To quote the great Gloria Clemente in White Men Can’t Jump: “Sometimes when you win, you really lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose.”
There were no ties at the 57th Grammy Awards on Sunday night but the winners and losers weren’t as clear as the names written in, or left out of, the envelopes. When Kanye West hilariously feinted at another stage-crash after Beck pulled off his shocking Album of the Year upset, it was a rare moment of self-deprecation from the notorious blowhard. But Kanye’s comments after the show -- along with the general tone of disbelief on social media -- suggests, fairly or unfairly, there could be some blowback at both Beck and Grammys because of his win.
Which is unfortunate because I can honestly say I’ve listened to Morning Phase more regularly than any of the other albums nominated in the category. Personal preferences aside, Morning Phase a masterfully recorded album (it also won the Grammy for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical) that's full of well-written songs with clear, specific lyrics. That’s a successful formula, and Beck’s win hardly qualifies as a travesty.
Besides, it’s not as if Beyonce has a history of Grammy snubs. “Drunk in Love” won well-deserved Grammys for Best R&B Song and Performance, and with three more wins (bringing her total tally to 20), Beyonce surpassed Aretha Franklin as the Grammy's second-most awarded female artist.
In fact, outside of Sam Smith -- who was cool and classy while winning four awards, including Song and Record of the Year for "Stay With Me" -- many women did very well at the Grammys. St. Vincent pulled of a stunning (and well-earned) upset for Best Alternative Music Album, becoming the first woman to win the award since Sinead O’Connor took home the prize in 1991, its inaugural year. Paramore’s Hayley Williams also became the first woman since the ‘90s to win a Grammy for Best Rock Song.
Women also stole the show when it came to the performances. The biggest spectacle of the night came courtesy of Madonna (unsurprisingly). The 56-year-old pop star showed no signs of her age with the exhaustive choreography on “Living For Love.” Her fellow ‘80s lady Annie Lennox just destroyed “I Put a Spell on You” in arguably the night’s finest vocal performance. And in the night's weirdest moment, Sia tapped Kristen Wiig to play her surrogate in "Chandelier," alongside the never-not endearing Maddie Ziegler.
If those performances represented the show’s peak, Jessie J and Tom Jones’ discomfitting duet of The Righteous Brothers’ “You Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” was probably its low point. The show was so packed with performances, some of the slower songs like those from Ariana Grande and Gwen Stefani and Adam Levine failed to connect. And AC/DC, while certainly not bad, didn’t do enough to truly excite many Coachella ticket-buyers.
But the biggest loser of the night was probably the extended family members of those who won, because the acceptance speeches felt like they were cut off by the orchestra about 10 seconds in. The emphasis last night was understandably on the performances, but with the vast majority of the awards handed out at the Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony earlier in the day, it seemed ungracious to rush the few people who actually accepted their awards live. Pharrell pretty much spoke for everyone when he called his speech “super awkward.”
But while the winners might have gotten short-shrifted, the Grammys did an excellent job responding to the tone of the times with several performances that tactfully touched on important social issues. President Obama’s appearance felt slightly shoehorned in but it created an admirably serious moment for an awards show, as did Common and John Legend’s show-closing performance of their civil rights anthem “Glory.” And Beyonce was the most poignant of the many performers who used gospel music and singers to add uplift to their set.
While last night’s show may not have had as many memorable moments as the 2014 show (though to be fair, it’s pretty hard to top dozens of live same-sex marriages), it still proved that the Grammys put on America’s most entertaining awards show. Sadly, as evidenced by the Beck controversy, there’s still work to do when it comes to burnishing the prestige of the award itself.
Click here to check out a list of all the winners at the 57th Grammy Awards, and for an exclusive slideshow of Grammy performances, hit this link. For all of our Grammy coverage here on AXS.com, click here.