The 54th Annual Grammy Awards

Dave Iannacone

This year’s Grammys were one of the strangest in its 54-year history. With the passing of superstar Whitney Houston the night before, there was a solemn feeling in the air that was somewhat inescapable. Like when any major music star that passes, the Grammys obviously pay an appropriate tribute, but this year they only had a few hours to prepare; there wasn’t even enough time for the reality of the situation to really sink in. So it was no surprise that host LL Cool J began the festivities with a prayer, followed by a clip of Whitney’s iconic Grammy performance of “I Will Always Love You.” With the grief dealt with right from the beginning, the show, at large, was able to continue on a more positive note, despite having an eerie sense of emptiness in the air.

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band opened the show performing their new single, “We Take Care of Our Own,” with a bit of emptiness themselves. Despite being backed by a string orchestra, “Big Man” saxophonist Clarence Clemons was noticeably absent from the line up, having passed away in June. After LL’s moving Whitney tribute, the mood was in need of some serious uplifting. Cue six-time nominee Bruno Mars. Performing his song “Runaway Baby,” with some seriously impressive James Brown moves, Mars injected some much-needed energy into the night, exclaiming, “get off your rich asses and let’s have some fun, y’all!” The rest of the performances were the usual mixed bag of “hits” and “misses.”

Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt performed a simple, yet incredible tribute to the late Etta James, singing “A Sunday Kind Of Love,” which was one of the must understated, yet impactful performances of the night. The next performance, Chris Brown’s return to the Grammys, was, unfortunately, more of a miss. Despite being visually pleasing, it lacked any real vocal presence (he lipped, actually.) Jason Alden and Kelly Clarkson were next to take the stage, performing their hit “Don’t You Wanna Stay?” While they both sang great (despite Jason’s mic cutting out at the end,) it was a fairly awkward performance, as they both looked like they were on the verge of making out. Luckily, the Foo Fighters cut the awkwardness with a rousing run through of their award winning, “Walk.”

One of the night’s biggest performances came from Rihanna and Coldplay’s incredible medley. Kicking off with Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” they followed with a short acoustic rendition of their duet “Princess of China,” before leaving Coldplay to finish the set with their “Paradise.” The two very different acts seemed to find a way to make it work. Not to mention, the glowing wristbands worn by the entire audience were really cool. The next medley came in the form of a Beach Boys tribute, who are celebrating their 50th Anniversary. Maroon 5 and Foster The People performed surprisingly awesome renditions of “Surfer Girl” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” respectively, before joining the Boys themselves for “Good Vibrations.” The hilariously stiff and awkward performance had the entire audience on their feet. It’s hard to argue with the Beach Boys. Next, Paul McCartney brought some romance to the show, joined by Diana Krall and Joe Walsh to perform “My Valentine.”

After a short (but awesome) performance by The Civil Wars, Taylor Swift had one of the best performances of the night, rocking out on banjo to “Mean.” She received an incredible standing ovation, which left her humbly looking shocked. However, things had to go downhill once again, when Katy Perry took the stage to perform her new single “Part Of Me.” After a fake performance of “E.T.” (with a K.P.-double,) Katy debuted the song (basically a rehash of everything she’s done, just angry instead of hopelessly romantic, with a great amount of energy, but a total lack of vocal support. This was a near-total miss.  Luckily, the most anticipated performance of the night brought things back to where they should be. Adele’s return to the stage after her vocal chord surgery was triumphant. Kicking off “Rolling in the Deep” with an accapella intro, essentially claiming that she was back, she tore through the song effortlessly and flawlessly, receiving the longest standing ovation of the night.

Another tribute, this time to country legend Glen Campbell, was another one of the night’s best. With The Band Perry and Blake Shelton each performing one of Glen’s memorable hits, the “Rhinestone Cowboy” himself joined them, performing that very song. With the audience on their feet loving every second of it, it was Mr. Campbell who was having the most fun, not even being able to contain his happiness. After a rather boring rendition of “It Had To Be You” by Tony Bennett and Carrie Underwood, the night’s most unfortunate tribute followed. Jennifer Hudson took the stage standing simply under one spotlight to perform an abridged version of Whitney Houston’s biggest hit, “I Will Always Love You.” Despite visibly fighting back tears, Hudson sang absolutely beautifully, doing Whitney serious justice. It was the perfect, understated tribute to her legacy.

The energy was revved back up by another tribute of sorts to modern club music, with a strange medley that featured David Guetta, Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, the Foo Fighters, and deadmau5. This one is filed under “miss,” just simply for the fact that was very disjointed and sloppy. The Foos and deadmau5 did great, though. The final proper performance of the night was easily the ceremony’s most shocking. Nicki Minaj took the stage to perform “Roman Holiday” in a performance entitled “The Exorcism of Roman,” featuring a video clip and all of the Catholic imagery Madonna has ever used times 10. Despite Nicki appearing to not be doing music singing/rapping, this certainly was a sight to be seen. Whether it was actually good or not is anyone’s guess. Finally, Paul McCartney closed the show with the final three songs of The Beatles’ “Abbey Road Medley,” which brought on Bruce Springsteen, Joe Walsh, and Dave Grohl to trade off guitar solos with him on “The End.”

As far as the awards go, this was a night of clean sweeps. The night’s big winner was Adele, who won all six of her awards (as predicted,) including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year. The Foo Fighters swept the rock categories winning a total of five awards, while Kanye West won all four rap categories, and dub-step poste boy Skrillex swept the dance categories. This year’s Best New Artist was, deservingly, Bon Iver, who looked totally overwhelmed at the concept of having to deliver an acceptance speech. Total snubs this year came in the form of Bruno Mars, who was up for six, Radiohead, who was up for five, and Mumford and Sons, who were up for four. Overall, this year’s Grammys were a bit unsettling, but ended up being fairly successful.