So: Beyoncé. Once and forever, Beyoncé. Let’s raise a gold sippy cup to the queen of this and every night, Beyoncé. She owned the Grammys from the opening seconds of “Drunk in Love.” Everybody knew her big number was going to slay, and we were all correct, as she rode her surfboard with nothing but her voice and a chair and her wet hair and the most emotionally omnivorous will-to-awesome in the music game. When Jay Z finally showed up, it looked as if all he could do was marvel at Bey’s “nice planet, I’ll take it” soul power. Like the rest of us.
Oh, and then they had an award show. Bonus! But the Grammy bash this year was Bey’s night. When Jay went up later to make his acceptance speech for “Holy Grail,” he said, “I want to thank God — a little bit for this award, but mostly for the universe conspiring and putting that beautiful light of a young lady in my life.” He spoke for all of us, right? Right.
It’s bizarre how great the Grammy fest has gotten — after so many years when it was an annual chore to sit through, with more live-bloggers than actual viewers, it’s turned into the heavyweight champion of award shows. It wasn’t a gradual change, either. In the past few years — let’s call it the LL Cool J Era — the Grammy bash has blown up into a celebration of the hallucinatory chaos of pop, with less industry schmoozing and loads more music. Let’s hope the LL era never ends for the Grammys — nobody wants to go back to watching Alicia Keys duet with a Sinatra hologram. Because minute for minute, this might have been the kickiest Grammy show ever.
Last night’s performances ranged from the sublime to the WTF — often in the same song. Pharrell wearing his hat collection. Madonna in Colonel Sanders drag. (She namedchecked the Colonel years ago on Erotica, calling her feminine delta “finger-lickin’ good,” so KFC is a long-running theme for her.) Ringo Starr and his wife Barbara Bach in the crowd, dancing and singing along to “Get Lucky.” Bey and Jay swaying as Willie Nelson did “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” Paul McCartney at the podium to accept a Grammy with the Germs’ Pat Smear — two smiley guys from totally different worlds, yet so right together. (And both wrote great songs about Mother Mary — Paul’s “Let It Be” and the Germs’ “Golden Boys.”)
Paul and Ringo jammed on “Queenie Eye,” an excellent choice — it’s Paul’s best new song in what, three decades or so? (The last one this great was “So Bad,” from Pipes of Peace — which had Ringo on drums.) The best thing about “Queenie Eye”: Paul obviously heard Gaga on the radio and thought, “Bloody hell, all her songs sound like ‘Monkberry Moon Delight.’ I wrote that one in 1971. I can do that in my sleep. Watch.” So he ripped his monkberry Ram groove back from Gaga and out-monstered Artpop. Playing a Beatles song with Ringo last night would have been all wrong, and “Queenie Eye” was a brilliant moment — with the tears-inducing sight of Yoko boogieing down in the audience.
Ringo also performed “Photograph,” with Peter Frampton in the band. The only drawback was the absence of Joe Walsh from either Beatle moment, since he was so great in that Abbey Road jam a couple of years ago — but he was in the crowd clapping. (Oh well — life’s been good to Joe so far.) “Thank you for loving,” Ringo told the crowd.
Taylor Swift conquered with a magnificent girl-at-her-piano rendition of “All Too Well,” one of her greatest songs (which means one of anybody‘s greatest songs), getting all Tori at the keyboard while tossing her Stevie Nicks-esque mane, a moment that combined stark intimacy with rock grandeur. It’s crazy that Red didn’t win Album of the Year, given that it’s the most masterful mega-pop album of this century — though it was worth it to hear the great Paul Williams give Daft Punk’s acceptance speech.
It’s safe to say Kacey Musgrave was the performer who made the most new fans last night. She seized her big moment with one of last year’s best songs, “Follow Your Arrow,” wearing light-up disco-cowgirl boots amid a psychedelic set of neon cacti. Also, the line “roll up a joint” didn’t get censored the way it did on the CMAs. (Or the days when MTV made Tom Petty sing “Let’s roll another tnoij.”) Who the hell would see this and not come away a fan?
For cheap laughs, there was Chicago jamming with Robin Thicke, the only singer unctuous enough to make you miss the gritty depth of Peter Cetera. Chicago are riding high now after their great appearance in Larry David’s Clear History. (“What’s wrong with him?” “His girlfriend blew Chicago.”) But Thickago was a slobbery mess. “Oh, I wish it was the Fourth of July” — no you don’t you velvet meatball, that’s not how the song goes, and wishing it was some other day would destroy the whole philosophical integrity of “Saturday in the Park.” Is there anything this man can’t ruin? Since Chicago were into Roman numerals, let’s just say that on a suck scale of I to X, this went up to Thickago XVII. Baby, what a big surprise.
So many other great moments: Carole King sang a deeply moving duet with Sara Bareilles, introduced by proud she-bopping pioneer Cyndi Lauper. (As LL Cool J would say: Cyndi represents Queens, Carole was raised out in Brooklyn.) John Legend ruled at the piano. Macklemore had a same-sex wedding pile-up to “Same Love,” with Madonna and Latifah there to sing “Open Your Heart.” Smokey Robinson looked genuinely touched when Steven Tyler led the crowd in singing “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” singing “Dude Looks Like a Lady” back at him. Jared Leto did the unfortunate Lou Reed tribute, reciting the lyrics of “Walk on the Wild Side” like he thought they were a dumb joke. Yet once again, Leto looked confused at getting doucheblocked by Robin Thicke.
If there was a loser, it was guitar bands. The Grammy for Best Rock Album went to Led Zeppelin for a recording of their 2007 reunion show — but on what planet would you ever play that twice if you own the real Zep albums? Metallica had to suffer through a classical-piano hambone ruining “One.” And the night ended with a flubbed rock jam: Lindsey Buckingham played the acoustic lick from Fleetwood Mac’s “Big Love” while three Nineties greats — Trent Reznor, Josh Homme, Dave Grohl — played something mediocre, probably from somebody’s new album. It was a relief when the network mercifully cut to the closing credits.
But let’s face it — by that time, most of us were already busy re-watching Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love” for the umpteenth time. It’s hard to believe this performance didn’t exist 24 hours ago — it’s already hard to imagine the world without it. Guess the universe conspired to bring us Bey and Jay. Thanks, universe!