The 61st Annual Grammy Awards was on the defensive well before the curtains even opened thanks to a series of gaffes made by members of the Recording Academy and a historical lack of representation. With a new diversity task force, a refreshed hip-hop nominee list and a swathe of guests, Mixdown takes a look at the performances that made the night.
Janelle Monae took the "showcase" performance position with 'Make Me Feel' on the night, often occupied in recent years by the theatrical medley's of Kendrick Lamar. Tearing through the coreographic playbooks of Michael Jackson and Prince, Monae was flanked by rows of funkdroid-dancers in black and white spandex and scratched through the nu-funk on a stratocaster. Monae switched in lines from more subversive tracks on Dirty Computer like 'Pynk' and 'Django Jane' with "let the vagina have a monologue" testing the Grammy censors and delighting the crowd. It was remarkable for its fearless pronouncement of sexual, racial and musical identity, but also for how joyful it remained. Monae was unfortunately left with zero wins from two nominations on the night: Best Album (Dirty Computer) and Best Music Video ('Pynk). Inevitably, the latter was doomed to lose to Childish Gambino's internet-breaking 'This is America', though many thought Monae was robbed by Kasey Musgraves in the former, all-important category. See excerpts from the performance via Pitchfork.
St Vincent & Dua Lipa:
Art-pop veteran St Vincent and Best New Artist winner Dua Lipa made an unusual musical coupling on paper, performing a musical medley of Vincent's 'MASSEDUCTION', a version of 'Respect' and Lipa's 'One Kiss'. The pair evidently planned some mirror-image coordination, with similar black bob haircuts and monochromatic clothing. Vincent began playing 'MASSEDUCTION' before Lipa emerged out of the stage's fog to place her hand on Vincent's shoulder -- from there the pair flew though an unusually intimate duet, fit with intense glances, hilariously overt pelvic thrusts and near kisses. One of the near kisses evidently worried one cameraman so much, they veered away to avoid a Grammy censor disaster. 'One Kiss' was fleshed out with a distorted solo-chunk from Vincent before both artists' tracks were melded together in a contemporary gloop. For the notoriously conservative Grammy's, it was a rare collision with the cutting edge, both musically and performatively. Vincent won Best Rock Song for 'MASSEDUCTION'. See excerpts from their performance via Pitchfork.
It feels like Lady Gaga has been part of mainstream pop’s fabric for an agonisingly long amount of time. Looking back there is little that can be dismissed as pop mediocrity however -- her bombastic costumes and wildly inventive music videos were a surprising turn against prevailing mainstream trends in the late ‘oughts. ‘Shallow’ and her character Ally in A Star is Born has recast her as an “authentic artist” -- that’s right, one that plays “real instruments”. At the Grammy’s however, the unadorned Ally of the film was nowhere to be seen; dressed in a blinding glitter jumpsuit, stalking the stage with hyperbolic flair, this was Gaga. ‘Shallow’, the most popular power ballad of the last five years, was genuinely impressive with the crunchier guitars and a huskier vocal performance in the verses from Gaga.
Twenty one year old H.E.R countered the inevitable “Her? Who!?”s whispered pre-show with a slice of gospel-flecked, refined R&B on ‘Best Part’. Backed by violins and an array of simple backup singers, H.E.R was refreshingly straight ahead in her performance, belting out a flawless vocal. In another Prince-esque nod, the song was topped out by a soulful and tasteful guitar solo.
Post Malone & The Red Hot Chilli Peppers:
Nope, no thank you and never again. After a lengthy ceremony filled with joy, tributes and genuine progress in diversity, the shaggy-haired 23 year-old rapper Post Malone took to the stage. He performed an acoustic rendition of ‘Stay’ before slipping into trap-mode for an excerpt from his mega-hit ‘Rockstar’. It was a respectable and low-key performance -- little did viewers at home know that the stage was being set for musical calamity. Out of the darkness, the unnominated Red Hot Chili Peppers appeared to play ‘Dark Necessities’ with Malone on telecaster and backup vocals. The performance was canned, discordant and unnecessary, filled with the Chili’s worst self-made cliches; Anthony Kiedis gave the crowd an awful flashback to Adam Levine’s shirtless performance at the Super Bowl just days prior.