The Grammys Train Wreck: An Insult to Lou Reed, Hip-Hop, and Good Taste
The 2014 Grammys was, a few performances aside, a complete and utter disaster replete with puzzling winners, awkward and offensive cutaways, and plenty of bad music.
What a disaster.
The 56th annual Grammy Awards, held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, and broadcast live on CBS for east coasters—and three hours later for those not in the throes of Polar Vortex 2.0—started off with a whimper as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s album, The Heist, beat out the likes of Kanye West, Jay Z, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar for Best Rap Album. Twitter, understandably, went ballistic, tweeting jokes, e.g.: “That’s like Stephenie Meyer beating out Toni Morrison.” It’s the rough equivalent of the Academy selecting Philomena for the Best Picture Oscar over American Hustle. Macklemore himself was embarrassed, posting an apology text he allegedly sent to Kendrick Lamar on Instagram, choosing to share this should-be private message with the world to address the myriad criticisms. The Heist, it should be noted, is a solid pop-rap hybrid filled with catchy beats, R&B hooks, and some highly quotable lines, but Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city is a poetic hip-hop Odyssey by the best rap wordsmith right now, and the best rap debut since Kanye West’s The College Dropout. Later, the Grammys twisted the knife in further, casting the Compton rapper in a bizarre, paint-splattered duet with the insufferable Imagine Dragons, who sound like the love child of Coldplay and Three Doors Down.
Now, rap and the Grammys have a history of controversy. At the 1989 ceremony, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences introduced a new category, Best Rap Performance, and presented the award to DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (a.k.a. Will Smith) for “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” In addition to not recognizing groundbreaking hip-hop acts like KRS-One and NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton,” the ceremony refused to broadcast the presentation, leading DJ Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith to organize a boycott in protest. They were joined by the likes of Salt-n-Pepa, Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy, and LL Cool J, who coincidentally—and for no apparent reason—hosted this year’s Grammys.
Back to the train wreck at hand. The night’s winners weren’t the story here—it’s the people who didn’t win that are. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis took home 4 Grammys and Bruno Mars won one. Want to know who didn’t win any? Taylor Swift, David Bowie, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Nine Inch Nails. No words. The one shining bright spot among the winners was New Zealand prodigy Lorde, who took home a pair of Grammys—Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance—for her galvanizing anthem “Royals.” By the time Daft Punk was announced as winner of Album of the Year for their groovy Random Access Memories, the awards themselves were an afterthought.
One of the most egregious snubs of the night, however, came during the non-tribute to the passing of music legend Lou Reed. You’d think the Grammys powers that be could pull some strings to get some of Lou’s pals—David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger, or wife Laurie Anderson—to perform some Velvet Underground and Lou classics, but no. Instead, we were treated to the metal act Metallica performing the Metallica song "One," backed by Lang Lang on the piano. Yes, Metallica collaborated with Lou on the confused Lulu, but it wasn’t exactly a career highlight for the “Sweet Jane” singer. And, to my friends and family: please don’t play Metallica’s “One” at my funeral, with lyrics like “Darkness imprisoning me / All that I see / Absolute horror.” I’d like to be sent off with something a little more uplifting. Later, Glee star Cory Monteith’s name was misspelled during the In Memoriam segment.
Things went from distasteful to downright offensive during Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s performance of their gay rights anthem “Same Love.” As a nice lil gimmick, they had presenter Queen Latifah marry 34 (mostly) same-sex couples—including Ryan Lewis’s sister—on the spot. Unfortunately, those watching at home didn’t get to see any of the gay couples actually kiss since CBS—in a baffling decision—pulled away the cameras, choosing to instead focus on Madonna fumbling about with a cane while mumbling the words to “Open Your Heart.”
Strange musical combos abounded. Robin Thicke and Chicago. Keith Urban and Gary Clark Jr. Hunter Hayes and a piano.
There were some bright spots performance-wise. Lorde’s vocals on “Royals” soared, showcasing the freakish talents of a gal wise beyond her 17 years; Beyoncé and Jay Z reaffirmed their status as the world’s No. 1 couple with a sexy display of “Drunk in Love”; and country legends Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, and that dude from The Voice treated us to “Okie from Muskogee.” The night’s best performance came courtesy of Pharrell (and his giant Smokey Bear hat), Daft Punk, and Stevie Wonder, who combined for a rousing rendition of “Get Lucky,” which brought out the most animated dance moves of the night from the crowd. Ringo clapped; Yoko flashed peace signs; Steven Tyler tumbled for ya; Beyoncé shimmied; and Katy Perry threw “Roar” punches. Oh, and Kent Knappenberger, the first ever recipient of the Music Educator Award, has a glorious beard. I want to be friends with that thing.
But the Grammys saved one of its biggest insults for last. The show closed out with a performance by Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age, who produced two of the better—and criminally underrated—albums of the past year. Rather, half of a performance, as the show cut to the credits midway through.
NIN front man Trent Reznor summed it up best: