Grammys 2013: Live blogging the show
The Grammys, live . . .
8:55 p.m.: The Grammys saved the most fascinating performer for one of its final performances, and the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch finally received a Grammy tribute, albeit a brief one. First, to introduce Frank Ocean, Juanes declared him one of today’s “more compelling singer-songwriters.” He gave a performance that lived up to that bill, although it may not widely expand his fan base.
Ocean’s “Forrest Gump” began with a striking guitar solo, which gave way as Ocean appeared onstage. He played his keyboard behind a screen that made it look as if he were running in slow motion, fitting, as Ocean’s songs sometimes unfold as if in slow motion. This was, admittedly, an odd song choice for the Grammys, as it’s Ocean at his most intimate, most stark.
It was a risk, and no doubt some of those tuning into Ocean for the first time tonight left a little confused. But the fact is that this was the only performance of the night that was a major gamble, and Ocean, even in his young career, isn’t shying away from challenging his audience. He has other songs, including the nominated “Thinkin Bout You,” that have a bit more of a beat, but here he buried himself in his keyboard and let the atmospheres wash over him, and he sang as if he’d rather be whispering the lyrics to the listener one-on-one.
Many considered Ocean the favorite to win album of the year. He’s long had the support of the industry -- he’s worked with everyone from Jay-Z to Justin Bieber -- and his music is leading a changing of the guard at mainstream R&B.; Yet the Grammys went with the tried-and-true, giving its top prize to folk-rockers Mumford & Sons. It was also the popular choice, as Mumford’s “Babel” was the top-selling album among the album of the year crop, having moved more than 1.6 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Heading into the award, though, it seemed like it was shaping up to be a win for the Black Keys, which earlier bested Mumford & Sons in the rock song category. Even Marcus Mumford expressed surprise. “We didn’t think we were going to win anything, because the Black Keys were sweeping up all day,” he said.
Yet the Grammys have a tendency to favor old-fashioned stylings over the unexpected, and the final performance of the night -- a hip-hop mash-up featuring host LL Cool J, Public Enemy’s Chuck D, DJ Z-Trip, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker -- drove that point home.
There was, for instance, no hip-hop represented in the album of the year category. The LL Cool J “Whaddup” was an energetic sparkplug, even containing a shout-out to the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” but even more shocking was the fact that it featured a legend who has never won a Grammy. Public Enemy, despite a string of scathing, socially conscious early hip-hop records, is Grammy-less. It’s a category with some of the best company in pop.
8:15 p.m.: The album of the year is Mumford & Sons’ “Babel.”
8:11 p.m.: The Grammys’ in memoriam segment served further to highlight how puzzling it was that the show earlier gave a major tribute to Bob Marley. Nothing for the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch? Before a speech from Recording Academy chief Neil Portnow -- as well as an appearance from Ryan Seacrest -- jazz was given a few seconds of air time courtesy of Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Kenny Garrett, who paid tribute to Dave Brubeck.
Then came the all-star tribute to the Band’s sweet-voiced drummer, Levon Helm, and this was certainly a moment to look forward to heading into the show. It was a massive bill, with Elton John, Mavis Staples, the Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, Mumford & Sons and country good ol’ boy Zac Brown. It was a joy to hear Staples and Howard on the same stage. In fact, it’s a joy to hear Staples any time she’s onstage, as the sound of her lived-in soul is a rare treat indeed. “The Weight” is a song built for a singalong, and the moment didn’t exactly disappoint, but if there’s a quibble, it’s this: The performance should have been more focused to give more vocal time to the contrast between Staples and John.
7:49 p.m.: Carrie Underwood, despite looking like she was ready to get married, sang her two Miranda Lambert-inspired rock songs -- “Blown Away” and “Two Black Cadillacs.” The latter, rightfully, got more air time, as it’s a little tougher, a little more eerie. The strings were overkill, but the Grammys must buy them in bulk. Odder still were the light effects on Underwood’s dress, which made it look like neon serpents were crawling out of her legs.
Briefly, record of the year was another surprise. The night seemed like it was heading the Black Keys’ way, as the band’s “Lonely Boy” had a couple wins earlier -- rock song and rock performance -- but the prize went to Gotye’s slinky breakup hit “Somebody That I Used to Know” featuring Kimbra. Gotye was gracious, paying tribute to presenter Prince and all the artists not nominated, but this is another sign that voters are not yet ready to embrace a risk-taking artist such as Frank Ocean. After losing record of the year and new artist, that’s two major trophies he’s been locked out of.
