Lady Gaga’s “incubation” bit was extraordinary, and her courage to be herself—creative and singular—must be respected; and she won three awards. At the same time, in terms of sheer substance, tonight her rendition of her new single “Born This Way” was, while intriguing, not relatively grand. In fact, it was problematic—several of the lyrics just were not sung by her live, and this was quite evident, as the song would go on while she turned her head from her microphone. It’s difficult to maintain both “off the wall” theatre and efficacious song renditions. It’s also difficult to beat her own performance last year—which included much more theatre—a bird nest, zombies, Gaga tossed into a burner, Elton John—alongside potent, substantive renditions. Instead, in my view, Kansas Citian Janelle Monáe stole the show, ironically, by using little to no overt drama: her “Cold War” bit exuded vocal strength, keen dance moves, and she did not require a quasi-uterus prop to achieve any credibility or success.
It was a year of thrilling comebacks from legends like My Blooody Valentine and David Bowie as well the launch of major new talents like Lorde and Kacey Musgraves. These artists had the biggest impact on the shape of music in 2013.