Welcome to the Pop & Hiss live blog of the 2014 Grammy Awards show. The festivities will begin in moments, with the poorly kept secret that Beyoncé and Jay Z are expected to open the show. And while Jay Z led the field with nine nominations, he's not the major story line Pop & Hiss will be watching.
Instead, the big story of the 2014 Grammy Awards is looking to be Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. The act already has three major Grammys, including rap album for "The Heist."
In Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' win, local rapper Kendrick Lamar and open-hearted rapper Drake were overlooked. Does this foretell an album of the year win for the Seattle duo?
It may not matter, as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis will likely dominate post-press coverage of the show regardless, thanks to what is sure to be a touching performance of the act's "Same Love." Madonna will join the group, as will reportedly more than 30 couples. It's believed they will wed on-air during the song.
But that's just one story line we'll be watching in a show that will feature Daft Punk, Paul McCartney, Chicago (yeah, we don't get it either) and more.
Everything below this point will be live, so forgive the typos and crazy off-the-cuff analysis. The show starts at 5 p.m. Pacific time, and it's tape-delayed for West Coast audiences.
5:20 p.m.: The Grammy Awards begin with a look to 2015, as the husband-and-wife pairing of Beyoncé and Jay Z open the show, complete with epileptic-inducing lighting, with “Drunk in Love.” As a performer, Beyoncé is magnetic, her every twist or spin around a spare stage adorned only with a chair eliciting gasps. The song loses a little of its power when Jay arrives (sorry). Sure, he’s a big shot exec, but if Beyoncé was going for bare-skinned and frisky, Jay Z seemed reserved, removed from it all. He looked, in short, like an audience member. But his rap isn’t in awe of Beyoncé, it’s about domineering. But points for the surfboard move.
New artist: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. This is the fourth award for the duo. Is it safe to say the act is the front-runner for album of the year? We’ll see how the country album award goes. In accepting the award, Macklemore said, “I want to say, we made this album without a record label. We made it independently and we appreciate all the support.”
Macklemore bested local rapper Kendrick Lamar and country upstart Kacey Musgraves.
5:33 p.m.: The artist who should have won best new artist, Lorde, then took the stage to perform her “Royals.” Yet Lorde wasn’t nominated for the new artist Grammy despite the fact that “Royals” is gripping.
It was the second straight song to get the bare stage treatment, which is a good look for the Grammys, but don’t expect it to hold, as medleys are ahead. Statuesque images flickered in the background, Lorde twitched and stuttered -- her hand covering her face and then flicking as if to keep her balanced. But her heavy voice held court. The mood was meant to convey an artist who’s crashing the party, bringing a class-conscious song to the music industry’s most ostentatious party of the year, but Lorde isn’t crashing any more. But here’s betting the message wasn’t received.
5:35 p.m.: Young pop vocalist Hunter Hayes -- don’t try to tell us there’s anything country about him -- performed a new song, “Invisible.” Quotes from the likes of Lady Gaga flashed in the background, and Hayes looked talent-show perfect. He would have sounded great too if this song had been sung at a high school graduation, but the yawn-inducing mid-tempo tune with lyrics telling us “don’t ever be afraid of doing something different” was a momentum killer.
5:37 p.m.: One puzzle solved: How would Daft Punk, an act that rarely takes off its robot masks, receive its Grammy Awards? The robots -- Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo -- won the pop duo/group performance Grammy for “Get Lucky,” and they accepted the trophy with Pharrell Williams and Chic’s Nile Rodgers. The robots let Williams do the talking.
“Dude. On the behalf of the robots, I would just like to say, ‘Man, thank you, thank thank you.’”
Bangalter and De Homem-Christo mimed along to Williams’ words, such as nodding and bowing when the hitmaker said, “Of course, they want to thank their families.”
Any Grammy voters who didn’t punch Daft Punk on their ballots for album of the year are likely seriously questioning their choice right about now, as the act’s acceptance speeches are likely to be some of the most entertaining moments of the show.
5:45 p.m.: Coming to theaters in summer 2015: Katy Perry, lost deep in a magical forest filled with mechanical horses and Dungeons & Dragons cosplayers, must sing and dance her way out of peril. She’ll fight, struggling to keep herself from turning to the goth side. Oh, never mind, that’s just her Grammy performance of “Dark Horse.”