7:40 p.m.: Record of the year is Gotye’s “Someboday That I Used to Know” featuring Kimbra.
7:39 p.m.: Hunter Hayes, proof that being cute and young doesn’t mean you can sing. Moving on.
7:38 p.m.: The Lumineers write every song as a crowd sing-along, and its breakout hit, “Ho Hey,” is no different. The new artist contenders were one of the year’s bigger success stories. Singer Wesley Schultz likes to stalk the crowd as he sings, and here he was confined to the stage, but the band’s communal effect was evident. Its success was definitely foretold by Mumford & Sons, but I find the Lumineers less insistent in their arena-folk.
The Lumineers had the honor of introducing Jack White, whose “Blunderbuss” is up for album of the year. White’s “Blunderbuss,” with only 466,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan, is actually the lowest-selling album of the year contender this year. It deserves a wider audience than that, as it’s a scattershot collection that touches on all facets of rock ‘n’ blues history. White offered two drastically different takes here tonight -- the more melodic “Love Interruption” and the vicious “Freedom at 21” -- complete with two different bands.
Then the big upset happened. Pep-rally pop band Fun. took best new artist, besting local R&B; artist Frank Ocean. With Ocean having been one of the year’s biggest stories (covered earlier in this post), he seemed like a lock for new artist, yet Fun., buoyed by its massive hit “We Are Young,” took the prize.
“I didn’t think we were going to win this one, gotta be honest,” said singer Nate Ruess, as the camera showed a stoic Ocean. Then Ruess made it clear he hadn’t done any prep in case his band won. “I gotta pee so bad,” he said.
7:25 p.m.: Best new artist goes to Fun.
7:19 p.m.: So the Grammys are serious in a tribute to Bob Marley right now? This isn’t a criticism of Marley, so no need to write in, but simply the acknowledgment that with all that is happening in music in 2012/2013 -- and all the greats who passed in 2012 -- this tribute is confoundedly out of place. Sure, it gives the Grammys its yearly reason to try and coax Sting out of irrelevancy, but this is bloated at its most extreme. Sting, Bruno Mars, Damian Marley and Rihanna singing along to “Could You Be Loved” is a surefire crowd-pleaser, but this is the wrong time, wrong place for this. There are awards to hand out, there are new artists to showcase, there are new episodes of “The Mentalist” to preview and there’s no need ever for Sting’s sunny, adult-pop take on “Walking on the Moon.”
7:01 p.m.: It took nearly two hours, but the Grammys finally received a wake-up call, courtesy of the Black Keys, Dr. John and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. “Lonely Boy,” the Keys’ nominated single, is electric. The song is full of riffs that are constantly recharging, and the gospel-inspired chorus comes out of nowhere. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll blitz, and performing with Dr. John only heightened the band’s bluesy, swampy foundation. It would have been nice for something from Dr. John’s “Locked Down,” which the Keys’ Dan Auerbach produced, but hey, had to get that Maroon 5/Alicia Keys performance in there.
6:53 p.m.: We were promised Rihanna “like we had never seen her before,” as host LL Cool J put it, and for most of her performance of “Stay,” it looked exactly like the Rihanna we had seen on “Saturday Night Live.” Yet here she was joined by Mikky Ekko, who was among the writers on “Stay.” As far as Rihanna performances go, this was one of the better ones. Rihanna is always best when she pulls back, when she opts to rely on her uniquely delicate voice rather than a dominatrix outfit and a flashy performance. At the Grammys, she proved she can in fact be a rather dramatic vocalist, as long as she drops all the accessories that typically come with her performances.
Shortly after, “No Church in the Wild” from Jay-Z and Kanye West won the Grammy for rap/sung collaboration. The song features Frank Ocean and the Dream, who joined Jay-Z onstage.“I didn’t think I’d be the first one speaking,” said Ocean, who kept trying to bring Jay-Z over to the microphone. But Jay-Z let his collaborators have the stage, and poked a little fun at them. “I’d like to thank the swap meet for his hat,” he said, pointing at the Dream’s winter stylings.
