Last night, the 2016 Grammy Awards aired on CBS and it was full of tributes, sound glitches and a performance that will go down the history books. Here’s our take on the most memorable moments of the night.
• Kendrick Lamar put Compton in Africa. It’s not really that surprising that Kendrick Lamar, who was nominated for 11 Grammys and took home five (sweeping the Rap categories), had the most electric performance of the night. He’s consistently delivered every time he’s shown up on live television this year, and the Grammys was obviously his biggest live TV stage to date—his performance was supposed to be breathtaking. And it was.
The musicality and conceptualism of To Pimp a Butterfly lends itself to high-energy, artistic performances, and with each showing, it becomes more obvious that his live appearances were always planned to be part of a package deal—album, video, live performance. It’s hard to describe K.Dot’s TV appearances over the past year as anything but high-quality performance art, and that’s exactly what his showing on music’s so-called “biggest night” was. It was electrifying, daring and dripping with creativity and consciousness.
When, after being introduced by a solemn Don Cheadle, he emerged on stage in prison clothes, leading a chain gang of black men to start his set, host LL Cool J‘s claims that his performance would instantly trend on social media were validated. Kendrick was fully committed the entire time, his face twisted in agony when speaking of the ills of being young and black in America on “The Blacker The Berry” before switching to intense and fiery as African dancers swarmed him as he spoke defiantly of withstanding both spiritual and societal temptations on the protest anthem, “Alright”.
By the time Kendrick ended with a never-before heard song, standing strong, illuminated by a crisp black and white backdrop that showed his hometown, Compton inside of Africa, it was clear that we’d witnessed not only the best performance of the night, but history.
• The tributes were never-ending. What is up with 2016 and the loss of musical icons? To that end, could the tribute to Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White, who passed away earlier this month at 74, have been longer? Absolutely. Still, Stevie Wonder delivered an obviously heartfelt rendition of the 1975 classic, “That’s the Way of the World” with the help of a cappella group, Pentatonix. It would’ve been great to see EWF receive a bit more shine, but they did receive a Lifetime Achievement Award and the group also presented Record of the Year, so… yay, Grammys?
Lady Gaga‘s tribute to David Bowie did well in paying homage to the innovative star, particularly because her own career trajectory has some obvious parallels. While it seemed as though maybe too many songs were stuffed into her medley, you got the sense that this was purposely done— one, to showcase Bowie’s ever-evolving style, and two, to introduce him to younger audiences who may’ve only been vaguely familiar with his influence. Bowie’s friend and frequent collaborator, Nile Rodgers joined Gaga on stage, playing guitar, as did Raphael Saadiq on bass, though he strangely didn’t receive an introduction. Why, exactly, is that?
While Gaga’s Bowie medley was fun to watch, the best tribute of the night went to B.B. King, who was honored by Gary Clark, Jr., new Grammy-winner Chris Stapelton and the legendary Bonnie Raitt with a soul-stirring rendition of “The Thrill Is Gone.” The second the three hit the stage, the temperature went up, moonshine came out and the place started smelling like hot cakes. Raitt, who is underrated as a guitarist, showed us exactly why that’s the case, and Clark, with his mean-intensity was all in, as was Stapelton with his powerhouse vocal chops. Honestly, they might’ve had the best pure musical performance of the night.
• Alabama Shakes probably sold some more records, and won some more black fans in the process. While the Shakes won four awards last night, Brittany Howard made a fan out of the uninitiated with her performance of “Don’t Wanna Fight” from their stellar sophomore album, Sound & Color, which was appropriately nominated for Album of the Year (they lost to Taylor Swift’s 1989). “Gimme All Your Love” probably would’ve earned even more fans, as it more readily showcases Howard’s powerful pipes with its slow-rolling groove. But then, draped in Al Green-white, strumming the hell out of an aqua-colored guitar, while channeling Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a solid way to make an impression too.
• The acceptance speeches were highly entertaining. Yes, everyone is talking about Taylor Swift’s speech, which was 30 percent girl power, 20 percent after school special and 50 percent clap back at Kanye West. Yes, the Taylor Swift-Kanye West saga continues… almost a decade later. Taylor wins this round, since, as she so eloquently pointed out in her speech, she just became the first woman to win Album of Year, twice. “I want to say to all the young women out there: There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame, but if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there. And that will be the greatest feeling in the world.” Yeah! Uh, take that, Pablo.
Taylor got in quick jab, but the best acceptance speech of the night and possibly ever, goes to Lin-Manuel Miranda, who won for Hamilton and rhymed the entire time. There goes any chance ever of copping tickets to see the Broadway show.
• Adele’s sound hits a glitch and the entire performance falls flat. Yes, the sound was messed up at the beginning of her performance but that, honestly, had nothing to do with her vocal struggle to climb the mountaintop, as she belted out “All I Ask.” She later went on Twitter to explain exactly what had happened: “The piano mics fell on to the piano strings, that’s what the guitar sound was. It made it sound out of tune. S— happens. X.” No worries. Next year, after 25 is eligible, she’ll own The Grammys.