6:02 p.m.: So the Grammys followed through on their threat to let Chicago perform onstage with Robin Thicke. Yes, Chicago, the soundtrack to your trip to the orthodontist in 1986.
So yes, Chicago just got inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, but that doesn’t excuse this genial mash-up. Apparently, Grammy producers had some time to fill, as we were treated to snippets of three Chicago songs -- “Beginnings,” “Saturday in the Park” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”
How boring was it? Chicago’s “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” is a song that sounds like it could have been a score to a 1975 “Peanuts” cartoon, as written by a volunteer brunch-time-only jazz band at a Ramada Inn in Mesa, Ariz.
“As a special treat this week, for every third omelet that is ordered in the next five minutes, we will extend our trumpet solo in ‘Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?’ by 45 seconds. So, the more you order, the more our song will get scrambled. That last line was for Mallory from Scottsdale, who I know loves some good egg humor.”
Then there was a little bit of “Blurred Lines,” a song even Thicke seems sick of hearing. This maybe wasn’t the Grammy disaster of allowing Chris Brown back on the stage two years ago, but it’s up there, especially when one considers that Kraftwerk received a Grammy lifetime achievement award this year. Since Kraftwerk has been heavily sampled by the dance and hip-hop communities, this would have been a far more relevant choice.
Maybe Kraftwerk was asked and declined, but does that even matter? Kraftwerk is an act that emphasizes robotic performances. Surely, robots would have been better than humans that lack soul.
6:19 p.m.: The Grammys are sloooooooowly moving into Hour 2 by trotting out Grammy regular after Grammy regular. John Legend did what John Legend does, singing a rather refined song on the piano. It’s a shame, as “All of Me” is probably the least experimental song on his recent album, “Love in the Future.”
Then the Grammys presented the award for rock song, which went to “Cut Me Some Slack.” Cue Dave Grohl and Paul McCartney, who each will perform later on. “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Paul and for Ringo,” Grohl said in discussing the song written for his “Sound City” documentary, adding that it was recorded in just a couple hours. “That’s what rock ‘n’ roll is all about,” he said.
McCartney added that the plan was initially to record “Long Tall Sally.” “No, we’ve been there, we’ve done that. We should just make something up,” McCartney said.
And then Grammys brought out another familiar face in Taylor Swift, singing “All Too Well.” The former country artist was in full hair metal ballad mode here, headbanging in the most uncomfortable fashion over her piano. If you’re curious as to what you look like when you sing Joan Jett songs at karaoke night, it was probably something like that.
6:36 p.m.: Pink, the Sequel. Pink once designed a tour based on circus acts, and now she must, apparently, always sing as an acrobat. Maybe it’s guilt from spending all that money on high-flying equipment, but she gave an Olympics-impressive performance. She hung from ankles and landed on her feet in front of the lead singer from Fun., never wavering in her vocals. But once you start swinging from the rafters, coming down for a duet with Nate Ruess is definitely what you don’t do for an encore.
Immediately after that, Lorde won the pop solo performance Grammy for “Royal.” By giving the award to Lorde, Grammy voters voted against heavily manicured pop. At least for that award. There are 82 awards, so trends shift every few moments, and they will contradict one another.
6:38 p.m.: The first Beatle performance came from Ringo Starr, who sang his early ‘70s jangly hit “Photograph.” He swayed, smiled and led a charge of melody back to the Grammy show. It was a grand ol’ singalong, even if Ringo wasn’t doing more than simply basking in the giant pat on the back.
The real drama came with the award for rap/sung collaboration, if only because it was a rap award that Macklemore & Lewis could not win. Local star Lamar was overlooked again, as the trophy went to Jay Z, who also delivered the acceptance speech line of the night. Addressing his daughter via the camera, Jay Z said, “Daddy got a gold sippy cup for you.”
6:44 p.m.: Someday, someone will hopefully figure out what Compton-bred rapper Lamar did to offend Grammy voters so much. First, he loses the rap album trophy to feel-good goobers Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and then during his performance, producers kept cutting away to Taylor Swift and tried to go all slow-motion artsy on him.
