“Respect” and diversity shone through at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards with an array of performances by artists from soul to hip-hop, country to pop.
Female artists from all corners of the music world came together for the show’s opening—a power-packed tribute to Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul” who underwent treatment for an undisclosed ailment at the end of 2010.
Gospel’s Yolanda Adams, pop star Christina Aguilera, R&B’s Jennifer Hudson, country diva Martina McBride and indie darling Florence Welch provided a moving tribute with group and solo renditions of hits from “Respect” to “Natural Woman,” starting the show with a medley that would prove as diverse as the rest of the night’s lineup.
With all the hype that tends to surround Lady Gaga and her performance stunts, I was both shocked and disappointed in her Grammy-night performance. Her lackluster “Born This Way” isn’t nearly as fun as previous hits like “Bad Romance,” and it sounds like it came straight off a Madonna album. Usually dressed to impress—or disgust—Gaga came out of an “egg” adorned in drab nude clothing and so did her dancers. I was bored, and when she did win for Best Pop Vocal Album, her shout-out to Whitney Houston was a major diss to Madonna, whom she’s clearly ripping off.
I’m sure I’ll get hate mail from all those out there with the ever-contagious “Bieber Fever,” but his performance alongside mentor Usher and best friend Jaden Smith was one of the night’s low points. Yes, he’s a performing pop star that I’m sure I would have adored if I were 12, but Jaden’s awkward rapping and Bieber’s noticeably deeper voice—oh, the joys of puberty—from the recorded version of “Baby” made for a train wreck of a performance. Let’s not mention those awful skin-tight leopard pants Jaden sported.
The Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gets a big “F” from me for all the accolades received by Lady Antebellum for “Need You Now,” winning Record of the Year over such talents as Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind”—even though it came out a year-and-a-half ago—or Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie” featuring Rihanna. Though my personal favorite, “F–k You” by Cee-Lo Green, may not stack up in the critics’ eyes to Eminiem and Jay-Z’s hits, it should have toppled “Need You Now.” Not to mention, they also won Song of the Year, beating out a crowd equally as good as those in the Record of the Year category. Shame on you, academy.
Out “Gaga-ing” Lady Gaga was Cee-Lo Green in his fantastically Elton John-like feathery costume, with backup puppets instead of singers. Big sunglasses, a mirrored and jeweled headpiece and a gaudy piano brought back memories of last year’s Gaga-Elton John duet that opened the show, only Cee-Lo brought the fun and the funk. His amusing and fantastic R&B hit “F–k You” was nominated for four Grammy’s and won only for Best Urban/Alternative Performance, but his live performance came out as the night’s high point. His soulful voice, with traces of the great Al Green, was pitch-perfect. I only wish Gwyneth Paltrow hadn’t stolen half the song with her ho-hum “Glee” version.
The trio medley from Mumford & Sons, the Avett Brothers and Bob Dylan brought folk back in style. Mumford & Sons kicked off the set with a stirring performance of “The Cave” off their 2009 album “Sigh No More.” The Avett Brothers followed with “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise.” The lead-in to the much-hyped performance by Bob Dylan—the original bridge between the folk and rock worlds—was outstanding, filled with energy and great beats. The low point was when Dylan took the stage. Backed by both bands for a live rendition of “Maggie’s Farm,” Dylan’s vocals came out as a hardly audible yelp instead of a song. I’m a lifelong Dylan fan, but his voice has aged and live performances are no longer the same.
The academy almost redeemed itself with the last award of the night, handing “Album of the Year” to Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs.” Sure, it wasn’t the best album from the Canadian indie-rock group—OK, so it was probably their worst to date—but giving recognition to one of the most innovative and creative groups of recent years gave me hope in a night full of “Need You Now.” I was about to rip my ears off if I had to hear “The Grammy goes to…Lady Antebellum” one more time, so props to you, academy, for finally realizing the greatness of Win, Régine and crew.