The last few years the Grammys have seemed to represent everything that is wrong with pop music – style over substance, shock value over talent. So Sunday evening, I settled myself in my easy chair, laptop in tow, ready for lots of snarky comments about the state of today’s music.
Boy, was I shocked.
It began with a tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. And while some of the performers during the medley looked and sounded out of place (Hi, Florence from Florence and the Machine!), to hear Jennifer Hudson and Yolanda Adams belt out some of Aretha’s bigger hits was a treat. And of course, it’s not a public event nowadays without Christina Aguilera messing up.
It got better. Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae performed together. I think B.o.B. was with them, but when you put a rapper onstage with those two, he tends to get lost. Their representation of neo-soul – a return to the R&B roots – is a welcome change to the hip-hop and sex-laden pop we usually hear.
Cee-Lo made a grand display with his multi-colored peacock outfit, looking like Elton John at his worst, as he performed “F— You” with Gwyneth Paltrow and some muppets. Paltrow sounded surprisingly good, making me forget, if for only a moment, her disastrous duet with Huey Lewis.
Even some of the lowlights were impressive. Seeing Bob Dylan onstage is always a thrill, although he has sadly become a caricature of himself – his incoherent jabbering now accentuated by a gravelly, Tom-Waits-like voice. Eminem – well, he’s just a very angry person. But Dr. Dre’s presence during toward the end of Eminem’s performance was pretty powerful, and his old-school cadence was a welcome relief to Eminem’s rants. Mick Jagger? Another iffy voice, but at 67, he’s still flaunting it like a 25 year old. That’s entertainment.
And while I disagreed with a lot of the actual awards (Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” for Record and Song of the Year?), there were some welcome surprises. Esperanza Spalding – not exactly a household name – wrestled the Best New Artist award away from Justin Bieber, incurring the wrath of Bieberites worldwide. And even though I’m not a huge Arcade Fire fan, seeing them get the coveted Album of the Year award was gratifying. They are hard workers, and they deserved a nod over some of the more flashy artists in that category.
I look forward to next year’s Grammys. And I haven’t said that in about a decade.