Subjected to performing his “M.A.A.d. City” with Imagine Dragons, a band that seems to think all musical influences stop and start at Linkin Park, this was a Grammy pairing that felt purely pulled out of the hat. Thankfully, Imagine Dragons were largely kept to a supporting role -- they weren’t given much to do other than wail away on their army of tom-tom drums. Whenever “Radioactive” from Imagine Dragons came to the fore, the started to feel a little bit like an end-credits number for “The Crow,” but Lamar was as loud, as brass, as fiery as he’s ever been. Message received, Grammy voters?
The Grammys then slammed the brakes and changed direction. Kacey Musgraves deserved a little better than being subjected to such whiplash, and performing in front of neon cactuses made it look like she was singing at the local Chili’s. But remember this song when Macklemore performs.
7:06 p.m.: OK, so first, the Grammys and producer Ken Ehrlich deserve props for bringing the two surviving Beatles onstage. That’s no small feat and it’s a joy to watch them perform. This was the first moment of the night where this writer truly felt jealous for those who were in the audience. So what’s wrong?
Maybe it’s simply that this year’s Grammys are overall just kind of a drag, but even the historic collaboration between Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr felt more anticlimactic than it should have. Perhaps that’s because the lead-up to the performance did little more than tease better things to come at the Feb. 9 CBS special, “A Grammy Salute to the Beatles.” Or maybe it’s because the two were performing “Queenie Eye,” a throwaway McCartney cut from his most recent album. It was gooey and fun and a reason to cheer the Grammys, but these are the moments the show should be built upon, not tucked away as a commercial to another special.
7:18 p.m. Some quick award notes. Bruno Mars as a solo artist has been nominated 18 times and had won only once prior to tonight. His second win came tonight for pop vocal album, which went to his “Unorthodox Jukebox.”
A little later, the country album award went to Kacey Musgraves’ “Same Trailer Different Park.” With its unsentimental eye on small-town, working-class life, this is a record that grows on you. It’s one the Grammys got right. Also, Swift’s album of the year chances just dwindled. But then again, “Red” is most definitely not a country record.
7:43 p.m.: Daft Punk relegated itself to backing musicians, studio orchestrators who let masters such as Stevie Wonder, Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers, Nathan East and Omar Hakim let loose and get funky on “Get Lucky,” Chic’s “Le Freak” and Wonders’ “Another Star.” It was a little loose -- Pharrell and Hakim were all smiles -- but it was a segment that simply showcased musical interaction, as “Get Lucky” and “Another Star” roped in and around one another. It even felt a little intimate, as the set was designed to look like an old-fashioned ‘70s studio, minus the hangers-on.
7:52 p.m.: Considering that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis had performed so well earlier, this was a bit of a surprise. One could easily think that Grammy voters would be swayed by the message of equality in “Same Love,” but “Royals” isn’t exactly light in subject matter. Few songs so bravely address income equality, and “Royals” sets its sights on tearing down the ridiculous images of wealth that most pop songs routinely throw at us. This was the right choice, as “Locked Out of Heaven” has plenty of hooks, but Mars is a clumsy lyricist, especially when it comes to writing about sex. You heard and already forgot Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason,” and “Roar” from Katy Perry is a cheerleading routine, no more.
8:05 p.m.: With so many Grammy performances, Pop & Hiss is a little behind. Carole King and Sara Bareilles paired up for a mix of King’s “Beautiful” and Bareilles’ “Brave.” The two songs mixed together rather well, and if you’re a fan of breezy, piano-driven singer/songwriters, you were surely in for this.
But here’s words to fear. When someone says an artist has performed a song on the Grammys before, “but never quite like this,” you’re right to wonder whether this was worth preempting “The Mentalist” for. Probably not. Those were the words actor Jared Leto said before introducing Metallica and Lang Lang for a performance of Metallica’s “One.” Not quite sure why it was here -- Leto spent most of his introduction saluting the late, great Lou Reed -- but if this were a tribute to Reed, let’s hear Reed’s songs. If this was just an excuse to get Metallica on the air, cut it and give the time to someone who hasn’t appeared on the Grammy stage before.