6:41 p.m.: The Grammy for rap/sung collaboration goes to “No Church in the Wild” from Jay-Z and Kanye West and featuring Frank Ocean and the Dream.
6:39 p.m.: You know the Grammys are having a tough night when the acceptance speeches are outshining the performances. That’s exactly what happened when Kelly Clarkson won pop vocal album, besting releases from Florence & the Machine, Fun., Maroon 5 and Pink. A surprised Clarkson gave a shout-out to the very fine vocals of R&B; singer Miguel.
“Miguel,” she screamed, “I don’t know who the hell you are but we need to sing together. That was the sexiest damn thing I’ve ever seen. What!”
Hopefully, those watching at home had a similar reaction, but Clarkson’s declaration confirmed our belief that Miguel deserved more airtime.
As an aside: Clarkson’s win here ends any chance of Fun. winning album of the year.
6:38 p.m.: It’s a big night for the Black Keys, whose “El Camino” is filled with one hard-to-resist scorcher after another. If there’s anything passing as drama tonight, it’s the album of the year race between the Black Keys and Frank Ocean.
But getting there isn’t going to be easy. The next Grammy mash-up no one ever needed was the pairing of Maroon 5 and Alicia Keys. The former’s “Daylight” is the sort of simple-enough tune you can ignore if you’re walking around the mall, but when it’s in your face, as it was tonight, it only highlight’s Adam Levine’s weightless vocals and the band’s rent-a-hooks. Keys’ “Girl on Fire” is already played out, and though she tried to stark-it-up by adding a rhythmic punch to its opening verse, it soon became an uncomfortable back-and-forth between Keys and Maroon 5.
6:22 p.m.: A clearly nervous Frank Ocean accepted his Grammy for urban contemporary album. He made a nod to the old adage that you imagine a crowd naked if you want to calm your nerves, but the adventurous artist said, “I want to look at you as kids in tuxedos and being fancy and all that.” In the category, he was competing against albums from Miguel and Chris Brown. Ocean and Brown, of course, were recently in the gossip pages, but Pop & Hiss is going to try and mention’s the latter’s name as little as possible tonight. OK, just one last time: Our reporters in Staples Center tell us that it was dead silent when Brown’s name was read.
6:20 p.m.: The Grammy for rock performance goes to the Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy.”
6:15 p.m.: Justin Timberlake has a new album -- his first since 2006 -- and it will be treated as a Super Bowl-like event all year by the industry. Though he has six Grammys to his name, Timberlake isn’t here to celebrate a nomination; he is here to promote his upcoming “The 20/20 Experience.” Said Beyoncé, “This performance marks the return of a man born to make music.”
And yes, it was Timberlake who nearly an hour into the show gave this Grammy telecast something to cheer about. His “Suit & Tie” was old-school refined, like a soul song rescued from the mid-‘70s. Timberlake is maturing into a rather fine R&B; singer, and “Suit & Tie” sounded even better live than it does on record. This isn’t a song that caters to the latest production trends, but instead celebrates traditional songcraft. Still, it does not need a verse from Jay-Z. But even better was “Pusher Love Girl,” a call-and-response big-band number more suited for a jazz club than a dance club. It was a worthy tease for “The 20/20 Experience,” as Timberlake seemed more suited for the Cotton Club than the pop charts.
6:12 p.m.: The Grammy for urban contemporary album goes to Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange.”
6:03 p.m.: With Fun. winning song of the year, the race for album of the year has opened up a bit. Fun. should still be considered a long shot, but this will add some drama to the new artist category, where Fun. will battle Frank Ocean. Nevertheless, the band gave an enjoyable acceptance -- one that was far more entertaining than its earlier performance -- as band members referenced having to spend a decade living with their parents. “If this is in HD, everyone can see our faces, and we are not very young,” said singer Nate Ruess. “We’ve been doing this for 12 years.”
Up next was arena folk band Mumford & Sons to perform its “I Will Wait.” This is the acoustic equivalent of a superhero action film. It starts with a bang and gets faster and faster and louder and louder until suddenly it’s not. And then -- boom -- it’s back to furious strumming. Having to write, I didn’t look up until the end of the performance, and that was when I finally noticed a horn section was performing with the band, as most sounds were drowned out by the rush.
5:51: Song of the year goes to Fun.'s “We Are Young” featuring Janelle Monae.
