Yes, we sat through the Grammys last night so you didn’t have to. Here’s what went down: the good, the bad, and the genuinely ugly.
Beyoncé‘s performance, clearly, which was head and shoulders above anything else that happened last night. It was, as we noted on Twitter last night, Beyoncé down to a T — choreographed to within an inch of its life, weirdly egotistical, spectacular, and performatively feminist, this time with an earth mother/goddess vibe. I’m pretty sure it was the most visually spectacular thing I’ve ever seen at an awards show, and there will probably be features in the coming weeks about how some of the effects were achieved — the holograms, in particular, were amazing. Her speech after receiving her only Grammy of the night (more on that shortly) was also great — and, Beyoncé being Beyoncé, it was read off a gold cue card. Everything she does must be, ahem, flawless.
Her rival for best performance of the night was A Tribe Called Quest, who played with Anderson Paak and absolutely killed it. To commemorate the late Phife Dawg, they left a vacant mic on stage with a spotlight on it, and also broadcast one of their departed comrade’s verses, which fitted seamlessly into the performance. And they deployed Busta Rhymes, who wasted no time in lambasting the clown in the White House: “Thank you, President Agent Orange, for all of that evil that you’ve been perpetuating throughout the United States… I want to thank President Agent Orange for your unsuccessful Muslim ban.” BAM.
There were a few others who made the night watchable, thankfully. Gary Clark Jr and William Bell gave an unexpected and thoroughly excellent performance of “Born Under a Bad Sign.” The Dap-Kings‘ horn section played with Sturgill Simpson, and while it would have been better to give them their own spot in memory of the late Sharon Jones, this was better than nothing. The much-hyped Prince tribute was decent enough — The Time have lost none of their chops or their funkiness — even though seeing Bruno Mars dressed exactly like Prince, even down to the Love Symbol guitar, was more disconcerting than anything else. Chance the Rapper won two Grammys! Rihanna swigged from a hip flask and, as ever, gave precisely no fucks. And finally, shout out to Blue Ivy‘s adorable pink tuxedo!
Where to begin? Katy Perry‘s hilariously awful “political” song? The weird Bee Gees thing? The Grammys’ sound person forgetting to turn James Hetfield’s microphone on for the first half of Metallica‘s performance with Lady Gaga? The Weeknd? Adele‘s George Michael tribute? Let’s start there, actually, because all the post-Grammy commentary has been about how she restarted the song after singing off key on her first attempt, rather than about the tribute itself. This is probably just as well, because the performance — although obviously heartfelt — just wasn’t great. In its original form, “Fastlove” exemplifies everything there was to like about Michael: it’s exuberantly sexual, it’s funky, and most importantly, it’s fun. Adele’s performance was none of these things. Her rendition clearly aimed to find and emphasize the song’s emotional depth, but it came off as… mawkish, to be honest.
Also very, very bad: the presence of the bewilderingly popular Ed Sheeran, who performed despite having no apparent reason to do so. He played solo with a loop pedal and thus presumably blew the mind of the audience, none of whom have been to a DIY venue in the last decade. The song he performed, “Shape of You,” was as beige as every other Ed Sheeran song, except for the fact that it came with the added bonus of forcing everyone listening to it to envisage Ed Sheeran having sex: “I’m in love with the shape of you/ We push and pull like a magnet do/ Although my heart is falling too/ I’m in love with your body/ And last night you were in my room/ And now my bedsheets smell like you.”
Also worthy of a mention: the host, one James Corden, who is apparently a late night TV host. He is also English, and thus he spent most of the evening being self-deprecating, which was all very well, except for the fact that it wasn’t funny and didn’t in any way excuse the non-self-deprecating parts of his performance, which were also not funny. He was also a reminder of the fact that knowing you’re shit doesn’t change the fact that you’re shit. Speaking of which…
Twenty One Pilots. Twenty One fucking Pilots. God give me strength. I mean, just look at these dickheads:
These fucking guys. These are the guys who still say “doofus” and “weiner” in their late 20s. These are the guys who thought it was hilarious to make fart noises when the one teacher you liked at high school was speaking. These are the guys who use the word “bro” without a modicum of self-awareness. These guys think it’s hilarious to suck at what they do because they’re, like, ironic about it. These guys are the literal reincarnation of Blink-182 and yet somehow exponentially worse. These guys are the guys who sort of muddle into being successful while everyone else has to work very, very hard for it — and then they giggle as they tell the world about it. These guys got up on stage at the Grammys last night, with no pants on because of some asinine reason they explained in a story that was the literal incarnation of “cool story, bro,” and told the world with a straight face that, “Anyone, from anywhere, can do anything.” As writer Sarah Hagi famously said, “Lord, grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man.”
Also: Adele flat-out apologizing to Beyoncé for beating her to Album of the Year and Record of the Year. It’s not so much Adele’s sentiment here, which was laudable enough — and yes, Lemonade was objectively better than Twenty-Five, to the extent that one can quantify worth — it’s the fact that year after year, black artists turn up to this farce, knowing that their albums will be beaten by mediocre fluff made by mediocre white people. Taylor Swift’s 1989 beating Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Macklemore’s The Heist beating Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d City. And so on. Adele asked after the awards, “What the fuck does Beyoncé have to do to win?” The answer is that she can’t do anything to change this. It’s on people like Adele to back up their words with action. Macklemore, to his credit, refused to submit his work for Grammy consideration this year. If someone like Adele did the same… then, I suspect, we might see some actual change. Until then, words are just words.