It was a night that bore an interesting resemblance to the Adele Grammy sweep three years ago. A relatively unknown Brit singer/songwriter breaks up with a dude, writes songs to process the pain, makes a record that sells a bajillion copies, and goes on to win top honors at the Grammy Awards. Biggest differences: the singer/songwriter in this case also happens to be a dude; and unlike Adele, this was said dude’s debut album.
“Thank you so much for breaking my heart, because you got me four Grammys!” an elated Sam Smith shouted out to his ex last night during his fourth acceptance speech at the 57th Grammy Awards, right after receiving the top honor of the night (Record of the Year) for his single “Stay With Me.” Smith, unknown to most of the world until his full-length debut In the Lonely Hour dropped last May, went on to whirlwind success and international fame last year, garnering 6 Grammy nominations in the process (including all four top categories), and becoming the first artist in years with a real shot at sweeping the “big four” awards.
As it turns out, Smith snagged three of the four: Best New Artist, Song of the Year and Record of the Year. The one artist who stopped him from taking Album of the Year also happened to be the biggest surprise/upset of the night: Beck, who came seemingly out of nowhere to win for his album Morning Phase.
Beck’s win was not so much a surprise in that it foiled a Sam Smith sweep, but in that it kept the award out of the clutches of Beyoncé, whom most critics, pundits and analysts (including this writer) believed was favored to win. The win was such a curve ball that it nearly prompted a repeat of the Kanye West/Taylor Swift fiasco, to the momentary horror of Bey and Jay (dammit, Kanye, sit DOWN).
It turns out that Kanye was only half-joking. In one of his typical after-show rants, as captured by E!, Kanye bashed not only Beck, the Grammys as a whole. “I just know that the Grammys, if they want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t gonna play with them no more. And Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé…” (Dammit, Kanye, shut UP.)
Not that Bey has anything to fret about. With three Grammy wins of her own last night, her total count comes to 20, giving her the most total Grammys won by an African-American artist, and second only to Allison Krauss as the most awarded female artist at the Grammys. (Krauss has 27 of ’em.)
As for the remainder of the telecast…yes, there was other stuff besides Smith, Beck, and Kanye, but held up to past shows, to be honest, Sam Smith and Beck are the most interesting stories. The show held promise with a dynamic opening by metal legends AC/DC, but soon showed its true colors with a see-I-am-NOT-getting-old performance by Madonna that was nothing short of embarrassing. Miranda Lambert’s performance of “Little Red Wagon” was presentable save for the huge gap in audio to edit out her profanity, as was Beck’s performance with Chris Martin. Pharrell’s semi-classical arrangement of “Happy” (complete with a guitar cameo with composer Hans Zimmer?) was interesting, but confusing. Even the Grammy moments intended to be more meaningful were dragged down by lackluster performances. (When President Obama’s video admonition against domestic violence is more compelling and believable than Katy Perry’s stark performance of “By the Grace of God,”…well, you get the idea.)
So another year at the Grammys is in the books, with relatively few surprises. Some good records got awarded, while other kinds of records were broken. But the takeaway is this: if the show is going to continue trending toward more live performances and fewer on-air awards (with sometimes almost an hour of air time between award presentations), the live performances better be worth pre-empting the presentations. This year, they weren’t, and it made the show feel much longer than 3.5 hours (plus ten minutes over!). They would have been better off letting us see more awards given out in a shorter time span. Hopefully next year will strike a better balance.
And dammit, Kanye…knock it off.