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The Grammys have always been known for their star-studded performances just as much as the awards themselves. This year proved no different, with even more live acts than ever before. It seemed as if anyone who received a nomination was up on the stage performing a number from their recent disc. And yet, despite the plethora of musical moments, the 55th annual Grammy Awards appeared to miss that sparkle usually reserved for music’s biggest night.
LL Cool J played host for the second year in a row and once again was nothing special, pushing the show along as if to beat the evening traffic. Albeit some impressive performances, most were dull and disappointing. The tributes came off as confusing and forced (why were we celebrating Bob Marley again?) And yet among the show’s fast pace and forgettable moments, Sunday night’s Grammys did offer some pleasant surprises and highlights worth mentioning.
Who else would the Recording Academy choose to kick off the show than the ever-adorable Taylor Swift. Dressed like an all-white Willy Wonka, Taylor once again stuck it to one of her many failed relationships. Singing the Grammy nominated “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Tay-Tay changed the lyrics up a bit to speak directly to the mystery boy, declaring “I’m sorry, I’m busy opening up the Grammys.” Sucks for you, Conor Kennedy!
LL Cool J returned center stage to address last year’s last minute changes following the tragic death of Whitney Houston. “With a little luck and a lot of grace, we are very happy to see you here,” stated LL. It was a nice moment from a show that didn’t offer many.
For those who thought Adele was done collecting Grammys (six in 2012), Jennifer Lopez and Miami-rapper Pitbull presented her the award for Best Pop Solo Performance for her live rendition of “Set Fire To The Rain.” J. Lo apparently thought she was at the 1999 VMAs, wearing a dress just begging for a wardrobe malfunction.
After Neil Patrick Harris introduced Fun. who put on a stellar live performance, Whiz Khalifa and R&B crooner Miguel performed one tune before presenting Carrie Underwood with a Best Country Solo Performance for her hit “Blown Away.” As the stunningly gorgeous Underwood left the stage, two more country icons came up to announce the first of the night’s four major awards. Power couple Faith Hill and Tim McGraw gave Song of the Year honors to Fun.’s mega-hit “We Are Young.” Unlike Record of the Year, Song of the Year recognizes the tune’s writer’s, which happened to be the band. This win came as no surprise, as the competition included Carly Rae Jepsen’s bubble-gum jam “Call Me Maybe.” Song of the Year definitely proved to be a tighter race, with Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” beating out The Black Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Fun. Fran Ocean and Taylor Swift. The purple one himself, Prince came out to present the award in his usual nonchalant demeanor.
As the show kept rolling, so did the performances. A huge cloud of smug took over the stage as an out-of-place Johnny Depp introduced Mumford and Sons to perform “I Will Wait” off their Album of the Year Nominated Babel. Immediately thereafter, Beyoncé and a hilarious Ellen DeGeneres had the honor of re-introducing Justin Timberlake’s highly anticipated return to the musical stage. “Ladies and gentlemen, get up on your feet right now. Back on the stage, our good friend Justin Timberlake,” shouted the Queen B. For the incredible showman that he is, JT’s performance could have been better. Backed by a 1940s looking back-up band, Timberlake strutted to “Suit & Tie,” with Jay-Z joining him for his verse celebrating the classic gentlemen’s attire. Timberlake returned solo, crooning in his classic falsetto voice on the song “Pusher Love Girl” off the upcoming The 20/20 Experience. The performance lacked the pizzazz that Timberlake is more than capable of delivering. I was more impressed with his Bud Light Platinum commercial that strategically followed.
Major artists all nominated in the four big categories did snag some less prestigious awards. Kelly Rowland and Nas gave the Best Urban Contemporary Album award to Frank Ocean, Dave Grohl handed the Best Rock Performance statue (“Lonely Boy”) to The Black Keys, and Kaley Cuoco and Keith Urban presented Kelly Clarkson with the Best Pop Vocal Album for Stronger.
Some performances that did exceed expectations occurred when LL Cool J brought Maroon 5 and Alicia Keys on Stage. Keys took center stage banging on two drums and belting out an incredible rendition of “Girl on Fire.” Calling her “one of the biggest stars on planet earth, and possibly elsewhere, LL then introduced Rihanna, donning an elegant gown with her flowing hair worn down. The Barbadian beauty nailed her vocals on the ballad “Stay” before returning to her seat with controversial date Chris Brown (Rihanna is currently on the cover of Rolling Stone discussing the re-kindled relationship).
Continuing with the girl-power performances, Kelly Clarkson paid homage to lifetime achievement recipients and beautifully sang Patti Smith’s “Tennessee Waltz” and Carole King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Women.” Clarkson has got a set of vocal chords on her to rival any diva out there.
In an unusual and confusing turn of events, LL Cool J began a tribute to the late Bob Marley. I am not sure why, given the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any important milestones this year (he died 33 years ago and would have been 68). Nevertheless, a tribute commenced which included lackluster performances from Bruno Mars, Sting, Rihanna and Ziggy Marley.
Katy Perry may have delivered the line of the night when presenting the major Best New Artist award. While many thought Frank Ocean would walk away with this one, the honor went to Fun. Perry comically stated “I was never even nominated in this category, and I have my own eyelash line.” Well done, Ms. Perry.
The last tribute of the night belonged to Levon Helm of The Band. While their hearts were in the right place, the performance was subpar at best. Elton John gave a random shout out to the Sandy Hook tragedy before performing The Band’s hit “The Weight” with Zac Brown, Mumford and Sons and Mavis Staples. Fortunately, Frank Ocean followed with a soulful delivery of his song “Forrest Gump” off Album of the Year nominated Channel Orange. This award was also a hard one to predict, as most critics thought each of the five nominees were worthy to take home the night’s biggest prize. Fittingly, Adele came up to present and Mumford and Sons walked away as winners for Babel.
Just when everyone thought the night had ended, LL Cool J awkwardly joined in on a rap/jam session with Tom Morello, Travis Barker and Public Enemy’s Chuck D. Although it was nice to see them perform The Beastie Boys’ classic “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” in honor of Adam Yauch, the performance seemed forced and off-putting.
It was a fitting end for a night that tried a little too hard to impress.