Photo Credit: Getty Images for The Recording Academy (All Photos)
Award show attendance has been reliably falling year-on-year and this year, the Recording Academy seemed less concerned than ever about doing anything to revert that trend, with an overlong, self-indulgent ceremony that ran for a seemingly never-ending 2 hours and 33 minutes. Beyond making a deeply regrettable choice for Best Comedy Album, the Grammys made no major errors – notably, they did not give any awards to the largely meritless latest LPs from Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber. However, it’s hard to shake the feeling of opportunities lost.
In recent years, the Grammys – for all their faults – have made admirable attempts to get ahead of the curve, or at least catch up to it. In 2020, they gave all four major awards to pop innovator Billie Eilish and in 2021, they nominated rock’s best and brightest – HAIM, Big Thief, Phoebe Bridgers, and Fiona Apple – in a thrilling, largely unexpected twist. This year, rock nominations went back to being dominated by tired legacy acts, and the night’s biggest prizes were saved for the likes of Jon Batiste and Silk Sonic; both of whom created pristine retro-pastiches with their latest projects, but neither feels like it will be looked back on in a decade as hugely definitive or significant.
If the Grammys wanted their first show post-pandemic restrictions to stay classy, they did their job, but it’s hard to miss the courage of the Grammys of old. When the Grammys formed 64 years ago, its express mission was to award quality music regardless of commercial success. This has never quite been the case, but at their best, the Grammys have at least tried to live up to this; awarding Kacey Musgraves Album of the Year over Cardi B and Drake in 2019, or giving Arcade Fire that same award over Katy Perry and Eminem in 2011.
The 64th Grammy Awards felt undeniably safe; nowhere is this more emblematic than in the snubbing of Lil Nas X; who lost all 5 awards he was nominated for. While his debut full-length was occasionally undercooked, at its best it was an endlessly bold pop-rap crossover that unquestionably represented a watershed moment for LGBTQ+ representation in music, and hip-hop in particular. The Grammy’s failure to recognize his contributions is emblematic of the chasm between their express goal of awarding groundbreaking artistic achievement and the reality of the old guard of the recording academy steering clear of anything too out-there.
Outside of the big four, the Academy had more success. Long overdue, SZA finally won a Grammy for her contributions to Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me More”, while Jazmine Sullivan took home two awards for her phenomenal 2021 effort Heaux Tales. Meanwhile, though it would have been nice to see 2021’s breakthrough indie artist Japanese Breakfast take home the award for Best Alternative Album, it’s hard to bemoan the phenomenal Daddy’s Home winning it.
Perhaps the Grammy’s saving grace was the live performances. Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak brought effortless cool with their opening performance of “777”, Lil Nas X and BTS were delightfully bold in their respective performances, while Olivia Rodrigo proved herself to be a fantastic vocalist for the umpteenth time with her live rendition of her breakthrough hit “Drivers License” – as did the always fantastic Brandi Carlile with “Right On Time”. It was even hard to begrudge Lady Gaga’s earnest if slightly over-the-top tribute to Tony Bennett (I mean, what other mode would you expect from her at this point).
The real show stopper, however, was Billie Eilish’s rendition of “Happier Than Ever” with her brother Finneas. On a night where the Recording Academy infamously botched a tribute to trailblazer Virgil Abloh, seeing Billie perform against a backdrop of furious guitars and drums while wearing a t-shirt depicting the late, great Taylor Hawkins was perhaps the most moving moment of the night. After all, what better tribute could there be to the legendary drummer other than a visceral reminder that rock isn’t dead, but stronger than ever.