The 55th Grammy Awards ceremony was one of the most watched in decades, but there’s always room for improvement. Here are 10 suggestions for music’s biggest night.
Lose the clowns: The opening moments of the awards telecast Sunday were a circus, literally. An acrobat in a bunny suit. A clown on a flaming tricycle. A mime (shudder). Somewhere lost in the Cirque-meets-petting-farm nightmare was a performance by Taylor Swift. The sheer desperation to create that Grammy Moment made it a moment all right, but not the kind the Recording Academy likely wants to be remembered for.
Have faith in your nominees: Yes, lots of people are excited about a new Justin Timberlake album, but here’s a fun fact relating to his appearance on the telecast Sunday night: He wasn’t nominated. With 81 categories, Grammy producers had plenty of artists to choose from. Unless alternative album nominee Fiona Apple was busy, or R&B; album winner Robert Glasper said no, there’s no excuse. The bottom line: Let Timberlake perform when he gets his next nomination. Until then, respect the current year’s Grammy class.
Familiarity breeds contempt: This year, producers welcomed singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran to the Grammy stage. Joining him was Elton John. In 2010, producers welcomed Lady Gaga to the Grammy stage. Joining her was Elton John. In 2000, Elton John performed with the Backstreet Boys. In 2001, Elton John performed with Eminem. Elton John is not a gatekeeper. And Sting, who honored the Beatles in 2004, performed with the Police in 2007 and honored Bob Marley on Sunday, is off the Grammy guest list until 2025.
But If Elton John and Sting must appear: In case there is some Grammy clause that states that the likes of Sir John and Sting must appear on the Grammy stage a certain number of times per decade, they shall do so only as part of a jazz-rock trio while Recording Academy chief Neil Portnow discusses the group’s initiatives for the upcoming year. Speeches are better with fusion.
One overly earnest pick per year, please: Don’t get us wrong, we love “authentic” music. But between the Lumineers and Mumford & Sons, we’re one poorly timed “Hey Ho” chorus away from acoustic/pop-folk/beard-and-suspenders overload. Not that there needs to be some kind of Recording Academy-mandated level of cynicism when picking nominees, but a little sonic variety — and a bit of electricity — goes a long way.
Ban tech-speak: How much of a lamestain in wack slacks on the flippity-flop would LL Cool J have sounded like if he had used ephemeral ‘90s pop-culture jargon to introduce 2013 Grammy contenders? That’s what his constant, infuriating use of Twitter slang will sound like in 20 years. Grammys are forever — let’s not act like vapid Twitter-speak will make any sense in coming years. When future civilizations unearth this telecast tape, they’ll probably have the same reaction we did to the cryptic Maya calendar: the heralding of the apocalypse.
Speaking of L.L.: Ladies may well still Love Cool James, but Grammy audiences are starting to turn on him. He ably handled the tragedy of Whitney Houston’s death last year, but his understated tone was upstaged by the white suit this year. We understand that emceeing a major awards show is about as thankless a job as the entertainment business has to offer. But a guy whose cultural relevance peaked decades ago shouldn’t be tasked with contextualizing contemporary pop.
Cut the tape: The awards show takes place in Los Angeles, but it doesn’t air live here. Unless they’re digitally inserting Dr. John (or Sting) into every performance after the fact, there’s no reason the Grammys should be on tape-delay. We don’t care if it’s on before dinner time — we’ll eat later.
Redraw the line between pop product and product placement: Every awards show aims to be the Super Bowl of whatever medium it honors, but the border between some Grammy performers and their commercials begged the question: Where does the music end and the selling begin? Swift followed up her berserk trip by gliding around in a department store spot, and Timberlake went from the stage to “platinum” beer pitchman — all without a costume change. Are the Grammys about the music or the merchandise?
Leave the best for last: If album of the year really is the top honor, then why doesn’t it top the show? This year, the ceremony closed with an old-school hip-hop tribute that included a performance by LL Cool J and Chuck D — yet it was missed by just about everyone but LL and Chuck D. And in previous years? Who knows? No one was watching. Take a tip from the Oscars and make your audience wait until the bitter end for the big news.