Now, onto the show itself. Taylor Swift started things off with a rendition of her mega-hit "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," a title that I'm mad at her for making me type. This song is catchy enough, but more importantly, it marks an important stage in Swift's development; the moment everyone - including Swift - all agreed to finally stop pretending she was a country singer. After one album of country-pop, the next two displayed increasingly less country influence, until she released Red this year, and became an unabashed pop star. I think it was a good move. Why deny the inevitable? It was like the first two years of Dwight Howard's career, when everyone pretended he was a power forward. It just didn't make sense, and once we admitted the truth, everything felt better.
Shortly after that, fun. took the stage. These guys conquered the words with "We Are Young," and "Some Nights," two songs that I assume were good at some point, but that I could happily go the rest of my life without ever hearing again. These guys are decent, but their over-cutesiness gets on my nerves. it's as though they take their name a little too seriously. They would go on to have quite a big night, winning Best New Artist and Song of the Year. The only entertaining moment these guys provided was the omnipresence of Lena Dunham, who is dating one of them. I'm not sure who, but I think it's the one who looks like a character Fred Armisen would play in a Portlandia sketch about an irritatingly cheerful hipster-pop band. I'm usually against nicknames for celebrity couples, but I would love it if those two were referred to as "Girls Just Want To Have Fun." See what I did there?
Frank Ocean won Best Urban Contemporary Album, which I assume just means R&B, but the Grammy folks apparently had to invent their own word for it. Towards the end of the show, he performed "Forrest Gump," a rather surprising choice since it's not one of the more energetic songs on channel ORANGE, and it works better in the context of the album than on its own, where it can feel a bit dull. Still, Ocean's homage to the movie that gives the song its name was clever enough. His performance of "Thinkin' Bout You" on SNL was a lot better, though.
The best act of the night by far was the all-star tribute to Levon Helm, which featured Elton John front and center but included just about every in sight for a rousing rendition of "The Weight." While everyone was solid here, Mavis Staples stole the show with her wonderful extension of the song towards the end. I was also impressed from Alabama Shakes, who absolutely slayed her verse. What i don't get, however, is why this wasn't the last act of the night. The LL Cool J/Chuck D collaboration that closed the show was solid, but it could've fit in anywhere. Wouldn't a tribute to one of the bigger fallen musicians of the last year be a better way to go out. And yes, I realize that the LL/Chuck bit included a brief tribute to MCA, but it was a relative afterthought.
The other big tribute performance of the night was the Bruno Mars' led Bob Marley homage. this was decent, but I had no idea why it started with a performance of "Locked Out Of Heaven" that seemed to have nothing to do with anything else. Was that supposed to be part of the tribute? And if so, how? Still, it was a great performance, and it was cool to see Sting do the song with him, which was Mars' way of admitting that he was basically just trying to write a Police song, and Sting's way of saying he appreciated it.
After the Helm tribute act, Jack White and The Black Keys would be in a virtual tie for the second best performance. The Keys brought new life into their giant hit "Lonely Boy" by adding Dr. John, and the Preservation Jazz Hall Band. Bringing the New Orleans flavor to a relatively straightforward rock worked in a big way. the fact that it was one of the most energetic performances of the night didn't hurt either. Meanwhile, White played "Love Interruption" and "Freedom at 21," the first with an all-female band, and the second with an all-male band, mimicking the strategy he used while making Blunderbuss. Both were solid, but I preferred the second performance, if only because the raw energy of White busting loose on the electric guitar is one of the best sites in music.
This wasn't the best Grammys of all-time, but it featured it's share of great performances and made a solid case for mainstream music not being half bad. To the many people wondering why Kendrick Lamar's album wasn't nominated for anything, I don't think it was eligible. If it was, yeah, they really screwed up bad.