Here's everything, both good and bad (painfully bad), that went down at the 2016 Grammy Awards.
Last night, industry elites gathered in the Staples Center for "music's biggest night," the 58th Grammy Awards. Year after year, the relevancy of the award show gets brought into question, though not necessarily its entertainment value. While the spectacle is as out of touch as ever with the tastes of an informed and diverse musical audience, it remains just that -- a spectacle, and last night was no different.
Kendrick Lamar Wins Best Rap Album & Gives a Historic Performance
Maybe rap wasn't so ignored after all, as Kendrick Lamar led all artists with a total of 11 nominations. He took home 5 of those, including the awards for Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Performance. Can someone explain the difference between Best Song and Best Performance? Does the latter award apply to a specific rendition of Kendrick's "Alright"? Regardless, midway through the live broadcast, the Compton rapper proved that he was deserving of the 'Performance' award. Indeed, he's one of the greatest performance artists of our time.
Kendrick began his show-stopping production, during which he performed the To Pimp a Butterfly songs "Blacker the Berry" and "Alright" as well as a new untitled track, by hobbling slowly to center stage, wrapped in chains and handcuffs and followed by a similarly shackled chain gang of four black men. His backing band was confined to prison cells as he ferociously and frantically posited himself as "the biggest hypocrite of 2015." He and his gang then forcefully unfettered themselves when Kendrick suddenly bellowed the famous Bad Boy mantra, "as we proceed to give you what you need," while his backing band burst out into a chaotic climax.
As "Blacker the Berry" and its accompanying jailhouse scene faded out, bongo drums began to play as Kendrick stumbled his way onto an adjacent stage, one made to look like tribal Africa, with a massive fire pit lighting up a sweat-soaked Lamar. He segued into "Alright" while he carried out his "King Kunta" strut with a group of synchronized dancers.
The jazziness of To Pimp a Butterfly was electrifying. The African stage dimmed as Lamar walked back into his shackles, in sync with a meandering sax melody, to perform the only unreleased song of the medley. He looked bruised and beaten, as the camera zoomed in to reveal a deep purple swelling around his left eye. The camera then reverberated convulsively while Kendrick tore into an extended breakneck verse about his status as a modern-day slave who also happens be a superstar.
The mostly white crowd looked shook and uncomfortable, and even CBS's cowardly attempt to censor certain lyrics ("we hate po po"), didn't take away from Kendrick's unforgettable performance.
A$AP Rocky Brings Yams' Mom As His Date
A$AP Rocky was nominated for one award last night, Best Music Video for his "L.S.D." visual, and though he lost to Taylor Swift and Kendrick's "Bad Blood," he earned a major W by bringing A$AP Yams' mother as his date. Rocky was as cool as ever in a knitted cardigan and jeans adorned with flowers and songbirds, while Yams' mom, Tatianna Paulino, looked effortlessly stylish in a floor-length black dress. Her son was mentioned during the broadcast's "in memoriam" video, though he really deserved a more official on-stage tribute. R.I.P. Yams!
Ciara on the Red Carpet
We won't play fashion police, but we have to highlight the most jaw-dropping look on the red carpet, and that award goes to Ciara. Though her name has been rampantly slandered by the Future Hive in recent months, there's no denying Hendrix lost a one-of-a-kind beauty in the "Body Party" singer. I didn't know a single leg could do that to a man, wow. As for her new man, how is Russ still cheesing like that after almost a year of abstinence?
Before Kendrick put the arena at a standstill, most of the performances were relatively unexceptional. The only one that didn't take place inside the Staples Center, however, was an exception. Viewers were taken to Broadway, as Stephen Colbert introduced the cast of "Hamilton," who went on to carry out the opening number to its box-office-smashing musical. Few have been lucky enough to cop tickets to Broadway's main event, though the exclusive Grammy performance is evidence that "Hamilton" has injected some much-needed blackness -- and hip-hop inspiration -- into the classic American art form.
It soon became clear that the snippet of the play we just saw was pre-recorded, as the entire "Hamilton" cast showed up in L.A. to accept the award for Best Musical Theater Album. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of "Hamilton," gave a shout-out to Kendrick during his acceptance speech, which he acted out as if he were still in character.
