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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Grammy Awards' return to New York could have used more New York

Pro-immigration Grammy speeches

The Recording Academy made a big deal about staging the ceremony in New York for the first time in 15 years but made little use of it other than play snippets of New York-themed songs as entrance music for presenters (including Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” Billie Holiday’s “Autumn in New York,” Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” an Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”), though it did give Sting a full performance of his “Englishman in New York,” and U2 pre-taped a full “Get Out of Your Own Way” at the Statue of Liberty.

The rare Broadway tribute (Ben Platt’s “Somewhere“ from West Side Story and Patti LuPone’s “Don't Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita) was most welcome, but host James Corden’s transposing of his tiresome Carpool Karaoke to the subway (again with Sting, and Shaggy) was rightly ignored by legitimate riders until they couldn’t bear it any longer and the heroic subway worker (where is he when real New Yorkers need him?) punched him out.

The one artist most identified with New York, Tony Bennett, was pretty much wasted by having him on as an early presenter instead of opening the show--or at the very least fronting an opening segment of New York songs like the ones mentioned above. Rather, the show opened with Kendrick Lamar featuring U2 and Dave Chappelle--an attempt at a traditional Grammy blowout opener via the politically charged rap “XXX.” that fell flat with even Chappelle looking as puzzled as the heavies upfront in the music business executives section.

When big winner Bruno Mars complained of “too many ballads” as he picked up the night’s final award for Album of the Year, he clearly didn’t realize that such performances by the likes of Pink (“Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken“), Childish Gambino (“Terrified”), Sam Smith (“Pray”) and Elton John and Miley Cyrus (“Tiny Dancer”) were far better than even his own “Finesse” with Cardi B.

Other big performances fell flat, particularly Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito,” a surprise loser for Song of the Year--probably because it’s been heard so much. Prefaced by a strong speech from Janelle Monae, Kesha’s female star-studded “Praying,“ while making a much-needed #MeToo/#TimesUp point, seemed contrived and overwrought; that Corden called it an “incredibley powerful and relevant performance” was only self-deflating. But Camila Cabello, who was part of Kesha’s Resistance Revival Chorus, was right on in speaking on behalf of Dreamers, she being one herself, brought to this country by her parents “with nothing in their pockets but hope.”

Logic tagged a dreamer’s plea onto the end of his perfect performance, with the recording’s Alessia Cara and Khalid, of his suicide prevention effort “1-800-273-8255.” But the country star (Maren Morris, Brothers Osborne and Eric Church) tribute to the victims of the Las Vegas concert shooting would have been stronger had they boldly come out in favor of gun control, instead of a thoughts-and-prayers cover choice of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.”

Kudos, then, to U2, for adding “blessed are the s**thole countries, for they gave us the American Dream” intro to their “Get Out of Your Own Way” performance, and to Lamar, too, for at least trying back in his and U2’s opening slot. But they should have nipped the celebrity reading of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, in the bud, especially Hillary Clinton’s surprise participation, which should have been beneath her.

That leaves the memorial segment, which had its pluses and one huge minus. Jon Batiste and Gary Clark Jr. were very good early on in honoring Fats Domino and Chuck Berry (Batiste’s “Ain’t That a Shame” and Clark’s “Maybellene,” respectively). And Chris Stapleton and Emmylou Harris were fine on Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” as many of the year’s other departed artists and music business associates were silently named and pictured.

Shamefully missing, though, was Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the beloved Russian baritone who graced the world’s greatest stages, including New York’s Metropolitan Opera. That Hvorostovsky’s family was reportedly there (he was a nominee in the Best Classical Solo Vocal Album category) only made the omission more painful.

For even in death, the Grammy Awards played up to the pop end of the commercial music business, all the more reason to love Alessia Cara’s speech upon winning the Best New Artist Grammy, where she acknowledged the tons of other new artists who weren’t nominated but who are equally talented and worthy.

“Support real music and real artists because everyone deserves the same shot, and that goes for everyone, not just those in the industry,” said Cara.

Meanwhile, some of the non-mainstream Grammy Award music categories that weren’t visible in Madison Square Garden last night and in most other Grammy show venues were represented during the commercials, most notably Lipton’s use of Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes,” Dove Chocolate’s play of Edith Piaf’s “Each and Every Day,” and IBM’s “Anvil Chorus” from Verdi’s Il Trovatore.

On the contemporary pop side, Maren Morris and Zedd were outstanding in Target’s “The Middle” commercial.



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