As many astute viewers tweeted once and again throughout the four-hour broadcast, the absence of Kanye West and Drake from the 56th Grammy Awards ceremony seemed like hip hop’s preemptive surrender to the hopelessness of it all. Pop beats rock beats rap, every time. Please check your delusions at valet.
LL Cool J was a fine host until Jamie Foxx turned up, briefly, to remind everyone that awards shows are more fun when you opt for champagne-flute-clinking humor rather than unrelenting sequence.
Beyoncé and Jay Z’s igniting the ceremony with a stage performance of "Drunk In Love" was, up front, the evening’s most agreeably dope showing. Indisputably: It’s 2014, and girls love Beyoncé. Later, when husband and Timberlake won the award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, the audience laughed, delighted at Jay’s wry diss of the couple’s latest Grammy as a “sippy cup” for Blue Ivy. (Seems Drake moved too slow on that patent.)
Unfortunately, even the mogul duo’s opener was preceded by the award committee’s announcing, off-broadcast, the winners for Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song, Best Rap Album:
Macklemore, Macklemore, Macklemore (in that order).
Even he saw it coming, with some measure of regret in telling The Source a couple weeks ago, “if [Ryan Lewis and I] win a Grammy for Best Rap Album, hip-hop is going to be heated... I understand why hip-hop would feel like Kendrick got robbed [if he didn’t win].”
Throughout the past year, the consensus among rap fans, hip-hop press, and #BlackTwitter has been that Macklemore’s pop supremacy itself proves that the blonde MC and his DJ are nothing but a safe mediocrity that flatters the whitest common denominator among mainstream critics, including Grammy voters. A fair indictment, perhaps. But the very language of the Grammys does seem to advantage fame and general impact over genre milestones. good kid, m.A.A.d. city is a legendary rap record, but The Heist is America’s record, love it or loathe it. If mainstream fame is, indeed, such a prevailing metric, it’s a strain to deny that "Thrift Shop," "Same Love," and "Can’t Hold Us" spun laps around the Good Kid, the Champagne Papi, and Yeezus alike. Alas.
Kendrick Lamar threw a few Super Saiyan jabs at the dry ice vapors in his crossover performance of the year’s Best Rock Performance, ‘Radioactive’, Imagine Dragon’s thumping arena rock EP single remixed with the first bars of ‘m.A.A.d. city’ and then a brand new verse that lit a holy ghost spliff to Taylor Swift’s dome. Whatever frustration he may have been experiencing, Kendrick and the band channeled it masterfully—offering further testament to the persistence that kept Kendrick hot through an officially dormant year on his part:
Tell me you love me, tell me that I, don’t give a fuck and can barely decide; Wishing good luck on my enemies, all of my energy go to the Almighty God; I could drown in a bottle of Hennessy; fuck your amenities, I’m getting better with time; AH!
So Kendrick was robbed, with the Mack-hater brigade getting some small consolation in the "Thrift Shop" duo catching a couple fades, too. Lorde’s "Royals" conquered "Same Love" and Katy Perry’s "Roar" for Song of the Year. And both Macklemore and Kendrick conceded Album of the Year to Daft Punk, for the French duo’s Random Access Memories.
So Kendrick was robbed, with the Mack-hater brigade getting some small consolation in the "Thrift Shop" duo catching a couple fades, too.
Ultimately, Daft Punk and Pharrell were the real winners last night, with Pharrell serving as both collaborator and valedictory spokesman for the pearly androids who offered no comment. Empowered by the genius pop sensibilities that had him dominating radio for all of last year via "Get Lucky" and "Blurred Lines," Pharrell bagged three Grammys in all. Daft Punk themselves won four, clenching the night’s unbeatable total.
Yet the "Get Lucky" team’s closing the ceremony with an Album of the Year win proved an oddly underwhelming upset. Like Yeezus, though hardly as interesting to talk about, Memories split critical opinion upon its release. Detractors generally dismissed the album as boring, with none of its un-"Lucky" tracks approximating the charisma and funk of the ubiquitous single but instead pillaging the ’70s for incinerated disco inspiration. RAM’s highest praise came from critics and fans who heralded Daft Punk’s latest as an apotheosis of the album-as-form, with many expensive bells and unexpected whistles, and much retro foresight. Still, few saw the win coming.
Likewise, Robin Thicke’s live tag-team with Chicago to render "Blurred Lines" and the band’s easy-brass classic, "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It is?," elicited mute blinks from the peanut gallery. I could dig it, yet my heart is like hot glue to Kacey Musgrave’s Nashville-mariachi sequins.
Toward the end of the night, Queen Latifah mass-officiated a straight/gay/whatever wedding (except not really) as theatrical framing for Macklemore’s performance of "Same Love," staged amidst an electronica cathedral set design. Take that, Westboro Baptist. And with this special, one-time offer, the ceremony tacked on a Madonna cameo in which she inexplicably yet aggressively swagger-jacked vintage Texas oil-magnate fashion. May the rig say amen.
The late in memoriam tribute was a stiff underscore of the fact that most of the black musicians celebrated last night are dead.
As Motown chieftain Smokey Robinson handed Daft Punk’s fourth and final Grammy to Pharrell—for "Get Lucky," the Record of the Year—the aging legend leaned to the mummy prince’s ear and fawned, “Pharrell, you won everything!” Yes, Mr. Robinson, because there is justice in this world. Because with two decades of hits stashed under that tall, safari park ranger ten-gallon, radio play in 2013 was 24/7 Pharrell. Drake may have called us a cab, but Pharrell got us out of bed, hungover, yet right back to the sticky floors and subwoofer bass and lukewarm Blue Moon. Err’body get down!
As of press time, sources have yet to confirm whether Pharrell has taken off that silly-ass hat.