In fact, after piling up three Grammys in the afternoon and another two at night, Lamar looked like a lock for some of the biggest prizes, especially after his incendiary opening performance set the political template for the night. But it turns out that Variety‘s own predictions were correct:K-Dot and Jay-Z split the burgeoning hip-hop vote, leaving Bruno Mars’ traditional song-and-dance R&B to rule the night’s three major categories. In the end, it was no upset.
As for the evening’s one mild upset, in which Alessia Cara topped critic’s fave SZA for best new artist, that is a category – much like the best supporting actress Oscar – that always seems to throw prognosticators a curveball. Cara’s terrific, but this may be one the Recording Academy looks back on and wonders what it was thinking.
The afternoon’s major surprises included Carrie Fisher winning out over Bruce Springsteen’s audiobook in the spoken word category, along with Leonard Cohen beating out fellow posthumous entrant Chris Cornell in the best rock performance category.
The Recording Academy’s political machinations also reared their head. The inclusion of the best comedy album was clearly an opportunity to get Dave Chappelle, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan, and Sarah Silverman some airtime.
Other headscratchers: what were Hailee Steinfeld and Donnie Wahlberg doing handing out a best country album award, or Tony Bennett and John Legend announcing the best rap/sung performance winner? And didn’t the Grammys lose a little face when the snubbed Ed Sheeran turned out to be a no-show for his best pop solo performance award? That’s proof the voting isn’t rigged… at least not in that way.
The evening had a welcome political edge to it, with Janelle Monae’s intro to Kesha almost overshadowing the emotional catharsis that followed. The Time’s Up issue wasn’t exactly answered by this year’s Grammys, however, with Cara serving as the ceremony’s only woman to accept a televised award.
And still, after all the hoopla about this being the year of hip-hop and political commentary, an old-fashioned song-and-dance man took home the lion’s share of the awards, with Mars winning best album, record, and song, giving insight into a membership that is changing, but certainly still holds some traditional musical values.
Even the In Memoriam section turns into a matter of diplomacy, as Emmylou Harris and Chris Stapleton played Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” over the year’s requisite roll call of the departed, with the chosen sound bites indicating whose death was more impactful.
In the end, the Grammys played out pretty much according to form. Everyone walked home with something. Even Jay-Z, who took the schneid, was given the industry icon award at Clive Davis’ bash the night before. Still, by trying to be something to everyone, the Grammys somehow made it all look pro forma. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; the show is more relevant than ever, and the egregious mistakes – think Jethro Tull winning best heavy metal or Starland Vocal Band best new artist – are pretty much over. But the spirit of discovery is long since gone. Now, it’s a matter of politics.