The Grammy Awards, whose 59th edition took place at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday night, is essentially a series of performances interrupted by speeches. Depending on the state of the world, these may be topical or not. See below.
This year, with “Late Late Show” host James Corden replacing fellow CBS stablemate LL Cool J as host — CBS broadcast the show — some comedy was added to the mix. It’s not a bad idea in a 3½-hour show to work a little humor in every 45 minutes or so.
And Corden, who has a pitched-to-the-back-of-the-hall energy that sits well in a basketball arena, was a natural choice. His notoriety is built on the viral success of his “Carpool Karaoke” franchise, which reminds you that inside every pop star is a nerdy kid holding a hairbrush for a microphone, and the host is himself a singer confident enough to throw an unrehearsed harmony line onto a duet with Lady Gaga or Adele.
It was Adele, in fact, who opened the show, amid a circle of lights in an otherwise dark space, singing “Hello,” which later would win song of the year. There was a kind of mix-tape logic in the choice, given the title, and as a quiet display of pure musicality it was a nice way to begin.
Corden came on after, with a set-malfunction joke, as the elevator carrying him to the top of a stairway stopped halfway; he clambered up, and then, in an excellent and surprising bit of slapstick, disappeared between steps; then having clambered up again, rolled the rest of the way down.
Though he did not sing, he rapped his opening monologue, working in names known and less known. (“Sturgill Simpson is here, and Google just crashed / Everyone typin’ ‘Who the hell is that?’”)
Corden’s contributions for the rest of the night emphasized self-deprecation. Introducing Gina Rodriguez, he said, “She plays ‘Jane the Virgin’ on TV; I played James the virgin until my 31st birthday.”
One bit had viewers supposedly tweeting their thoughts on the show, all of them digs at Corden: “Bring back LL Cool J,” “I wish I could Brexit this host,” “This host has one of those classic punchable faces.” And from @realDonaldTrump: “Just as I predicted, Corden doing a GREAT job as host. Terrific.”
“The negative ones are fake,” Corden said topically.
As the first big awards show of the Trump administration, one would have expected a modicum of political speech, and a modicum is about what we got. Corden ended his show-opening rap with the couplet, “Live it up because this is the best / And with President Trump we don’t know what comes next.” Jennifer Lopez read a quote from Toni Morrison: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work, there is no time for despair.”
There was a “Resist” from somewhere within A Tribe Called Quest. There was the image of the Constitution at the end of Katy Perry’s spot — her “Chained to the Rhythm,” performed with Skip Marley, was as political a song as was offered.
Beyoncé, accepting an award for urban/contemporary album for “Lemonade,” declared, “It’s vital that we learn from the past and recognize our tendencies to repeat our mistakes.” Transgender actress Laverne Cox, in introducing the Lady Gaga/Metallica mash-up, asked the audience to “Please Google Gavin Grimm.”
While some performances reached for something that transcended category, many were straightforward renditions of popular songs whose effect varied with one’s prior interest in the artist or style.
It’s all peaks and long, long, long, if often scenic valleys with the Grammys.
Highlights included a very pregnant Beyoncé, all golden, a kind of Afro-Asian space empress, surrounded by flowing waves of dancers, tipping back in a chair so far it made you say, “Hey, the baby.”
Like that of Adele — her “rival” in the media at least — it was a performance rooted in stillness and the more powerful for it. There was the remarkable stagecraft of Perry’s performance. The pairing of Lady Gaga and Metallica seemed like heavy-metal tourism on her part, if of a particularly committed sort (and there was fire).
John Legend and Cynthia Erivo sang “God Only Knows” to introduce the in-memoriam sequence, for a year nearly defined by loss; the Time returned; and Adele’s show-closing tribute to Beyoncé after the Brit took all the major awards they were in competition for, was heartfelt and moving and came three hours and forty minutes after the show began.
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd