Yet again, “Music’s biggest night” was a spectacular mess. Hosted by James Corden, the 59th annual Grammy Awards were plagued by poor pacing, technical issues, and forgettable performances. Sure, there were some highs, but those were few and far between. More often than not, we spent the night waiting for this slog of an award show to end. In others words, the Grammys will be, well, the Grammys.
The show started off on a weird note. Adele — who won the night’s two biggest awards, Record of the Year and Album of the Year — opened with “Hello.” (More on her in a bit.) It was a strong performance that spotlighted her voice, but it did little when it came to getting us excited for the rest of the award show. From there, we moved onto a mildly humorous rap from Corden, who grew increasingly annoying as the night went on because it was hard to stomach the fact that artists like Chance the Rapper, who won Best New Artist at the top of the show, were getting played off the stage way too early because the show needed to make room for Corden’s various bits, which were all pretty much disappointing.
Following a string of perfectly fine performances, we finally arrived at the night’s crown jewel: Beyoncé, who delivered a mesmerizing and operatic performance of “Love Drought” — a song I didn’t care much for until she brought it to life Sunday night — and “Sandcastles.” Later, Beyoncé took the stage to accept the problematic Best Urban Contemporary Album award and delivered one of the night’s few memorable speeches because she actually came prepared to say something powerful and insightful about the intentions of her work if she won. “This is something I want for every child of every race,” she said, “and I feel it’s vital that we learn from the past and recognize our tendencies to repeat our mistakes.”
Surprisingly, it wasn’t completely downhill after Beyoncé. Bruno Mars, cosplaying as Prince, delivered an energetic rendition of “Let’s Go Crazy”; Best Rap Album winner Chance the Rapper brought his trademark exuberance to a defiantly joyful performance of “How Great” and “All We Got.” However, the night pretty much belonged to Adele.
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Whereas Beyoncé was the definition of performed perfection, Adele was the complete opposite. Her multiple “Grammy moments” of the night brought some much-needed spontaneity to the proceedings (or at least, spontaneity that rose above Twenty One Pilots accepting their Best Pop Duo/Group Performance award in their underwear). A minute into her tribute to George Michael, Adele stopped the song — a dirge-like rendition of Michael’s “Fastlove” — because of technical issues, accidentally dropped an F-bomb, and then asked that they take it from the top because she wanted to get this right. It was a moment that broke from the tedium of the award show; it was akin to those times on reality television when the contrived “reality” is briefly interrupted by a real human moment that the best writers couldn’t have written. Later, the 25 singer dedicated her Album of the Year trophy to Beyoncé, eliciting tears from the woman herself. That didn’t make up for the Grammys’ race problems, but it was still one of the show’s few moments of outright passion.
But these highlights were the exception, not the rule.For the most part, the show seemed like it was more concerned with the quantity of performances than the actual quality. From Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood’s perfectly fine duet of “The Fighter,” to Lady Gaga and Metallica’s confusing pairing (which was marred by embarrassing microphone issues), the night was filled with performances that were either just unremarkable or complete misses.
If you were expecting the artists to liven things up with powerful and overtly political statements about our turbulent state of affairs, you would’ve been disappointed. Nearly everyone played it safe; presenters like Laverne Cox and Paris Jackson threw in asides, but mostly stuck to their script. Katy Perry projected the Constitution’s preamble onto the stage at the end of her “Chained to the Rhythm” performance, but that was a half-hearted gesture at most. The night’s only politically-charged moment came from A Tribe Called Quest, Anderson .Paak, and Busta Rhymes, who teamed up for a blistering and moving performance that ended with several people of color joining them on stage (including some women wearing hijabs), during “We The People.” The performance felt like a veritable act of defiance — not just against the current presidential administration but the Grammys event itself.
But perhaps the reason for the lack of any headline-grabbing political moments is due to what the awards have become. The Grammys producers are more interested in producing an uneven and intermittently entertaining concert than actually spending time on the awards portion of the event’s title. Almost every winner felt like they were being rushed off the stage. For example, Adele’s writing partner Greg Kurstin was drowned out by “Cranes in the Sky” as Solange walked on stage to introduce the next performer. There wasn’t much time for the artists to actually say anything of note. Giving out more than eight awards during the telecast is more preferable than stuffing an entire show with gratuitous performances and/or bits about which celebrities Corden’s admittedly adorable parents want to sleep with. Imagine the speech that outspoken comedian Patton Oswalt would’ve given if the Best Comedy Album Award had been announced during the show. Now, that’s a Grammy Moment I would have loved to see. C+