8:07 p.m.: French duo Daft Punk won record of the year for “Get Lucky,” making it the rare dance song to win this award. While record of the year is an award given to performers and studio technicians, “Get Lucky” likely wasn’t the favorite, at least if one were judging by past Grammy trends.
Voters have shied away from giving record of the year to songs that emphasize production smarts over more traditional songwriting touches. Last year, the prize went to minimalist pop hit “Somebody That I Used to Know” from Gotye, and the year prior saw the award given to Adele’s soulful “Rolling in the Deep.”
Daft Punk again kept the robot masks on and let Williams do the talking. “I bet France is really proud of these guys right now,” he said.
8:22 p.m.: “This song is a love song, not for some of us, but for all of us,” Queen Latifah said as she introduced Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love,” by far the duo’s strongest song, as it mixes personal details with a message of equality.
In one sense, it’s critic-proof, as it’s shameful that more pop artists don’t speak about issues on gender politics, social inequity or any topical issue whatsoever. This song, and Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow,” are the only two we had in 2013, and in that sense, “Same Love” should be cheered. Yet it’s preachy, as it speaks more to the converted than Musgraves’ “Follow Your Leader,” but then again, it allowed the Grammys to claim a moment of importance.
With Latifah officiating and Madonna singing her “Open Her Heart,” 33 couples at the Grammys. And you thought it would be impossible for Grammy producer Ehrlich to fit even more into a Grammy medley. Hopefully, Sting doesn’t show up on the honeymoon.
8:30 p.m.: As a tribute to the late Phil Everly, the Grammys enlisted Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and country’s Miranda Lambert to “When Will I Be Loved,” a song Phil wrote and later turned into a massive hit by Linda Ronstadt. Armstrong himself just released a tribute to the Everlys with Norah Jones, and Lambert has spoken of singing “When Will I Be Loved” numerous times. A country-rock mix of bitterness and heartache, “When Will I Be Loved” shows how the Everlys could deliver melancholy with a western swing. The Grammys, however, could have had a more powerful moment had they gone to two artists who had harmonized together before last week. How about Grammy-nominated artist Neko Case and her go-to-harmonizing partner Kelly Hogan?
8:48 p.m.: ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Retro-futuristic electronica act Daft Punk triumphed over country superstar Taylor Swift and hip-hop heavyweight Kendrick Lamar to take the most prestigious Grammy prize, album of the year, for its “Random Access Memories.” The win makes Grammy history, as Daft Punk is the first act ingrained in underground dance culture to score album of the year.
The French duo of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo kept their robot masks on and let Oscar-winning songwriter and collaborator Paul Williams do the talking. Williams started out discussing his rough days of substance abuse. “Then I got sober, and two robots called me and asked me to make an album. We are ‘Random Access Memories,’ some of us more random than others,” Williams said.
Williams relayed a message from “the robots.” Bangalter and De Homem-Christo rarely are seen at industry events without their masks on, and the two let Williams praise Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who moments earlier had helped wed 33 couples on the Grammy stage. Williams declared it as “elegant and classy as the Grammys have ever been.”
Since the Grammys first announced an award for dance/electronica album in 2004, no act nominated in the field has also won album of the year. “Random Access Memories,” in fact, is the first pure dance record to win album of the year since the soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever” took top honors at the 1979 ceremony, although dance-centric artists such as Michael Jackson, George Michael, Madonna and Lady Gaga have all either won or been nominated for album of the year.
8:43 p.m.: And that’s a wrap. The Grammys came to a close with a rock ‘n’ roll performance from Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age, cutting to credits during the latter’s “My God Is the Sun.” It’s a performance that should have come earlier, as it’s a new song (ahem, Metallica), and shows the Queens at their vulnerable best.
Nevertheless, the big news had already transpired. A dance record won album of the year. As cynical as this blog has been about the Grammys, that’s a milestone for the electronic music community, one that has been overlooked for decades by the industry force that is the Grammys.
Thank you for following along, and stay tuned to Pop & Hiss throughout the evening and into the days ahead for post-Grammy analysis.
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