On Sunday, the 54th Grammy Awards occupied the LA Staples Center for an evening of performances, awards and even musical exorcisms. While the Grammys are no stranger to controversy with multiple artists bashing the legitimacy of the awards, this year was particularly intriguing with the sudden death of Whitney Houston. Critics and fans speculated how the otherwise exuberant awards ceremony would handle the gravity of losing one of music’s greatest voices. Indeed, at the beginning of the ceremony, first-time host LL Cool J led a prayer for Houston with a clip of her performing the hit “I Will Always Love You.” However, with the exception of a touching tribute by a tearful Jennifer Hudson, the show was mostly an upbeat affair.
Before Houston was even mentioned, Bruce Springsteen opened the show and brought the house down with a rousing rendition of his new single, “We Take Care of Our Own”. While Springsteen’s deep voice seemed to be overshadowed by his powerful E Street Band throughout, the energetic instrumental was the crux of the performance. Bruce also fared far better than his contemporaries throughout the night, who generally brought weak performances.
Much talked about was the return of the Beach Boys for the first time in years, but even with the help of Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and Foster The People, the classic band was unable to recapture the vigor of their glory days. The performance was simply awkward, with a few of the members looking lifeless on stage. Even Foster the People’s Mark Foster looked dead, which is a shame for a guy coming from such an upbeat and quirky band.
Unfortunately, musical genius Sir Paul McCartney also gave an honestly disappointing performance. McCartney trudged through his new song “Valentine,” likely putting some viewers to sleep. The song lacked the lyrical and melodical originality of his other material. Although his rendition included several intriguing electronic sections, the performance was simply boring to watch.
However, that is not to say every performance by a “classic” artist was a dud. In fact, Paul McCartney himself closed the show with an electrifying medley of Beatles and McCartney hits, a welcome return to form from his previous appearance. At an earlier point, Tony Bennett brought Carrie Underwood on stage to sing “It Had To Be You,” but Bennett remained the focus of the performance. Bennett stuck to what he does best, and put on a marvelous show as a result.
Still, it was the younger crowd that truly carried the show. No one was more successful than British songstress Adele, who swept all six of her nominations, including Best Record and Song of the Year for “Rolling in the Deep” and the coveted Album of the Year for 21. While her triumphant night didn’t break any records, she officially tied with Beyoncé for the most Grammy wins by a woman in one night. Adele proved her hype with a near flawless rendition of “Rolling of the Deep,” which marked her return from a hiatus after receiving vocal cord surgery. Her performance deservedly ended in the longest standing ovation of the night, lasting for nearly a minute.
Chris Brown also returned to the Grammys after a hiatus of his own. He had not appeared at the awards ceremony since his domestic violence incident against Rihanna 2 years ago, and all eyes were set on him to fail. However, Brown proved his worth during his performances of new single “Turn Up The Music” and “Beautiful People,” as well as his participation in a dance music tribute featuring David Guetta and deadmau5. While his vocals were lacking, Brown showed off his spectacular dance moves once likened to Michael Jackson. Brown himself took home Best R&B Album for F.A.M.E., beating out “authentic” R&B albums by R. Kelly and Ledisi and solidifying his musical comeback.
The night may have belonged to Adele, but perhaps the most surprising success of the night was that of the Foo Fighters. While the Grammys do not often sufficiently recognize rock, the Foos brought it their all, shredding their contemporaries. Through their exhilarating performances of “Walk” and “Rope,” the Foo Fighters proved rock and roll is not dead. Their career-defining album Wasting Light took the award for Rock Album of The Year and also produced wins for Hard Rock Vocal Performance and Rock Song of the Year.
The most memorable act of the night, however, certainly went to Nicki Minaj’s ridiculous yet genius performance of “Roman Holiday”. Introduced by a short film called the “Exorcism of Roman,” featuring a possessed Nicki Minaj doing her best Linda Blair impression, the performance turned into a live exorcism. Minaj was on point with her raps as always, but her vocals were occasionally inaudible in the midst of the spectacle. The exorcism ended with Minaj levitating into the air, as the song came to a satisfying end. It will likely be the most talked about performance of the night, both for Minaj’s talent and the imminent religious controversy.
Despite performances that were interesting to say the least, the Grammy awards did not pull many surprises. Lovable hipster Bon Iver won Best New Artist, and Adele predictably walked out with all the awards for which she received nominations. This year’s ceremony was definitely the most exciting in recent memory. While some may moan that the Grammy Awards are unfair, Sunday night showed that unfair does not necessarily mean unentertaining.