All hail Kendrick Lamar, who walked into an already stellar Grammy bash last night and blew it so wide open, the buzz didn’t fade the rest of the night. He was the unquestioned king of the night. His performance began in a jail cell with “The Blacker The Berry,” as another prisoner played sax, then blew up into “Alright” with pyro and African dancers. He ended by debuting a new song, his final close-ups in stark white light (very Bowie circa the Station to Station tour) with jittery camera angles to match the fury of his voice, with a line about Trayvon Martin: “On Feburary 26th I lost my life, too.” The final image onscreen: a map of Africa labelled “Compton.” Not a soul watching this was imagining a single dragon.
Kendrick was the highlight of an awesomely chaotic Grammy show – the only thing missing was live footage of Adele beating the sound guy to a bloody pulp. Ever since LL Cool J took over as host, it’s become the only award show that clicks every year. They figured out the secret: skipping the whole “giving out awards” part of an awards show, to focus on live music. It wisely took the emphasis off the actual trophies, which nobody over the age of 11 cares about. Somebody out there was hearing the name “Lemmy” for the first time, just as I was hearing Andra Day, James Bay and Sam Hunt for the first time (and in the later two cases, laaaast).
The whole Hamilton-to-Kendrick block was such a rush, nothing could ruin it – not even the fact that Seth MacFarland was inexplicably allowed to talk in the middle. “Alexander Hamilton” was a shockingly fierce moment, especially for those of us finally getting an earful of this Hamilton thing after hearing about it forever from our theater friends. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rapped speech (while somebody waved a Puerto Rican flag) was one of the night’s peaks. Taylor Swift began with an excellent “Out of the Woods,” also looking very Bowie in an astronette glitter suit, as if she was heading to a party in space, though she got right back down to business in the front row, snuggling with Selena Gomez. They posed together all night like metaphorical gin and juice. Swift won Album of the Year and paused on her way to the podium to embrace Kendrick Lamar before giving a superbly shameless feminist speech. (With maybe a tone or two of Kanye shade, you think?) Courtney Barnett dodged a bullet by not winning Best New Artist – Meghan Trainor took the award and cried a lot. The godawful Carrie Underwood/Sam Hunt duet was enough to give plain white T-shirts a bad name.