Kendrick Lamar Burns Down the Stage at the 58th Annual Grammys


The 58th Annual Grammy Awards were broadcast last night, and as usual, the ceremony was a vapid display of what the music industry has deemed culturally relevant or important, decided mostly by people who don’t listen to much music. That being said, there were certainly highlights. Kendrick Lamar got shut out of the mainstream categories, but still took home a handful of trophies, sweeping the rap categories. But with Lamar and D’Angelo getting shut out of big categories like Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year, the Grammys maintained their pre-telecast ghetto, where all of “those” artists were lumped in with likes of Best Classical Instrumental Solo and Best Album Notes.

But Lamar’s performance last night, which did get telecast, was electric, from his chain-gang prison tier set to his inspired medley of tracks from To Pimp a Butterfly, right through the debut of a new song. He’s been doing medleys when performing material from this record live on TV; the horns and jazzy sections are well-suited to mixing it up. But it also afforded him the opportunity to change some of his more incendiary lyrics.

Self-censoring profanity is usually a good idea for rappers on TV, since it gives them the control of how they reframe those portions of their songs. But at the Grammys, when Lamar played “Alright” (which was nominated for four awards) he changed lyrics on the hook. You know the line: “And we hate po-po / Wanna kill us dead in the streets fo sho’ / Nigga, I’m at the preacher’s door/ My knees gettin’ weak, and my gun might blow/ But we gon’ be alright.” At the Grammys, the line became: “I’m at the preacher’s door / Wanna kill us dead at the preacher’s door / We said give em so mo’, this one time/ Do it for the show/ But we gon’ be alright.” Hmmm.

Logic tells us this is a response to the backlash he received from his performance of the song at the BET Awards, which featured smashed-up cop cars and those polarizing lines in full. We’re sure to hear plenty about how powerful the Grammys performance was — and it was certainly charged, and the highlight of the night — but we’re curious to hear from Lamar himself just why he took the teeth out of his anthem to perseverance.

Taylor Swift picked up the big trophy for 1989, the Grammys Album of the Year. She beat out Kendrick Lamar’s TPAB, and the Grammys producers seemed keen on rubbing it in, playing her onstage with “Bad Blood,” her Best Music Video award-winning track that also happens to feature Lamar. On stage, she flexed as the first woman to win the award twice, then made a subtext-heavy comment pointed at Kanye. Some have framed it as “empowering for women,” but it was an odd message to be delivering on stage while completely flanked by men (her 1989 producers).

Alabama Shakes took home some deserved shine with wins for Best Rock Performance and Best Alternative Music Album. Brittany Howard slayed during their performance, per usual. Adele didn’t fare as well, with a piano mic falling on the strings during her Bruno-Mars-co-written track “All I Ask of You,” causing it to go out of tune. She powered through, shrugged it off on Twitter, saying “shit happens,” and admitting she skipped her label’s after party for some In-N-Out. Love her.

Lady Gaga’s overstuffed tribute to David Bowie did its best to highlight Bowie’s chameleonic nature, if nothing else. Lauryn Hill and Rihanna were both scheduled to perform seperately, each cancelling at the last minute. Rihanna’s excuse was bronchitis; don’t hold your breath waiting for a proper explanation from Ms. Hill.

Courtney Barnett was predictably snubbed for Best New Artist in favor of Megan Trainor, who cried a lot. She performed in the surprisingly classy Lionel Richie tribute; Lionel looked and sounded great, but Luke Bryan could not have looked or sounded more out of place. Justin Bieber also finally won his Grammy, but he needed his bros Skrillex and Diplo — aka Jack Ü — to do it. Their performance sucked all the life out of their monster hit “Where Are Ü Now,” replacing its elegantly placed negative space with superfluous noise. Not unlike the Grammys do with the cornucopia of recorded music released each year.

You can see the full list of nominees and winners here.