; this one’s the discernible echo.
But that’s the randomness of the Grammys for you. I wish I could call Kanye’s on-stage anti-Beck protest random, but the truth is that it belongs in the “Boredom” category; his babyish protestations have now become a depressingly predictable pattern.
While it’s far too soon to know for sure, I think that this year’s Grammys may be significant because they marked a sea change in America’s attitude toward Kanye. To a lot of us, it’s started to seem like his protean talent isn’t quite good enough to excuse his stupid antics. Even Meryl Streep couldn’t get away with this shit.
Some of the other wins made a decent amount of sense: Man of the Year Sam Smith became the night’s most frequent honoree, and if his speech was a bit expected (hey, he mentioned his ex!), his earnest gratitude was at least touching. Still, not one win brought a TV Moment for the ages, or approached the drama of the Oscars.
But then again, many a strange Grammy Awards has been saved by the performances, which are, obviously, the one area where it trounces the Oscars. But even those were mostly letdowns this year. Kanye went unconvincingly subtle. Pharrell tried to inject a social justice message into a song he wrote for a movie with dancing CGI minions. AC/DC reminded us that they’re alive. Madonna, in a rare misstep, made us wonder IF she was alive.
Amidst the massive assemblage of talented and untalented people, two performances really made the Grammys worth watching. Hozier and Annie Lennox, with their equally odd blends of R&B and Romantic mysticism, made a fittingly unique pair.
And in the final moments, Beyonce blew the roof off the place, reminding us that she is, when she’s at her best, a vocal embodiment of all the great singers of color who came before her; she can soothe like Lena and roar like Etta, while still maintaing a soulful sound all her own. In that moment, the Grammys were both sensible and surprising. Maybe in future years, the Grammys will have more memorable moments.
And if we’re lucky, Yeezy will stop trying to provide us with them.