There was no official tribute to Yams, and other recently deceased stars -- including Natalie Cole -- were only listed in the "in memoriam" slideshow. But there were a few worthy on-stage tributes that left lasting impressions. Chris Stapleton, Gary Clark Jr., and Bonnie Raitt teamed up to honor blues icon B.B. King, and Stevie Wonder and Pentatonix -- the latter being an odd choice -- performed Earth, Wind & Fire's "That's the Way of the World" in a cappella, dedicated to the band's drummer Maurice White, who died earlier this month.
Lady GaGa's extended tribute to David Bowie, for which she was joined by Nile Rodgers, was especially memorable -- if nothing else, simply for providing a reminder on how many absolute classics Bowie was responsible for.
Non-televised Awards & Tributes
Run-DMC was given a lifetime achievement award, though there was no televised tribute of any sort to the three-man group. The trio made up of Rev Run, Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels, and the late Jam Master Jay was the first hip-hop act to ever be nominated for a Grammy. The new lifetime achievement award shows some level of respect for hip-hop's indelible importance in musical history, but the Academy should have demanded that Run-DMC be recognized on stage.
In fact, there were many awards that weren't part of CBS's broadcast. The viewing public only got to see Kendrick accept one of the five awards he won last night, as categories such as Best Rap Song ("Alright") and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("These Walls") were relegated to the pre-show ceremony. We didn't witness D'Angelo's win for both Best R&B Song ("Really Love") and Best R&B Album (Black Messiah), either. Instead, the TV audience was left with categories such as Record of the Year, the night's final award -- taken home by Bruno Mars for "Uptown Funk." By the way, WTF is the difference between Record of the Year and Song of the Year, the latter won by Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud"?
Meghan Trainor Wins Best New Artist
Congrats to Meghan Trainor, who was named Best New Artist thanks to the success of her debut, platinum-selling album Title. Perhaps she was deserving of the award, though what's appalling is that Fetty Wap wasn't even nominated. Nor was any rap artist, but let's consider Fetty's 2015 credentials: His first three singles all charted in the top 10, the highest being "Trap Queen" at No. 2, and his debut self-titled album reached the No. 1 spot. Before "Trap Queen," he was living in a car with Monty. Not even a nomination for his unprecedented rise to fame? Smh.
Though there were a couple of great performances, as well as a few good ones, viewers really got robbed as two female icons, at last minute, decided not to show up for their slated renditions. Well, maybe the blame falls on the Grammys, but in any case, Lauryn Hill was supposed to perform alongside The Weeknd -- what a treat that would've been. The Recording Academy president has expressed his disappointment with the singer's "no-show," though Ms. Hill maintains she had never confirmed her appearance in the first place.
Rihanna was also set to perform a few gems off her new album, ANTI, though she was unable to recover properly from a recent bout with bronchitis.
Pitbull's Closing Performance
After performances by Kendrick, Adele, The Weeknd, Bieber, Stevie Wonder, and more, the grand finale was carried out by...Pitbull, who unveiled a new single with Travis Barker as well as Robin Thicke, whose surprise entry was even more underwhelming than that of the Dale singer/rapper/shouter/whatever it is that he does. Apparently Sofia Vergara of "Modern Family" was also there, though I had already tuned out by the time she entered the stage dressed as a taxi cab.
Taylor Swift Wins Album of the Year & Attempts a Handshake That Can Never Be Unseen
Yep, the Grammy committee chose Taylor Swift's 1989 as Album of the Year, instead of To Pimp a Butterfly. Was it unexpected? No. And no shots against 1989, but listeners of To Pimp a Butterfly know that Kendrick's opus was a far more courageous piece of art than any other album on the ballot. The snub had me wishing Kanye was in attendance, though he probably would've claimed the award for The Life of Pablo.
Immediately after winning, and jumping for joy in celebration as if she didn't know it was coming, Taylor proceeded to execute the most cringeworthy handshake of all time with 1989 collaborator Jack Antonoff. After that, I know I wasn't alone in thinking: This is who gets the night's marquee award? After what we just witnessed from Kendrick?
However, Swift's acceptance speech would quickly prove to be worth something. Amid her overager thank yous, she suddenly sharpened her gaze and turned her attention toward you know who: "I want to say to all the young women out there: There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame."
Now I'm not taking sides here, though I am eagerly awaiting Kanye's take on the situation. Was he wrong for including those lyrics on "Famous"? Probably, yes. Was it a great song? Unequivocally yes. But what's most insane about Taylor's long-awaited response to her offensive namedrop on The Life of Pablo is that it seems Kanye totally lied when he alleged that Swift herself told him to include the derogatory lyrics in the first place. Now that's hilarious.