Grammys 2014: A Review and Three Great Performances

Pharrell

In the immediate aftermath of this year’s Grammy Awards, I churned out a 750-word review for The Eagle. I don’t have much more to say – awards shows like this one are best enjoyed and debated as they happen and immediately afterward – but I want to spotlight three great performances that are worth checking out even if you didn’t see the entire show.

First, a snippet of my review: “Last night’s Grammys proved that some things do change. Robots can win Album of the Year. Thirty-three couples can get married in a hasty ceremony officiated by Queen Latifah. A 17-year-old New Zealander with curly hair and a sultry voice can win Song of the Year for a tune that critiques the very establishment that provided her with the award. The 2014 Grammy Awards were rarely boring, but they were often baffling.”

Read on for three catchup-worthy performances.

***

Beyoncé and Jay Z, “Drunk in Love”


Setting aside Beyoncé’s typical command of vocals and choreography, the most striking aspect of this performance is Jay Z’s subordinate placement within it. When the luminous couple walks down the stairs, hand in hand, Beyoncé’s leading the way. When Jay Z’s spewing his lazy rhymes about saying so himself (three times?), Beyoncé’s “breast-ices” (ew) and alleged domestic abuser Ike Turner (double ew), no one’s looking at the gawky dude in the fancy tux. We’re all mesmerized by Beyonce’s incandescence. Jay doesn’t even seem to mind. He knows he’s the supporting player, and he’s fine with it, because if he weren’t, he’d have to answer to Beyoncé. And we all know how that would end.

(This performance also set the tone for a night of female domination. As I mentioned in my piece, many of the night’s consensus favorites – Bey, Taylor Swift, Lorde, P!nk, Carole King and Sara Bareilles – were women showcasing their wide range of talents. Nice.)

***

Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar, “M.A.A.D. City”/”Radioactive (Remix)”


I ridiculed the idea of this collaboration on Twitter and here on the blog several times before Sunday night. I simply couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that the percussive energy of Imagine Dragons and the dynamic self-expression of Kendrick Lamar would meld together convincingly. How wrong I was. Though Lamar clearly upstaged his duet partners, this performance offered a boost of hip-hop energy, filling the void that opened when Drake and Kanye West decided to take the night off. (Jay Z was too busy playing second fiddle to his extraordinary wife, while Macklemore was too busy generating thinkpieces on race and class and sexual orientation and the intersection of pop culture and “social issues.”) That Lamar failed to win a single trophy onscreen or off is disappointing. This performance gave him the last laugh.

***

Kacey Musgraves, “Follow Your Arrow”


I’ve already banged the drum about this budding country star. I’ll just add that, despite a monumentally awkward transition from the Dragons/Lamar extravaganza, Musgraves delivered an unfussy distillation of the sensibilities that made her album one of 2013’s finest: confident vocals, subtle wit, progressive subject matter. No gimmicks. No stripper poles or hair-flipping or chair-dancing or marriage officiating. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with any of those things – Musgraves just didn’t need them, and rightly avoided succumbing to the whims of the Grammy Moments gods.

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