Grammy producer extraordinaire, Ken Ehrlich, had his hands full figuring out how to incorporate the five collaborative performances honoring each of the musical greats who passed away within the year. There was no doubt they were going to need every minute of the three-hour plus program to properly pay homage to legends B.B. King, Natalie Cole, Glenn Frey, Lemmy Kilmister, David Bowie and Maurice White. Veteran host LL Cool J laid the foundation for the evening proclaiming the awesome power of music and praised the Grammys for being the only awards show that does not allow lip syncing. This of course garnered a big laugh from the audience who knows of his newfound fame as the MC of Spike TV's hugely popular Lip Sync Battle. Once the pleasantries were out of the way, it was time to get down to business and who better than to set the bar for the evening than T-Swift with her gorgeous looks and gifted pipes. She opened the show dressed in a sequined jumpsuit to sing her hit "Out of the Woods," a collaboration with Jack Antonoff of fun. Owning the stage, she looked directly into the camera nailing each move and hitting each note with perfection.
Unfortunately, the show went downhill and uphill from there with an alternating mix of lackluster and luminous moments. The normally spot-on pairings we look forward to at the Grammy’s somehow went sideways this year. It was a mashup of odd pairings and musical no-shows. The duet between country stars Sam Hunt and Carrie Underwood fell flat and the lineup for the Lionel Ritchie tribute while packed with individual talent felt particularly odd. Rihanna who was scheduled to perform had to pull the plug at the last minute due to doctors’ orders and Lauryn Hill who was supposed to join forces with the Weeknd left him fending for himself. Technical difficulties also played a part making powerhouses Adele and Justin Bieber sound flat and flailing about for a note. Still there were several luminous moments that hit just the right tone. Chris Stapleton's rendition of B.B. King's "The Thrill is Gone" featuring Gary Clark Jr. and Bonnie Raitt was outstanding and I could watch Little Bit Town sing "Girl Crush" a hundred times and it wouldn't get old. Kendrick Lamar's exhausting poetic performance gave us heart palpitations in a good way and Brittany Howard, frontwoman for Alabama Shakes, put incredible depth and feeling into an impassioned "Don't Wanna Fight." We weren't especially upset when the final production number front lined by Pitbull with a special appearance by Sophia Vergara along with Robin Thicke, Travis Barker and Joe Perry, was cut short by the rolling credits. Too many sparkles, not enough substance for our taste. Here's the rest of our recap on the nights red carpet manners hits and misses.
Rings & A Rainbow on the Red Carpet. Never one to disappoint on the red carpet, the artists were decked out in every color of the rainbow from canary yellow to blue tanzanite, but the color that continues to have the biggest impact in the music biz is black. Tove Lo (complete with silver nose ring), Adele, Anna Kendrick, Elle King, Jazmine Sullivan, Meghan Trainor and Carrie Underwood all wore various looks. Dresses in general ranged from the subdued to the sublime. Florence Welch won the most blah dress award in a pale pink long-sleeve gown from Gucci and we were not a fan of Beyonce’s white lace wedding dress from designer Inbal Dror's dress. Selena Gomez, however, got our attention with a jewel-toned cutout sequined dress from Calvin Klein. Both Taylor Swift dressed in Versace Atelier and Kimberly Schlapman wore nearly matching ensembles of fuchsia and tangerine. Ellie Goulding looked playful and elegant in a low back blush-colored gown by Stella McCartney. At the Grammy’s, the men also come dressed to kill. Hunky Sam Hunt got into the spirit with a pink colored suit by Dolce & Gabbana while John Legend, Common and Charlie Puth wore black tuxes with embellishments. Diplo and Sam Smith were rather debonair in navy suits complete with pin and pocket square accessories. Black and white tuxes were also popular and worn by everyone from Fetty Wap and Big Sean to Justin Bieber. Never to shy away from bold color, Bruno Mars wore a plum colored blazer and vest with matching fedora while Lady Gaga channeled the late David Bowie with a sapphire Marc Jacobs coatdress. The most noticeable accessory this year? Rings and lots of them, even multiple on every single finger as shown by everyone from Andra Day to Ellie Golding and Tove Lo.
A Trio of Mismatched Duets. Sam Hunt is one of my favorite country breakout stars and he’s not bad to look at either, but the chemistry between him and the equally eye pleasing Carrie Underwood was as mismatched as their attire. Carrie’s skimpy dress and overly glowing skin was equally distracting. Andra Day and Ellie Goulding was another odd pairing that attempted to blend the breathy vocals of the British singer with the weighty bravado of her American counterpart. I could say more, but I was too busy looking at Ellie’s overly plump lips. Is she already getting injections at her age? She's only 29 for goodness' sake! Justin Bieber and Jack Ü (otherwise known as Diplo & Skrillex) experienced major sound difficulties that left Biebers vocals flat. I loved "Where Are You Now?" on the radio, but don’t think it's meant to be translated on to the live stage. Some songs simply sound better in a club.
Stick to the Singing Please. Arianna Grande may wish to work on her presenting skills. She is getting older now, a whole 22 years of age, and it’s time to drop the little girl voice and tighten up her vocabulary. The best part of her presentation was when she broke out in song to introduce fellow artist and collaborator, the Weeknd singing, he "Earned It."
Resting Audience Face. You’ve heard of RBF (resting bitch face), well awards show audience members must become more aware of their resting audience face. We caught many offenders in action throughout the show. Everyone from Pharrell to Sam Smith were looking less than thrilled when the camera lens panned a sweeping eye across the room. When Alabama Shakes won for Best Rock Song, Elle King did not applaud or look happy. Artists must remember that unless they're seated in the nose bleed section, they must assume the camera is pointed towards them. That means no chewing gum, clapping and supporting fellow artists, bopping to the music, and smiling along at all times (even if it means through gritted teeth.)
A Night of Standing Ovations – Audience members must have been working their thigh muscles throughout the evening with standing ovations for every single one of the tribute songs, as well as for outstanding performances and winners. Kendrick Lamar was the first to receive one followed by practically every other artist who took the stage thereafter. At one point, it seemed that no one in the audience knew whether to sit or simply stand for the remainder of the show.
Tributes Galore. The Eagles may have been singing “Take it Easy” to the late Glenn Frey, but it was a distressed looking Don Henley that had us feeling very somber. Jackson Brown did his best to front the band, but it just wasn’t the same without the singer songwriter. Lady Gaga in all her regalia did her darndest to honor rock icon David Bowie during the 10-song medley, but came across a bit more like a punk Elvis on steroids. Sorry Nile Rodgers, I just wasn’t feeling it.
Emotional Shout-Outs. Stevie Wonder had some fun taunting the audience when he read the name of the category winner in Braille, but then took a more serious turn by saying, "We need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability." Here, here! Taylor Swift who swept up her second Album of the Year award had her own agenda to share as she encouraged young women to work hard and reach for the stars and not be deterred by naysayers who will try to sabotage you. Her words of encouragement were strong and resonating. And, Neil Portnow and Common made their feelings known by taking a stand for the people behind the music who receive practically pennies from streaming services for all their hard work.
Heartfelt Acceptance Speeches. A surprised Ed Sheeran finally received the Best Song award for "Thinking Out Loud" sincerely thanked his parents for believing that he would one day win. Meghan Trainor was equally flabbergasted to win Best New Artist and also thanked everyone from LA Reid to her mom and dad through a steady stream of joyful tears. The Grammys went east coast with a win for Hip Hop musical Hamilton. Still haven't seen the show, but was mesmerized when a well-prepared Lin-Manuel Miranda's proceeded to rap his acceptance speech.