Just before the Grammy Nominations Concert hit the airwaves on CBS last night, the show’s executive producer Ken Ehrlich appeared on stage and made quite the proclamation to those of us fortunate enough to be seated in the live studio audience: “This is a mini Grammys show,” he said. And if that was the goal, then: success! Performances! Presenters! Thank you, lucky stars, that “mini” also is code for: No speeches or exhausting monologues!
The show — which is designed to announce the year’s Grammy nominations but functions mostly as an hour-long concert — was indeed a “mini Grammys,” in that way that the Grammys has always managed to provide a mixture of performances that run the gamut from shocking…to boring. In that spirit of good and bad — and since I was there in the audience — I thought it only appropriate to provide a look at the live show in terms of best and worsts. Here goes:
Best In-Theater Crowd Pleaser: Lady Gaga
The crowd seemed a bit down — and, truly, the theater, oddly, a tad empty — so having Gaga launch the show was the best medicine: Her smoky, sultry rendition of “Marry the Night” instantly brought everyone to their feet. And believe me, the crowd was not enthused for some of what this oft-dry show had to offer, like when Rihanna’s performance of “We Found Love” in London was flashed onto the screen. That was a real mood killer. Gaga, in fact, got the crowd amped up several times — including during her “You and I” duet with Sugarland. The only response to that collaboration was: Wow, that worked. And whether you believe me or not, the most screams were for her name when it was announced that Born This Way had been nominated for Album of the Year toward the end of the show. Love her or hate her — and love or hate her last album — she’s still the biggest artist around right now.
Best Out-of-Theater Crowd Pleaser: Adele
Truly, it felt a bit weird for her to not be there. (She’s still recovering from her vocal-chord surgery in early November.) Adele was nominated in three of the four Grammy categories announced last night: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year. And she was mentioned during the fourth category, Best New Artist, because she won it back in 2009. And each time her name was mentioned: screams! Lots of them! Fawning! Ecstasy! I stopped by the press room after the show, and every time any artist — nominee or performer — was asked about who their current favorite artist was, it became almost like a broken record because it was always, always, always: Adele.
Best Presenter: Nicki Minaj
When is it not a pleasure to see her on stage? She lit up the room, with her pink hair and sly smirk on her face. The crowd seemed super excited to see her. It would have been nice to see her perform, too.
Worst Presenter: Katy Perry
She flubbed a couple of times and just looked awkward up there. But she shouldn’t fret about that, really, considering that she got a Record of the Year nomination for “Firework” and — yes — looked smashing, as usual.
Best Commercial Break Entertainment: Pink’s 2010 Grammy performance of “Glitter in the Air”
You didn’t see this, obviously, but old Grammy performances were shown during the commercial breaks, everything from Mick Jagger’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” in 2011 to Aretha Franklin’s choir-infused “Nessun Dorma” in 1998 and Cee Lo Green/Gwyneth Paltrow dueting to “Forget You” in 2011. But the most awe-inspiring: Pink’s trapeze stunts at the 2010 Grammys, which found her hanging from the ceiling, variously wet and unclothed, singing her soft ballad “Glitter in the Air.” I hadn’t forgotten what a wonder that performance was, but it was nice to be reminded of its genius.
Worst Performance: Rihanna singing “We Found Love” in London
Love this song so much, but this didn’t play well in the theater. (See above.) Rihanna needs to be live!
Best Mash-up: The Band Perry’s singing their original, “Independence,” with Tom Petty’s “Free Falling”
How cute was the trio of siblings? Apparently, they perform that “Independence”/”Free Falling” mix while touring, but it really worked on stage and caused much of the crowd to sing along — well, to the “Free Falling” portion, at least.
Best Make-You-Smile Collaboration: Jason Aldean and Ludacris singing “Dirt Road Anthem”
Just like how you enjoyed Nelly and Tim McGraw singing 2004’s “Over and Over” together, who can really keep a straight face during a rap-country collaboration? And if we can’t get Jason Aldean on stage with dream collaborator Kelly Clarkson (yay that “Don’t You Wanna Stay” got a nomination!), Ludacris is fine, I suppose. (Kidding! Love Luda.) And props to Ludacris, too, for getting the oftentimes morose crowd moving a bit — the first time, really, since Gaga brought them to their feet — after urging the in-studio audience to wave their arms back and forth. I’m happy to report that we all obliged.
Worst Did-You-See-It? Flub: Nicki Minaj’s name misspelled
Who cares, really? But I just thought it was odd to see Nicki’s Minaj’s name on the screen spelled “Niki” when the Best New Artist nominees were being announced. Nicki couldn’t have felt too good about that. Some poor production assistant’s head is probably rolling by this point.
Best Overall Collaboration: Grandmaster Flash, LL Cool J, Common, Lupe Fiasco singing “The Message”
What is there even to say? This collaboration ruled.
Best Surprise: Usher’s tribute to Jerry Leiber and Nick Ashford
In “in memoriam” segment of any awards show is usually — I can’t resist the pun — deadly. But Usher, collaborating with Lieber and Ashford’s writing partners Mike Stoller and Valerie Simpson, brought life to the tribute. “Stand by Me,” specifically, felt special, as the whole crowd in the Nokia Theater sang along quietly and, fittingly, ended the song without applause.
What’d you think of the show? What were the best and worst moments? Thoughts?