If anything exemplified the problems of the Grammys telecast year after year, it was Sunday night’s opening performance by Miami native Camila Cabello.
Cabello, who was accompanied by J Balvin, Ricky Martin, Arturo Sandoval, and Young Thug, performed her hit “Havana,” which was released at the end of 2017 and made its greatest impact the first quarter of last year. The entire world has pretty much moved on from the track, and Cabello has yet to prove she has another major hit in her arsenal. (“Never Be the Same” sort of rode her initial wave, but later singles have failed to make any real impact.)
The opening number probably should’ve gone to pop’s current reigning queen, Ariana Grande, but that clearly didn’t happen because of her fallout with the show’s producer, Ken Ehrlich. Grande lashed out on social media after she said he misrepresented the reason she pulled out of the show.
“i’ve kept my mouth shut but now you’re lying about me,” Grande wrote on Twitter. “i can pull together a performance over night and you know that, Ken. it was when my creativity & self expression was stifled by you, that i decided not to attend. [sic]”
Grande’s biggest point of contention was she wanted to perform “7 Rings,” her latest hit, but Ehrlich asked her to present two other songs, probably off 2018’s Sweetener, an album succeeded by last week’s release of Thank U, Next.
Camila Cabello on the red carpet before the show.
Photo by Timothy Kuratek / CBS
Well, Grande had the last laugh, winning her first Grammy last night for Best Pop Vocal Album for Sweetener. Cabello was also nominated in that category for her debut album, Camila, as well as Best Pop Solo Performance for a live version of “Havana,” which she lost to Lady Gaga.
However, other artists with Miami connections fared better. Jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant took home the award for Best Jazz Vocal Album for The Window, and John Daversa, who is chair of studio music and jazz at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, won Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album for his work in the John Daversa Big Band for the album American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom.
Otherwise, the Grammy show, as always, was a mishmash of odd performances and even more awkward banter. Alicia Keys was host of this year’s ceremony but lacked the charisma to make all the talk between the performances and award presentations natural. After Cabello’s performance, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Michelle Obama joined Keys to give a speech full of long pauses and stories with unclear messages.
Drake accepts his award for Best Rap Song.
Photo by Monty Brinton / CBS
However, after winning for Best Rap Song for “God’s Plan,” Drake was clear about what he thinks of award shows such as the Grammys. He reminded viewers that, unlike sports champs, whose victories are merit-based, Grammy winners are chosen subjectively by a select few. “You don’t need this right here — you already won,” Drake told his fellow artists, reminding them that if people are spending their hard-earned money to see musicians perform live, they should count themselves as winners.
When it came to the performances, women seemed to fare better than their male counterparts. Highlights included Janelle Monáe, Kacey Musgraves, and the Dolly Parton tribute featuring the 73-year-old singer-songwriter herself. And with a perfect rendition of “Hard Place,” H.E.R., whose star has seemingly risen overnight, made her broadcast debut to the broader audience that still watches TV.
But it will be Diana Ross’ performance that drag queens will imitate for decades to come. It possessed the perfect amount of mess and diva attitude. Only Ross could close out a performance by wishing herself happy birthday. Lady Gaga, on the other hand, left her character Ally from A Star Is Born at home during her solo performance of “Shallow” and instead delivered her typical theatrics without an assist from the track’s co-singer, Bradley Cooper. Viewers will have to wait until Oscar night to see the two duet.
Lady Gaga performing “Shallow” on the Grammy stage.
Photo by Monty Brinton / CBS
However, the worst performance of the night — and there were plenty of bad ones — goes to Jennifer Lopez, who, oddly, was asked to take part in the show’s tribute to Motown. When there are so many talented soulful singers out there, one has to wonder what in hell Ehrlich was thinking. The choice certainly bolsters the argument that Ehrlich, who has produced the show since 1980, should retire and let someone else shape the telecast into something that reflects today’s contemporary music and the people who consume it.
Another missed opportunity to engage with younger listeners came during the “In Memoriam” segment, which highlighted late musicians such as Mac Miller and Avicii but left out the controversial rapper XXXTentacion. Whether the decision was based on the artist’s purported crimes or the fact he was never nominated for a Grammy is unclear. However, fans on Twitter definitely made note of the omission.
But in the end, it’s all about the awards, and except for Dua Lipa’s win over acts such as H.E.R. for Best New Artist, there were no major surprises. Record of the Year went to Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” which is bolstered by its great visuals but probably not more deserving than Cardi B’s “I Like It,” Drake’s “God’s Plan,” or Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow.” Kacey Musgraves’ win for Album of the Year might have come as a surprise to many, but Golden Hour was arguably one of the best releases of 2018.
Still, by not connecting with the way today’s listeners engage with music, the Grammys are on a path to obsolescence. Not helping the Recording Academy are critical comments by influential artists such as Drake and Ariana Grande, who believe the Grammys are an outdated and unimportant pageant that means little to musicians when YouTube and Twitter metrics matter more. With the imminent departure of the Academy’s president, Neil Portnow, who received criticism last year over his assertion that women should “step up,” much change is happening. One can only hope it’s for the better.