By: Sam Fatula | A&E Editor
The term overwhelming doesn’t justly characterize Sunday’s 57th annual Grammy Awards … although everything from jampacked performances to Kim Kardashian’s Ric Flair-inspired robe could argue otherwise. Rather, the award show seemed to once again favor mainstream genres during its national broadcast without giving lesser-known artists an opportunity to shine on music’s biggest night, unless you count Beck.
As per usual, the Grammy’s heavily emphasized live performances throughout the evening, much of the roughly three-and-a-half hour program toward top-charting singles. This resulted in major pop stars like Ariana Grande, Pharrell, Madonna and Rihanna receiving generous amounts of television time for their respective songs.
Pharrell, who won a Grammy for “Best Pop Solo Performance” for “Happy,” did a unique rendition of the single during the evening, wearing a bell-boy uniform to symbolize his service to the Lord. The song was introduced quite differently than usual, opening with a somber tone and a small orchestra. Although the song eventually picked up in tempo, the concept for the performance wasn’t well executed. For a song entitled “Happy,” it does not make much sense to dramatically lower the speed of the song, let alone wear an outfit that makes you visualize scenes from The Grand Budapest Hotel. Out of all of the evening’s broadcasted performances, this seemed to have the weakest effort and execution.
Other live songs from Sunday’s festivities were simply lacking anything memorable, especially in comparison to recent years. Besides Grande flawlessly belted song “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart” in the opening half of the night, nothing else comes to memory in terms of choreography and visualization. Kanye West’s performance of new single “Only One,” which was just the preface of West’s pent-up frustration toward depreciation of black artists and community, seemed understated in comparison to the rest of his nightly antics. Perhaps tabloid media is at fault by perpetuating the subject, but it clearly didn’t garner as much attention from the public as it should have.
On the other hand, the element of simplicity worked extremely well for other live songs. Katy Perry traded in her Super Bowl fire outfit for an all-white dress to perform track “By the Grace of God,” which followed a heartfelt speech from a victim of domestic violence. Perry’s voice accompanied by light instrumentation and a silhouette of three women dancing, gave off a strong emotional effect that translated extremely well with the audience. Deservedly so, the performance was given one of the warmest receptions of the evening. Additionally, Rihanna, Kanye and Paul McCartney had their first ever live debut of new track “Four Five Seconds,” which also focused on stripped instrumentation. The trio did an outstanding job of being able to produce an effective performance despite coming from fairly different genres. And let’s not forget Kristen Wiig’s massive cameo in Sia’s “Chandelier” performance.
In between the other 20-plus live showings on Sunday, there was an array of awards to be presented. Some were believed to be well-deserved, while other categories seemed to have snubbed choice nominees.
Out of all of this year’s Grammy nominees, Sam Smith came out on top. The 22-year-old took home four major awards including “Record of the Year,” “Song of the Year,” “Best New Artist” and “Best Pop Vocal Album,” respectively for single “Stay With Me” and album In the Lonely Hour. Smith also got an opportunity to perform the platinum single along with Mary J. Blige, which provided another solid showing from the young U.K. crooner.
It’s difficult to dispute whether or not Smith deserved to beat out veterans like Taylor Swift or songwriting titans like Sia, though the ‘Twittersphere’ didn’t have an issue throwing digital knives at Beck when he won “Album of the Year” over fan-favorite, Beyoncé.
While Beck winning may not have been as shocking as Macklemore winning “Best Rap Album” over Kendrick Lamar at last year’s Grammy’s, it still comes as a surprise that Beck was nominated for “Album of the Year” at all. Sure, Morning Phase has some occasional solid tracks, but it didn’t necessarily come to mind as the best album that was released in the past year. This also goes out to nearly every other nominee listed for the same category. Ed Sheeran, Pharrell and Smith all provided quality singles. In terms of an album though, none of these deliver one consistent with the song that made them millions last year.
The only nominee that arguably put together a consistent release was Beyoncé. The self-titled album had a handful of potential singles, not just one. Perhaps Kanye’s attempt to jump the stage during Beck’s acceptance speech was partially justified in hindsight. His argument that black artists are getting slighted, is provided by the evidence that there’s a Grammy category specifically titled “Best Urban Contemporary Album.” What are its qualifications? What does “Urban Contemporary” even mean? Since the creation of the category in 2013, only black musicians have been nominated for the award, and draws questions as to whether the category caters to race.
Despite these unanswered questions, the Grammy Awards provided much more to see and hear. All other performances and awards can be seen on the Grammy’s official website.
(Follow @Sam_Fatula on Twitter for daily music & arts news)