She won all the awards, but she didn't do George Michael's "Fastlove Pt. 1" any favors Sunday night at the Grammys.
In Sunday’s New Orleans Advocate, Keith Spera wrote that the Grammys were going to be Beyoncé vs. Adele, but if it’s anyone against Adele, Adele wins. She’s everything the Grammys like, starting with an unnaturally good singer. Against someone with big ideas like Beyoncé, her big voice will win a Grammy every time. That’s the Grammys’ fatal flaw as a set of awards—that the values of those in the technical fields and classical music and genres all about pure musical performance have a say in the big awards. Even though Adele Macklemore’d herself and did everything short of give the awards for Record of the Year and Album of the Year to Beyoncé, she is exactly what Grammy voters value.
Adele opened the show with “Hello,” which is not my favorite Adele song—though she said it’s hers—and for the first verse or two, I was with her. But the song was as big as it could be within a couple of minutes, so there was nowhere for it to go as the song went on. My nearly four-year-old daughter asked, “Why is she crying?” which nails a crucial part of Adele’s appeal. Adele’s not just a set of pipes; she’s a set of very sad pipes.
Bringing her out to sing George Michael’s “Fastlove Pt. 1” wasn’t a bad idea, but whoever thought that the best way to handle a slyly funky song about slipping out for some anonymous gay sex was to slow it down, slather it with strings, and make Adele labor over each syllable until every clever word had lost relationship to the one before it should have to join the American Music Awards. “Fastlove” became “Slowlove” and as titillating as reading an encyclopedia. Forlornly. Her false start and hyper-apologetic call for a do-over was the only human thing about that performance.
Beyoncé hardly got shut out, winning two awards, and it should have been a signal of how the night would end that the Best Urban Contemporary Album Grammy that is normally awarded in the afternoon was moved to prime time. Her performance was the boldest of the night, combining video, technical effects she has used in concert, and an adventurous dance to perform “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles” as a contemplation of motherhood with her bare belly on display much of the time. Her daring can’t be denied, and the sequence was often awesome. One shot of her looking like the Universal Diva stays in my head, but the performance also underlined the way I often find her distant in concert. I think it's telling that the sarcastic Twitter takeaway was not something specific about Beyoncé's pregnancy, but that it looked like she invented pregnancy. The comment's not fair--what was she supposed to do? Pretend not to be pregnant?--but she writes herself as larger than life, so I rarely feel like I know her better at the end of two hours than I did before a show begins, and I certainly didn’t Sunday night.
Best thing of the night? A Tribe Called Quest in a moment that everybody got right. Grammys’ love of mash-ups frequently seems forced, as in the case of Kelsea Ballerini and Lukas Graham, who seemed to sing across each other (while my wife sang too, fitting Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” in just fine). With Tribe, Anderson .Paak, Busta Rhymes and Consequence, Tribe felt more like a community in motion, with a bunch of very different voices speaking and coming from different places. I didn’t realize Paak was on drums until he took a verse, and I loved the way Busta Rhymes attacked the stage and the phrase “President Agent Orange” hard enough to make sure the Twitternet got it. From that point on, Tribe launched into “We the People” and said the thing that needed to be said in the way it needed to be said in the place where it needed to be said, with a host of brown-skinned people from around the world filling the stage. “No you're tearing up at seeing Muslim women in hijab on the #Grammys stage!” comedian Kumail Nanjiani tweeted at the time. It ended with Q-Tip shouting, “Resist!”
It was great to see Chance the Rapper get the acclaim he deserves. Musicians in the popular arena often get squishy and evasive when their faith is concerned, afraid of being pigeonholed as a Christian artist. Chance is as true to his music as his Lord, and his performance was straight-up gospel with all the accompanying passion, soul, and “soul.” Only the Grammys can make the most daring part of his art seem conventional, though. Last night I couldn’t get around the feeling that his faith marked him as the safe emcee, the guy least like to use the words that make white people uncomfortable and say things that would make voters feel excluded from his music.
Finally, Lady Gaga sounded great but for the first time looked awkward while fronting Metallica. She clearly can sing anything, but should she? … How cold has Toronto’s winter been that the telecast’s producers thought The Weeknd performing in a frozen, futuristic wasteland made sense? I loved Daft Punk closing a waffle iron to start the song and kept waiting for an appearance by the Xanadu roller skaters. … The best part of the Prince tribute was The Time. Bruno Mars and band in costume took “Let’s Go Crazy” from tribute to cover band. Admittedly, the BET Awards’ Prince tributes did exactly what needed to be done, so much so that almost anything the Grammys did was going to be superfluous, but last night I worried that a casino was missing its headliner. … And did anybody other than Andra Day want to be a part of the Bee Gees’ tribute last night? Tori Kelly looked terrified, Little Big Town were thinking through Sunday’s New York Times crossword puzzle while singing, and Demi Lovato mauled “Staying Alive.” Barry Gibb kept looking over his shoulder during the performance as if he was trying to find the camera that would confirm he’s being punked. … After the death of Al Jarreau, I joked on Twitter that Pentatonix would be sent out to do a zero-hour tribute to him at the Grammys. When they mentioned him, I thought my joke was prophetic, but no. They were sent out to sing The Jackson 5’s “ABC.” Because.