I couldn’t bear to watch the whole thing—I hear there are now 70 categories—so I flipped back and forth between the Grammys and the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) Liftmaster Invitational at Anaheim. Honestly, if I was in California, I’d be in Anaheim.
So here’s what I saw, when the commercials on CBS and CBSSports didn’t coincide.
I checked in just in time to see LL Cool J telling people he was now tweeting a photo of Carrie Underwood from backstage. WHO CARES?? Shut up and get to the music.
Next time I tuned in, some band of folkish rock was performing with a horn section, probably to drown out their offkey vocals. One guy’s fashion haircut was a giveaway as to how authentic these guys aren’t. I looked up “I Will Wait For You”: a song from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a sappy French film from the ‘60s . The group: Mumford & Sons. There was a fuss about them a few years ago at the Billboard Touring Conference, so I guess the record label did a good PR job.
What an Odd Couple of presenters: Ellen Degeneres and Beyoncé—the latter fully clothed. Ellen is so talented, she was making Beyoncé lose it trying to read the cue cards, just by looking at her. They introduced Justin Timberlake, to a big hoopla. Whaa?? He sounds like Mickey Mouse!
A wicked bull named Mick E. Mouse tossed off one of the great Brazilian bull riders. Oh wait a minute, that’s the PBR again.
Caught the tail end of a duet between Alicia Keyes and Adam Levine: real singing! A clothed woman! And Kelli Clarkson, who won for “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger,” had a whole bunch of clothed women in her video. Wow! Progress! The entertainment tonight is actually entertainment, not porn.
“This is not a game” is the slogan coming through the “rap” “song” accompanying some rides and wrecks. Oh wait a minute, that’s from the bull riding.
Sting in the Marley tribute singing “Walking on the Moon” made it clear how much reggae has influenced everyone. Taking on a Marley tune, the horn section was great, and Bruno Mars and Ziggy Marley tore it up! They got everyone on their feet and left them roaring. THAT is REAL music.
Rihanna, on the other hand, was pathetic. What on earth was she doing there? Being from the Caribbean does not qualify you to perform with the Marley dynasty.
Kelli Clarkson nailed “Natural Woman” with her own interpretation, not an attempt at imitating the inimitable Aretha. Wish she had made the ending as smashing as when she hit the highpoint of the song a few seconds before, but that’s nitpicking.
The Lumineers. That “Hey! “Ho!”—which apparently the audience enjoyed as a hook—was grating; it was just too sharp. A little more rounded and the song would’ve had some funk to it.
“The great” Jack White? I remember him being colossally annoying at the Kennedy Awards, honoring Led Zeppelin. (And somebody still needs to explain to me why British artists get Kennedy Awards. The Who is my favorite band in the universe, and Led Zep ain’t too shabby, but a Kennedy Award??) Jack seems to have borrowed his outfit from Jimmy Page. And I’ve got news: he’d have been almost boring if he didn’t have all those good players around him and Ruby Amanfu singing “Love Interruption” with him. (Gross lyrics.) As for his playing: there’s nothing new about a guitarist playing fast, squeaky notes. He’s just a weird kid who lucked out. At least, he was tonight.
Katy Perry’s pontoons could’ve used a life vest.
Weenie white boy Hunter Hayes was trying so hard to sound like he had soul, in the current pathetic definition of “soul,” that the lyrics were nearly incomprehensible. Who decided that the more vocal wiggles per minute, the more “soul” you have? Packing a hundred extra notes into one vowel has become the gold standard for a whole generation of singers (male and female) who have little control over their wobbly warbles, and have no conception that Aretha Franklin can use as many notes as she wants, because she knows what glissando means. And Miles Davis had SOUL, because he left lots of space between notes at the exact right places.
Highlight of the night: Carrie Underwood’s spectacular silver ball dress fit for the Oscars. (The storyline to “Two Black Cadillacs” is one you might find in a Dolly Parton composition.) Using her dress as a projection screen for the light show was a brilliant idea (no pun intended)—who’s the lighting designer?? Loved the butterfly effect! It was amazing enough to see her dress transform into a monarch butterfly, but even more creative was the idea of making it look like a flock of them took off from her dress and fluttered up all over the stage. So much more imaginative than having innumerable boobs shoved in our faces. You can bet Nicky Minaj, Lady Gaga, and a bunch of other buffoons are gonna steal this idea.
Very surprising to see Prince out in public. Ridiculous outfit, though; kind of a Gangsta Yoda.
As much as I think she’s fun, a innumerable shots of Taylor Swift onscreen every few seconds in the front row was too much, no matter how much she was enjoying the show. But at least she knew the words, and didn’t do that awkward white-girl arrhythmic clapping.
Never heard of Gotye and Kimbra, but it was clear that Kimbra borrowed her dress from Tinkerbelle. Adorable.
Scary: In the memorial section, I remembered a lot more people than ever before. Eek.
Glad they put names on the screen during the tribute to Levon Helm. I never heard of Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes, but I like what I heard. Zac Brown singing and playing guitar was excellent. Mavis Staples was scaring me. I can’t believe they had to put Elton’s name on screen—I guess that was for the 12-year-olds who never heard of him. They probably never heard “The Weight,” either.
A bizarre idea to have Juanes sing one of Elton’s songs— somewhat flat, no less. Thank goodness he didn’t do the whole song. Save that shit for when it’s Elton’s memorial.
This was just too weird and embarrassing: Frank Ocean, who’s not related to Billy, singing about Forrest Gump. This video was a total failure; it just didn’t work. Mostly the camera shot cut him off at the waist; we couldn’t see him playing the keyboard, so it looked like he was, um, playing something other than keyboards. He was also completely off-key. Bad enough the singing was subpar, then we had to listen to him whistle the last part of the song—also off-key— as he headed back down the double yellow line of a road he supposedly had been running on. Maybe he was just nervous, but then lip sync, dude! Or use a pitch corrector. He was NOT ready for prime time.
Introducing the album of the year (Mumford & Sons), Adele wore a TERRIBLE red print dress. It would’ve been awful on anyone, but it made her look huge.
What a boring finale! LL Cool J and a couple of other “rappers” yelling things like, “I got so much trouble on my mind!” “Refuse to lose!” “Whadup?” “Say yeah!” That’s a song? Oh, puh-leeze.
Then they did a sort-of tribute to other people; for example, yelling, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn!” Had to smile; it reminded me of the first time I heard the Beastie Boys: in a little beach town one summer, watching the daytrippers leave, their cars inching along in an exodus jam, one of them full of steaming drunk people falling out the windows, chanting, “No! Sleep! Till Brooklyn!” That line pretty much summarized their situation, and I laughed for hours.
PS: The Honda commercial featuring George Washington and Abraham Lincoln singing? Rolling over in their graves.