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Business as usual at the Grammys

Arts & Entertainment Editor

grammy_awardEvery January and February we are treated to a time affectionately known as “Awards Season.” Already this year we’ve seen the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards, the DGA Awards and the BAFTAs. And before we wind everything down to a close with the Oscars in a few weeks, the music industry gets to have its night. On February 10 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the 55th Grammy awards were held. And, as has become custom, I’m here to mostly complain about it (maybe not mostly).

For those of you who are familiar with the Grammys, you know that it stresses the “show” portion of award show. And there are tons of them. Generally, you can expect to get about two or three really great performances out of the roughly 600,000 given. Particularly noteworthy this year were performances by Jack White and The Black Keys featuring Dr. John and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band who blew the roof off of the Staples Center, managing to imbue the show with something it is almost always devoid of: rock and roll. Justin Timberlake also made a major impression with his return to the Grammy stage. Despite being shot through the gimmicky, old-timey lens (which makes no sense because, you know, it’s LIVE TV), he actually killed it. Add in some back up by Jay-Z who no longer needs to do anything to be awesome except show up, and what you get is one of the best performances of the night.

However, it cannot be THE best, because that honor goes to a particularly brilliant ensemble tribute to The Band’s Levon Helm featuring Elton John, Mavis Staples, Zac Brown, Mumford & Sons and Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes. While all the performers blended magnificently (one of the better pairing jobs the Grammys has done), the particular standout was Howard. Now, I don’t know how many of you have heard of Alabama Shakes, but if you’ve never given them a listen, you really need to. Surrounded by legends like Staples and Elton John, Howard completely murdered her verse. It was really exciting to see a new talent, especially one of such magnitude, get major exposure, and I hope it carries her and Alabama Shakes to great things.

Where there are amazing performances, though, sadly there are not-so-amazing performances. As the night began, Taylor Swift came on stage in what looked like a “sexy Mad Hatter costume” that you’d buy at Wal*Mart around Halloween to perform “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which afterward made everyone question why anyone would be with her in the first place. Swift spent the rest of the night awkwardly doing what I can only refer to as “elbow dancing” to other artists’ performances, and the fact that she tries so hard to get people to like her just makes me dislike her that much more.

Later in the evening, we were graced with what was described as a “Tribute to Bob Marley,” which included Sting, Bruno Mars, Rihanna and Ziggy and Damian Marley. Now, I don’t know about you, but “Locked Out of Heaven” and “Walking on the Moon” are two of my favorite Bob Marley songs. While Sting and Bruno were good (Sting being much, much better), I don’t understand how singing two of your own songs constitutes a tribute. Near the end, thankfully (I guess), Rihanna came out with the Marley’s to sing “Could You Be Loved,” which was completely and entirely… fine. It added up to little more than additional proof that Bob Marley’s fans consistently destroy the heart of his music more than any other artist’s fans.

Big winners on the awards side of things (Yeah! They actually gave out some awards!) included fun., Gotye and Mumford & Sons. fun. won for Best New Artist and did so over the likes of The Lumineers and Frank Ocean. Don’t get me wrong, fun. is fine, but the fact that the award didn’t go to Ocean is a tragedy. Despite having one of the most horrific performances I’ve ever heard (seriously, guys, don’t let that train wreck be your impression of him), “Channel Orange” is an absolutely tremendous album. Goyte and Kimbra (dressed like she rubbed an exploded flamingo on herself) took home Record of the Year for their song “Somebody That I Used to Know” and although I enjoy the song, it’s so ubiquitous at this point that it’s hard to have an objective opinion about it. They both seemed happier about being presented the award by Prince (dressed in some spaceman hoodie thing and carrying a bedazzled cane) than actually receiving the award. In their defense, he is Prince and who could blame them. Finally, taking the big prize of the night, Album of the Year, was Mumford & Sons for “Babel.” And honestly? Out of the five nominees, they’re number four.  Over The Black Keys, Jack White and Frank Ocean? Talk about going with the safe pick. While I understand this was the Grammys making up for completely passing over “Sigh No More,” it’s still a wildly disappointing selection. But hey, at least they ignored the Beebs album “Believe,” right?

Basically, what it ends up being is another lack-luster year filled with a few amazing performances and over two hours of garbage where you wish you would have just waited to watch the highlights the next day and tuned into “The Walking Dead” instead. MCing the night was LL Cool J who, between having a mid-life crisis and talking about his Twitter, managed to be one of the worst hosts of all time (although hearing his brief tribute to MCA with “No Sleep till Brooklyn” was great). Thankfully for LL, it was a night where, between Beyonce messing up her lines (and Ellen staring at her awkwardly because she’s Ellen and she’s awesome) and Miguel and Wiz Khalifa performing a great rendition of “Adorn” and then giving out the award for Best Country Solo Performance because why not, being terrible meant you fit right in.
But despite it all, there were some real flashes of brilliance. And Taylor Swift elbow dancing. Lots of Taylor Swift elbow dancing.