It’s a good thing the all-star tribute to Lionel Richie was performed early on at the Grammy Awards. Considering the number of similar salutes to recently deceased performers that followed, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see Richie checking his pulse to make sure he was still alive.
After a medley of his hits performed by John Legend, Demi Lovato, Luke Bryan, Meghan Trainor and Tyrese, Richie, who could be seen singing along from his seat in the audience, finally jumped onstage and took the lead vocal on “All Night Long.”
“That’s how you do it right there,” he proclaimed, and it was hard to argue with him.
That the evening’s highlights largely consisted of posthumous tributes was a depressing reminder of how many music luminaries were lost to us in the past year. If your eyes were dry during the performance of “Take It Easy” by the Eagles with Jackson Browne taking over lead vocals for the late Glenn Frey, you’re made of stern stuff indeed (although the director who cut to a reaction shot of Les Moonves could be accused of sucking up).
Lady Gaga was a perfect choice to salute David Bowie. Wearing a garish orange wig, she delivered a rapid-fire medley of his hits in a lavishly surreal production number that felt like the equivalent of a seven-minute acid trip.
Bonnie Raitt, Chris Stapleton and Gary Clark Jr. tore the roof off with their searing guitar work on “The Thrill is Gone” in honor of B.B. King. Dave Grohl, after proclaiming that “Lemmy Kilmister was rock ‘n’ roll,” introduced a tribute to the Motorhead frontman performed by The Hollywood Vampires, consisting of Alice Cooper, Joe Perry and Johnny Depp, the last adding “rock star” to his list of convincing portrayals.
Other nods to the departed included Miguel singing “She’s Out of My Life” in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s Grammy-winning album Off the Wall; and Stevie Wonder and Pentatonix collaborating on an all too brief, a cappella rendition of “That’s the Way of the World” in honor of Maurice White. Later in the evening, the long “In Memoriam” segment was a reminder of what a sad year it’s been for music lovers.
Fortunately, not all of the show’s best moments consisted of posthumous tributes. The evening got off to a fine start with Taylor Swift performing “Out of the Woods.” There also was the electrifying performance of the opening number of the Broadway hit Hamilton performed live from NYC’s Richard Rodgers Theater. (Thanks a lot, Grammys…as if it wasn’t already impossible to get tickets.) A few minutes later, in perhaps the least suspenseful race of the evening, the show won the award for Best Musical Theater Recording. Lin-Manuel Miranda entertainingly rapped his speech before accepting the Grammy Award that just happened to be there.
That was followed by a literally fiery performance by Kendrick Lamar, who burned up the joint with “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright” enhanced by strobe lights, rapid-fire editing, shooting flames, a jailhouse set and other provocative imagery, and his riveting, intense delivery. Then, Adele attempted a soaring rendition of “All I Ask” that was unfortunately marred by sound problems.
Justin Bieber, sporting an adorable tiny moustache, scored with a solo acoustic version of his hit “Love Yourself” before joining Skrillex and Diplo on the electronica-suffused “Where Are You Now?” Alabama Shakes proved that all you need for a brilliant performance is a great band and Brittany Howard‘s amazing voice. Twelve-year-old jazz piano prodigy Joey Alexander performed, in what will no doubt be the first of many Grammy appearances.
As usual with the Grammys, there were more than a few awkward moments and ill-fated match-ups. Carrie Underwood, wearing a sexy outfit that Maria von Trapp definitely would not have approved of, and Sam Hunt, who apparently left home without putting on the shirt to be worn over his white T, collaborated on a medley of “Take Your Time” and “Heartbeat” that, belying the latter song, didn’t have a pulse. The Weeknd sang his hit “In the Night” accompanied by a cellist and pianist, because, really, when you think of The Weeknd you think of chamber music. Little Big Town made a similar mistake with a narcotizing version of “Girl Crush” featuring a string section, And duets by Andrea Day/Ellie Goulding and Tori Kelly/James Bay demonstrated that the sum is sometimes less than the parts.
And the finale, featuring Pitbull along with Travis Barker, Joe Perry and Robin Thicke, was a fiasco that was only partially redeemed by the sight of Sofia Vergara shaking her booty in a tight, spangly dress.