Monday night’s Grammy Awards ceremony was decidedly slow to warm up, but it got better as the three-hour show marched on, thanks to Lamar’s fiery performance.
Over the years, the Grammy Awards telecast has offered some memorable musical moments — including Pink in 2010, and Herbie Hancock back in 1984. This year, Monday night’s show broadcast from Los Angeles was decidedly slow to warm up, with much of the music midtempo and feeling geared to the middle-of-the-road, adult-contemporary crowd. But it got better as the three-hours-plus show marched on.
Kendrick Lamar, who went in with 11 nominations, offered the high point of the first half with a stunning medley from his masterpiece “To Pimp A Butterfly” that included “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright.”
The production featured a chain gang — with Lamar wearing chains, dramatic smoke and flashing lights and an African dance sequence in front of a bonfire. At the end, a silhouette of the African continent appeared with “Compton” written across it — Lamar’s hometown.
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It was something of a shock that Lamar did not win for album of the year, an honor that went to Taylor Swift, the only woman ever to win twice in that category.
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Swift also offered the sharpest remarks of the evening in her acceptance speech, telling young women to ignore people who try to “undercut” them or take credit for their fame — a comeback to Kanye West, who in a new song claims, perhaps facetiously, to have made her famous.
Another hip-hop highlight came in a live feed from the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York, where the cast of “Hamilton” did the opening number of that rap musical, which won for best musical-theater album.
The cast accepted the award back in L.A. with a rap, which would have won an award for best acceptance speech if there were one.
(The worst was offered by Meghan Trainor, who inexplicably won for best new artist, then wept through her whole speech.)
Vying with Lamar for best musical segment of the show was Lady Gaga’s tribute to David Bowie, who died suddenly earlier this year. Starting with a creepy head shot during which a spider crawled over her face, Gaga appeared to inhabit Bowie, dancing in white bejeweled pants as she ran through a quick sequence of his greatest hits, ending with “Let’s Dance” and “Heroes.”
Canadian soul singer The Weeknd also lifted the music in the first half, with strong singing and sharp dance moves on a medley of “Can’t Feel My Face” and “In the Night.”
A large band version of “Easy Like Sunday Morning,” by Lionel Richie, who was honored with the MusiCares Person of the Year award, was easy to like. It was part of a tribute to the singer-songwriter that included a terrific version of “Hello” by Demi Lovato, who really sold the song.
Right up there with Lovato for female vocal chops was Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town, who came through in spades on LBT’s controversial song “Girl Crush.”
The big disappointment in that department was Adele, who no doubt accounted for a large portion of Monday’s viewers, thanks to her blockbuster album “25.” Singing “All I Ask,” the British torch singer was not in good voice, reaching for high notes and singing decidedly flat a number of times.
It was nice to see the Grammy show honor the blues. Bonnie Raitt, Chris Stapleton and Gary Clark Jr. teamed up for a powerhouse performance of B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone.”
The show also offered a tribute to another performer who recently died: Glenn Frey, of the Eagles, whose remaining members sang their monster hit “Take It Easy,” with Jackson Browne, who wrote it, singing up front.
The show featured a snippet of jazz, as well, with a performance by the 12-year-old piano phenom Joey Alexander. Hancock, who was in the crowd, smiled broadly during the performance.
Apart from the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, which won one Grammy, Seattle artists got skunked Monday.
But there was a Seattle musician on stage, bassist Duff McKagan, who performed with the Hollywood Vampires, a slash metal band that did “Ace of Spades,” in honor of Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister.