The Grammys seemed bound and determined to not be the Oscars, taking great pains to establish themselves as the safe, drama-free alternative to Hollywood’s biggest night. They were a little too successful, since there is a fine line between running smooth and being boring, and the Grammys found themselves on the wrong side of it. The funnest moment of the night was Doja Cat accepting her award a little late because of a bathroom break that had run too long.
Maverick City Music and Elevation Worship took home an award for best Contemporary Christian Album for Old Church Basement, which led to a very sweet acceptance speech from Chandler Moore, dedicating the award to the “marginalized, unheard and rejected in this space.” It was a subtle but powerful tribute to how racially homogenous CCM has been over the years, and Maverick City’s remarkable ascendance has certainly proved the immeasurable value of a bigger table.
Beyond that, Album of the Year for Jon Batiste’s We Are? Song and Record of the year for Silk Sonic’s “Leave the Door Open?” Nothing against these artists for their creative output, both of which are very enjoyable, but …really?
There were some solid performances which is good, since those are a real draw. Olivia Rodrigo performed “Driver’s License” for what is probably the millionth time in her young life, but she still fills the song with enough emotion to make you remember why it’s a hit. Likewise, her fellow Zoomer wunderkind Billie Eilish excelled in yet another rock solid “Happier Than Ever.” But Lady Gaga was also terrific in her ongoing metamorphosis from avant garde pop star to consummate middlebrow entertainer, performing a slew of Tony Bennet numbers. H.E.R. teamed up with Lenny Kravitz for probably the hardest rocking moment of the night. The Grammys tend to try to balance young stars for flashy relevance with tried-and-true standbys for excellence, but the kids owned the evening on both counts.
Speaking of relevance, whither the rap? Hip-hop is the most innovative, exciting music genre in America and has been for some time, but it still feels like an afterthought in the Grammys. Nas, Lil Nas X, Jack Harlow and Kendrick Lamar’s cousin Baby Keem all performed admirably but you’d never know rap is bursting at the seams with rising young talent if you tuned into the Grammys. You definitely wouldn’t know there are any women rappers unless you put two and two together when you saw Megan Thee Stallion in the audience.
Meanwhile, host Trevor Noah was pleasant to a fault, offering none of the celebrity roasts or zingers that can make audiences squirm in their seats. That’s probably a calculated retreat from the vibes of previous years, where good-natured ribbing could often devolve into mean-spiritedness. That said, Noah did nicely handle a short tribute to the late Taylor Hawkins. The Foo Fighters had been slated to perform at the Grammys, but canceled after Hawkins shocking, tragic death. Eilish also wore a shirt with Hawkins’ face on it during her performance. Full credit for a tasteful homage to a beloved and much-missed presence.
Less tasteful was Louis C.K.’s win for Best Comedy Album, an award for which Chelsea Handler, Louis Black and Nate Bargatze were all nominated and none of whom have admitted to sexual misconduct. Another reminder that for all the handwringing about “cancel culture,” many of our most “canceled” individuals are thriving. Rich white guys getting away with bad things isn’t exactly a daisy fresh development in this industry, but it is a reminder that the panic around calling people out has a lot of heat — but not necessarily a lot of light.
But even tabling that issue, the Grammys still deserve their “Grannies” nickname. Music itself is endlessly evolving and surprising. The American corporation created to award them seems painfully stuck in the past.