This was always going to be a heavy Grammy ceremony, but there was no way to tell just how heavy it would get. Upheaval at the highest levels of the Recording Academy had muddied the days leading up to the show. On January , it was announced that Academy president and CEO Deborah Dugan – hired last year to replace longtime figurehead Neil Portnow after he advised women in the music industry to “step up” to gain better representation on the show – had been abruptly placed on administrative leave Dugan alleges that she was a victim of sexual harassment and discrimination during her tenure as head of the Recording Academy, that her ideas about bringing greater diversity to the organization were met with a mix of glib indifference and outright obstinance, and that initiatives announced after she was put on leave were actually ideas she had personally green-lit and were just being rolled out to help the academy keep up appearances. The show needed to be caustic and political, to give a class of young and promising pop stars space to read the riot act to the old dinosaurs, but calamity had other plans. The Sunday helicopter crash that claimed the lives of NBA veteran Kobe Bryant , his daughter Gianna, and several others cast a pall over the Grammys, fatefully staged at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which had served as a home base for Bryant in (of his) years as a Laker – and, last night, as a meeting ground for fans and players grieving through the news of his passing. The
mood outside filtered into the show inside
, as presenters and performers attempted to strike a balance between remembrance and uplift. Lizzo opened the show by dedicating it to Bryant. Lil Nas X sang a bit of “Old Town Road” next to a Bryant jersey. The all-star hip-hop tribute to Nipsey Hussle , featuring Meek Mill, YG, John Legend, Roddy Ricch, and Kirk Franklin, paid respects to both the fallen rapper and the sports figurehead whose losses bookended a tumultuous year for lovers of LA culture. The Grammys struggled to lift spirits and bring people together, succeeding only intermittently between moments of chaos and memories of fresh losses. As host for the Grammy’s, Alicia Keys took on the unenviable task of marshaling the conflicting energies the evening necessitated. Bringing Boyz II Men out to revisit their cover of GC Cameron’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” was the purest, saddest acknowledgment of what many viewers inside and far beyond Staples were feeling last night, a necessary beat to cry together in a room whose significance had turned grim in a flash. Keys’s opening monologue , delivered in part over piano (to the tune of a Lewis Capaldi song), was by turns both the earliest sign that we were in for multiple hours of taxing, incongruous moods and the only time the allegations between Dugan and Portnow were even tacitly mentioned
: “ We refuse the negative energy. We refuse the old systems … We want to be respected and safe in our diversity. We want to be shifting to realness and inclusivity, ”Keys said.
It was a big check that the four-hour broadcast couldn’t cash, as the night ping-ponged between good ideas executed strangely and shaky ones delivered in undue confidence. Aerosmith’s performance of the (hit “Living on the Edge”) ((the chorus of which goes, “You can’t help yourself from falling”) on a stage decorated with flames and skulls was bafflingly inappropriate. Outgoing executive producer Ken Ehrlich’s tribute –
a star-studded rendition of the staple from the (Fame) musical “I Sing the Body Electric” that got off to a jarringly rocky start trying to squeeze Camila Cabello into the mix – depicted the widening gulf between Grammy brass and industry talent so neatly that the audience cam couldn’t help but cut to Ariana Grande, who had accused Ehrlich of lying
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