Performances at this year’s Grammy awards weren’t about gimmicks, special effects, or surprise appearances. Instead, the show became a celebration of the music and musicians that unite seemingly different people. Fittingly, in a year where so many important musicians passed away, the night was also about people using their talents to bid a fond farewell to those whom we will all miss. It was a night where legends were honored, rock stars danced to country music, and an auditorium full of stars bowed their heads in prayer.
1. Jennifer Hudson – “I Will Always Love You”
The world only learned of the sad death of Whitney Houston the night before, leaving organizers less than 24 hours to put together a meaningful tribute. Despite this, I can’t imagine a better way to pay respect to someone than what was planned. There are far too few female singers of today who are capable of singing Whitney’s greatest hit with similar vocal ability, but Jennifer Hudson is one of those singers. Her heartfelt rendition also served as a befitting ending to a video “in memoriam” tribute to all the talented people who left us last year.
2. Paul McCartney – “My Valentine”/ “Carry That Weight”, “Golden Slumbers”, and “The End” featuring Bruce Springsteen, Joe Walsh, and Dave Grohl
We all knew that the grand master of rock ‘n’ roll was performing tonight, but we only thought he was here to sing something sweet and romantic off his new album. However, we were all in for a double treat, as McCartney later closed the show with a rocking encore of the ultimate set-closer, complete with an all-star guitar battle.
3. Adele – “Rolling in the Deep”
Millions were tuning in for the much-hyped return of Adele, performing live in concert for the first time since major vocal chord surgery. The big winner of the night hit all the right notes, but one thing kept it from being the most memorable moment of the night. Why was the arrangement of such a great song changed?
4. Maroon 5 – “Surfer Girl”, Foster the People – “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”, and the Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations”
Adam Levine’s voice won’t be mistaken for any of the Beach Boys’ anytime soon, but the tribute performers showed their respect. I would even go as far to say that tonight was Foster The People’s best performance ever. They were all excellent opening acts for the reunion everyone was waiting for.
5. The Band Perry – “Georgia on My Mind”, Blake Shelton – “Southern Nights”, and Glen Campbell – “Rhinestone Cowboy”
Traditional country music fans should be pleased with this pleasant retirement party for a legend. Vast amounts of the live audience, made up of people of all ages who specialize in many different genres of music, were obviously enjoying it.
6 – 11
6. Foo Fighters – “Walk”
Rock bands belong in outdoor tents, surrounded by happy fans who probably didn’t think that they would get a chance to see their favorites perform live. Sometimes you don’t need pyrotechnics and flashy on-stage antics to make a memorable moment.
7. Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt – “Sunday Kind of Love”
Etta James was another legend who passed away this year, and this short but sweet tribute by two famous fans was another highlight.
8. Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson – “Don’t You Wanna Stay?”
Even though Kelly had some microphone problems at the start of the set, this traditional duet was about substance over style.
9. Taylor Swift – “Mean”
Recreating the rural 1930s look of its music video, Swift’s “Mean” entertained her fans and didn’t give her critics much to complain about.
10. Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band – “We Take Care of Our Own”
The debut single of the Band’s 17th album, assisted by stringed instrumentation, opened the show on an upbeat note.
11. Rihanna – “We Found Love” and Coldplay – “Princess of China”/”Paradise”
There was much talk about this supposed duet between two very different acts, but other than a few lines from Rihanna crossing into the start of Coldplay’s piece, they were mostly separated.
12 – 17
12. Chris Brown, David Guetta, Foo Fighters, and Deadmau5 – “I Can Only Imagine”, “Rope”, and “Raise Your Weapon”
The Grammys are the place for unlikely collaborations, but yet again, everything seemed compartmentalized instead.
13. Tony Bennett and Carrie Underwood – “It Had to Be You”
The two previously performed this on an episode of CBS’ Blue Bloods in virtually the same style and possibly the same outfits.
14. Bruno Mars – “Runaway Baby”
What started as a nice retro throwback quickly crashed into modern times with a tacky, insulting remark from Mars, “Get off your rich a##es”. On a night that was about different people bonding over the music they love, it was especially out-of-place.
15. Chris Brown – “Turn Up The Music” / ”Beautiful People“
There wasn’t anything about this caped background dancer-assisted performance that made it especially Grammy-worthy. It could have easily been performed on a results episode of So You Think You Can Dance?.
16. Katy Perry – “E.T.” and “Part of Me”
Was that a double carried around during “E.T.”? Either way, “Part Of Me” was full of meaningless flash, like Perry’s spacey costume, the glass box she writhed around in, and the on-stage flames that melted ice sculptures.
17. Nicki Minaj – “Roman Holiday”
Opening with a video clip that looked like a cheap YouTube parody of The Exorcist (minus any sort of joke), one of the brightest new stars of music served up a performance that felt like a rehash. Chained up (like many female popstars before her), she rapped around a stage full of Catholic clergy-themed props and costumes (like Madonna probably did decades ago) and eventually “levitated” (like magician’s assistants have done for the past hundred years or so.) Two of her background dancers even wore bodysuits similar to those in Lady Gaga’s 2011 Grammy performance. Though announcers called it “a performance that everyone will be talking about”, the audience gave weak applause and looked confused afterwards.
Overall, this year’s show was an improvement over last year, leaving us wondering what the 2013 broadcast will bring.