The best thing the Grammys telecast attempts to do is also its most tricky feat to accomplish: the artist pair-up. For every Elton John and Eminem, there’s a Stevie Wonder and the Jonas Brothers. For every Mumford & Sons and Bob Dylan, there’s a record-scratcher like Taylor Swift and Stevie Nicks.
Yet these collaborations are one of the main reasons we watch the Sunday telecast, which will be broadcast live except for the West Coast on CBS. Rare is it to see legends from one genre working with today’s pop celebrities.
Last year brought an inspired show closer with Paul McCartney joined by Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl and Joe Walsh, but it also had some cringe-worthy moments, such as the overmatched Foster the People with the Beach Boys. So what should viewers look forward to — or fear — on Sunday night? Pop & Hiss is here to help you prepare.
The Levon Helm tribute. The smooth-singing drummer of the Band died in early 2012 and the Grammys have lined up a rather respectable-sounding tribute to the fallen legend. Aged soul scorcher Mavis Staples brings a touch of class to anything she touches, and it should be a blast to see her go toe-to-toe with fiery upstart Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes. If there’s a cause for concern, it’s that Elton John will bring the mush and Mumford & Sons will overplay it. Still, on a scale of dreadful to excited, this falls closer to excited.
Miguel & Wiz Khalifa. It’s nice to see the Grammys giving the stage to Migue, an R&B up-and-comer building his fanbase. It would be nicer if the Grammys would simply allow Miguel to sing his song-of-the-year-nominated cut “Adorn” without an assist, because it’s a prime showcase for his throwback R&B. Grammy watchers, however, will likely get to see the remix of “Adorn,” which featured Wiz Khalifia and added a needless rap in a place where the original had Miguel just getting heated. On the scale of dreadful to excited, we’re ultimately excited to see Miguel on the show.
Alicia Keys & Maroon 5. No. Can the CBS show “The Mentalist” launch an investigation into how this pairing was allowed to happen? The puppy-dog vocals of Adam Levine will surely clash with Keys’ rarely understated approach. If there’s a commonality between the acts, it’s that they share a love for slick, simple production, but the biggest fear is that Maroon 5 will trot out the reggae-light “One More Night.” On the scale of dreadful to excited, this is dreadful.
Dierks Bentley & Miranda Lambert. Expect a capable if not show-stopping performance from these country superstars. They’re tour mates, so this pairing is more an advertisement for their road show than anything related to Grammy. Both like to paint themselves as country rebels — Lambert’s songs generally tell us how crazy she is — so here’s betting this will be relatively close to the rock ‘n’ roll side of country. On the scale of dreadful to excited, Pop & Hiss is square in the middle.
Bruno Mars, Rihanna & Sting. Pop chameleon Bruno Mars can generally handle himself in any situation, because his albums make overtures to the many varying strands of vintage rhythm and blues. But then things get problematic. For Sting, every little thing he’s done of late is a cliche, because he’s perfected that art of easy-listening adult pop with dashes of an orchestra or world music. Billboard notes that Mars’ “Locked of Heaven” was supposedly influenced by Sting, which would solve one piece of the puzzle. That leaves gossip magnet Rihanna. She’s the industry’s go-to artist for guest verses, so apparently she had to be stuck somewhere. On the scale of dreadful to excited, this leans closer to dreadful.
Elton John & Ed Sheeran. In a three-hour show, there’s reason to fear this performance will send the Grammys into snooze control. Sheeran earlier posted on Twitter that this duet will feature one of his own songs, meaning no doubt it will be his nominated hit “The A Team.” If you’re not familiar with the acoustic strummer, that the video begins with the sound of birds is likely all you need to know. He’s gentle. On the scale of dreadful to excited, where does boring fit?
The Black Keys & Dr. John with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. No other announced 2013 pairing makes as much sense as this one. The increasingly arena-sized blues rock of the Black Keys has always had a bit of a swampy undercurrent, and Dr. John, essentially a musical ambassador for New Orleans, should be able to bring that out of the Keys. More intriguing is the possibility that something from Dr. John’s recent album, “Locked Down,” produced by the Keys' Dan Auerbach, will be sampled on the telecast. On the scale of dreadful to excited, color us excited.
Travis Barker, Chuck D, LL Cool J, Tom Morello & DJ Z-Trip. This late Grammy addition on Thursday could go either way. LL Cool J will also be hosting the Grammys, so don’t expect anything too crazy here, but the additions of Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello raise expectations that this performance will carry some sort of social commentary. Recording Academy President Neil Portnow hinted to MTV that this will be “a celebration of the kind of music” LL Cool J is known for, so expect a rock-rap mash-up. This is pure speculation on our part, but it stands to reason that the Grammys will pay tribute in some way to the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch, and that could be tucked in here. On the scale of dreadful to excited, this tips slightly -- skeptically -- toward the latter, as it has us curious.
Pop & Hill will bring you live Grammy coverage all day, beginning with the pre-telecast at 1 p.m.