It’s been a while since I’ve actually watched an entire Grammy Awards night on television, but last night happened to be the first time in such a long time that I cannot even recall when the last time was. I can’t speak completely about last night as a person who is well versed as a reviewer of all the things that matter to most people. However, I’d like to hit on a few of the things that stuck out for me as a viewer of what was quite an interesting night.
For me, the highlight of the night happened to be the moment when Prince took to the stage, looking very retro, wearing his orange outfit, full afro, and cane accessory, proclaiming “just like books and black lives matter, so too do albums matter.” While many may have seen this as some grand political statement in light of the recent events seen in Ferguson, Mo., I took it for what it was; a gentle reminder of the universality of music and the power it has to make statements, tell stories, unify people, and heal wounds. Whether you are a fan of Beyoncé, Sam Smith, Pharrell Williams, John Legend or Paul McCartney, there was something for everyone to enjoy.
Music has always played a great part of my life growing up. As a child, my father’s father was a church musician, as was my godfather. Music became a passion of mine in my early years, to the point that I learned to play the piano and developed enough to be a musician for my local church’s youth choir, and eventually becoming a backup for our minister of music when she needed to be away for other work. So it mattered a great deal to me in seeing the people who were honored as legends in the industry and the tributes to the many who died over the course of the last year.
One of the things I noticed in my twitter feed being shared by many of the people that I follow on Twitter was two things: (1) the larger share of time devoted to stage performances, and (2) the lack of representation for other musical genres like gospel, jazz, and others that seemingly no longer even get a ticker at the bottom of the screen or photo shot going into the commercial breaks. Given that acceptance speeches seemed to be quite brief in order to permit a great amount of acts to be performed, I too found it to be somewhat disappointing that so many other winners got no screen acknowledgement.
There will be great debates over the many acts that were seen on stage, even as there were many comments about them on social media. The ones that stuck out for me included Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga; Sam Smith and Mary J. Blige; Pharrell Williams, Paul McCartney with Rihanna and Kanye West; even Common and John Legend. There were many other routines that I could touch on, and many will most assuredly have much to say about them.
What I love about the performance with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga was the sheer excellence in Lady Gaga’s vocal rendition of Cheek to Cheek. This apparent homage to an era that is yet classic and timeless was spot on in part due to a man who has lived it, and a young artist who has an obvious great appreciation for it. Too often, people make jokes about young people not appreciating the classics or even knowing anything about music that is made as little as even a decade before they were even born. Gaga’s performance with Mr. Bennett, although showy and possibly even cartoonish, still resonated with me. It apparently did well with many watching.
Of course everyone will be talking about Sam Smith and Mary J. Blige’s performance of Stay With Me. This heart touching song hit a snag for some who couldn’t help but notice the similarity to Tom Petty’s Won’t Back Down. Hearing these two together really gave an added depth to the level of emotion felt, especially given that both are well known for singing songs rooted in pain.
Pharrell Williams scared some with his remixed version of Happy, which for many people left them feeling sad. I, as a musician could appreciate the edginess to the song, even if I didn’t immediately get the bell hop costume. He concluded the song thanking God and let the world know that he was at God’s service. The song may have caused some to question that statement, but I can safely say his statement validated the heart of the song; unlike a couple other songs that were performed during the night.
If there was one song that left not only me confused, but also Paul McCartney, it had to be the collaboration piece FourFiveSeconds that was done with Kanye and Rihanna. Watching this performance left me wondering if they were all sing the same song.
While I mentioned that Prince was the highlight of the night, I have to mention the most unforgettable moment of the night. For me, there should be an award for Best Award Presentation Award. If I could give that one out myself, it would definitely have to go to Stevie Wonder and Jamie Fox as Ray Charles. Although it has been a few years removed from the movie, Jamie’s reprisal along side Stevie Wonder was a greater capstone for me than even the final performance by Common and John Legend. All in all, it was an interesting night which heightened my appreciation of music and the artists who fill our lives with melody.
QUESTION: If you watched the Grammy Awards, what most resonated for you?