5:47 p.m.: When the Grammys get things right, they still manage to get things wrong. Miguel is an R&B; voice worth paying attention to. He’s old-fashioned without being tied to a time period and knows how to swing and soon with deftness. He’s the exact sort of newer voice the Grammys should be championing, but here they paired him with rapper Wiz Khalifa for his “Adorn,” as if producers were unsure whether Miguel was a big-enough name to appear solo. Yes, Khalifa is on the song’s remix, but let Miguel have the spotlight for his song of the year-nominated tune.
Moments later, Carrie Underwood received the award for country solo performance for her “Blown Away.”
5:43 p.m.: Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley, who just happen to be touring together (golly, what a coincidence) gave the Grammys their first medley of the night. Underneath what looked like a giant dead Christmas tree, Lambert sang her ballad “Over You.” Lambert’s better when she’s pretending she’s crazy, but her voice isn’t anything to trifle with. Yet by the time Bentley appeared onstage, Lambert’s melody was starting to sound too close to Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” to not be daydreaming of better songs. Bentley’s “Home,” however, was a real mismatch here. With its images of blood-scarred landscapes, this is a song written to be played at military tributes, not awards shows.
5:32 p.m.: Wait…. who changed the channel to “Glee”? Oh, never mind, that’s just Fun., stomping and hollering over any sense of melody or subtlety. Fun. is upbeat, but upbeat at its most aggressive. Give Fun. a verse, and it’ll send you back a choir and a song filled with shout-outs built for sporting events. As evidence, the band offered its “Carry On” at the Grammys, and just to make sure that everyone knew the band was taking the Grammys really seriously, its members allowed themselves to get doused in water. They suffer for their good-time party songs.
5:30 p.m.: Twenty minutes in and the Grammys have their first head-scratcher. The Grammy for pop solo performance went to Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain,” from her “Live at the Royal Albert Hall” disc. Adele, of course, was the big winner last year, and sneaking in an older track via a live disc simply seemed the way to get her back onstage. In winning, she bested Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” among others.
“Thank you so much,” said Adele. “This is amazing. I just wanted to come and be part of the night. I loved it last year, obviously.”
5:22 p.m.: After a lengthy (whew) opening speech from LL Cool J, in which he referenced the passing last year of Whitney Houston but had no fun or made no jokes otherwise, the show continued down its offend-no-one path. Ed Sheeran, a little Cocker Spaniel of a singer-songwriter, sang his nominated number “The A Team.” It aims for grand statements, but it largely just kind of strums along. With all its references to angels -- flying angels, freezing cold angels, dying angels -- this was a sudden momentum killer after Swift’s Halloween show. But if you’re going to write a song with important-sounding lyrics with angels, may as well have Elton John to play along.
5:05 p.m.: The Grammys are definitely opting for frivolous from the get-go in 2013. After using Bruce Springsteen last year to open the show with a somber, uplifting rock number, “We Take Care of Our Own,” producers this year decided to play dress-up with Taylor Swift. The country-turned-pop star went all “Alice in Wonderland” for her take on “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” full of surrealist art swirls and a Mad Hatter. What all of this had to do with a featherweight breakup album, I’m all ears, but when it comes to spectacle, Swift definitely seems to be taking a page from Lady Gaga. So perhaps this is one of the weirdest Grammy openings in recent memory. Rarely have the Grammys presented someone so normal in such an odd setting.
4:59 p.m.: Welcome to the 2013 Pop & Hiss live blog of the Grammy Awards. The Black Keys are off to a fast start in the race for album of the year, as the band earlier today won rock album for “El Camino” and rock song for “Lonely Boy.”
In winning rock song, the Black Keys bested tracks from fellow album of the year nominees Jack White and Mumford & Sons, which, for those looking for a Grammy story line, would seem to set the stage for a Frank Ocean/Black Keys showdown for the top Grammy prize.
In some ways, Ocean is the biggest story of the year -- he stands at the heart of a new R&B; movement that emphasizes thoughtfulness and sexual tolerance over booty shaking -- but he’s also an unlikely album-of-the-year candidate. His songs emphasize introspection and experimentation, where beats are muffled and thoughts are complex. And he’s not a million-plus seller.
But over the next three-plus hours, the Grammys will offer two-dozen-plus performances and 11 awards. Stay right here for updates.
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