While last year’s COVID-hit Grammy Awards made little for a ratings success story, it felt like the Recording Academy had stumbled upon something new and interesting with the more intimate, mostly outdoors broadcast show. The cast had never felt so close to viewers or each other, which led to some unexpectedly exciting little moments of star-crossover – and some uncomfortable ones too, but even these couldn’t help but be a little charming. Even the winners were satisfactory: four different artists splitting up the Big Four categories (album of the year, record of the year, song of the year and best new artist), all major contemporary artists, and all women, just three years after the disastrous one “Step up” incident. For a show that’s struggled a bit to find its contemporary footing in recent years, it was worth wondering if the Las Vegas seeded 2022 Grammys — if not officially the first post-COVID Grammys, then at least the first ones without those sorts of Grammys pandemic safety mandates that require such formalistic reinvention — could still find a way to learn lessons from the previous year.
And by the end of the opening series of performances – Silk Sonic, Olivia Rodrigo and J Balvin – the answer to that question was clear: not really. Instead of continuing to remain small, the Recording Academy instead showed its intent to bring the “big” back to Music’s Biggest Night, as evidenced by this first trio of big-name performances and big productions: Silk Sonic went in full Vegas glory for her Casino-themed 777 brought Rodrigo a Mercedes-Benz and fake suburban setting for Drivers License, and Balvin led a mini-auditorium with seated backup dancers for In Da Getto. (Meanwhile, crowd pleaser Trevor Noah incorporated a relatively tame reference to The Slap into his hosting duties, a moment of relief considering how obvious one was coming and how much more terrifying it could have been.) Of course, between the Performances were not awarded a prize; A total of only nine awards were presented over the course of the three and a half hour broadcast. “Don’t even think of it as an awards show,” Noah advised the audience early on. “This is a concert where they give out awards.”
It’s certainly fair to ask whether it’s offensive to the nominees (and to the weight of the honors themselves) to be so explicit about the actual awards part of the evening; The Oscars were heavily criticized just a week earlier for only announcing eight of their 23 categories in their pre-show, and they still found a way to extract even those wins in the main show. But the Grammys have long gravitated in that direction, as has televised awards shows in general, so it was hard to get too excited about Noah’s testimony, too — especially when the show’s early cast members were so electrifying. Lil Nas X essentially told the story of his career since his last Grammys performance in a three-song medley with dazzling design and compelling choreography. BTS gave what is probably their biggest show performance yet in the US with a “Butter” that was so full of energy and ideas (and a flirty/meme-friendly pre-song moment between the V of the group and Olivia Rodrigo) that it felt like the stage could barely hold her. And Billie Eilish made it rain with her and brother Finneas’ explosive “Happier Than Ever,” a satisfyingly final performance of a signature song in her career.
The problem? Those three performances, along with those of Rodrigo and Silk Sonic, made up arguably the five most anticipated performances of the night, at least among contemporary hitmakers – and there were almost two and a half hours left on the show when The Last of Them (Eilish ) was done. After that, it was a solid but largely surprising run of performances from show standbys like Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton, John Legend and HER, the latter of whom managed to kick out at least a little more than the jams usual alongside Lenny Kravitz and (of course ) Travis Barker. Lady Gaga got a lovely moment of tribute too love for sale Partner Tony Bennett, but with understandably little of their usual accolades, shows shock and awe. Nas played a medley of previous hits as a big band leader in a suit, proving that such Rat Pack vibes were incompatible with his street rap classics. Justin Bieber’s “Peaches,” starring Daniel Caesar and Giveon, was marred by clumsy chorus censorship and an absurdly drawn-out piano intro. It would be difficult to sustain three and a half hours of Livewire energy for a live show, but especially one that has the bill with the wannabe headliners stacked first.
It then fell to the awards themselves to bridge any lag in momentum, and…well, if you’re a Silk Sonic megafan, you have to see Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars basically celebrate Mars’ Grammy night triumphant Reliving 2018 and 4 will-for-4 with their nominations — including televised wins in both Song and Album of the Year for “Leave the Door Open” — enjoying the moment too much to feign false modesty (“In the industry we call that a clean thing!“). Doja Cat gave both the funniest and most emotional speech of the night, bemoaning the short bathroom break she had to scurry back from to accept best pop duo/group performance along with SZA for “Kiss Me More,” then shed real ones Tears about what a “big deal” the moment was for her. And both Baby Keem (Best Rap Performance for “Family Ties”) and Jazmine Sullivan (Best R&B Album for Heaux stories) to the podium for gratifying victories, the former as confirmation of his rising star and the latter as a long-overdue confirmation of her distinguished career. But Olivia Rodrigo’s much-predicted big night didn’t quite materialize; Though she took home three statues that night, only one was in the Big Four categories (Best New Artist), with her Drivers License winning both record and song of the year on Leave the Door Open and she lost Angry also just short of album of the year.
Which album did Taking home the most coveted of all Grammys, you might be wondering (assuming you haven’t watched and been on social media since Sunday night)? That would be Jon Batistes We are, a surprise nominee when the category’s contenders were first announced in November, and now surely the most unexpected winner of the award in at least a decade. (You may have to go back to Herbie Hancock River: The Joni Letters Victory in 2008 for an AOTY winner whose surprise on Sunday night seemed as genuine as Batiste’s.) It’s not an inexplicable selection: Batiste is well-liked by industry insiders, and he is We are Album is an impressive and genre-bending affair that likely appealed to voters with more classic sensibilities, while the glut of contemporary pop stars in the category (Rodrigo, Eilish, Doja Cat, Lil Nas X, Taylor Swift) may ultimately have hurt any of their individual chances . Somewhat jaw-droppingly, it’s also the first album by a black artist to win the award since Hancock, a streak we should all be glad to see broken. Otherwise, however, Batiste isn’t the kind of winner to quash the notion that Recording Academy membership isn’t in touch with current trends; The set peaked at number 86 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, spawned no hit singles, and received only a handful of reviews from mainstream releases.
Ultimately, it was probably unrealistic to expect the sort of unplugged nature of the 2021 show to mark a path forward for the Grammys rather than a year-long deviation — nor was it practical to expect another repeat of the last one’s compelling lineup of witnesses Expected winners of the year. For the Recording Academy, which has already had to postpone the awards show by two months due to fears of Omicron variants, business as usual is probably good enough for these Grammys, who still had their fair share of stunning performances and rewarding wins. But with ratings that have long been declining as the show’s run length grows, it feels quite risky to ask fans to join a three-and-a-half-hour awards show that sidesteps its biggest stars early and ends with Jon Batiste taking accept the marquee award and acclaimed country duo Brothers Osborne play the credits. The Grammys may officially be big again, but that doesn’t mean they’re too big to fail.
https://www.billboard.com/music/awards/2022-grammys-recap-jon-batiste-olivia-rodrigo-1235054752/ Music’s greatest night ends anticlimactically – Billboard