Sunday night’s Grammy Awards drew 28.12 million viewers, a 29.5 percent drop from the record-breaking CBS telecast in 2012. (Viewers between 18 and 49 also dropped 27 percent.) The decline was no surprise – last year, the extraordinary circumstances of Whitney Houston’s unexpected death a day before the show led to a hastily arranged tribute starring Jennifer Hudson. Still, the numbers for this year’s 55th annual ceremony were strong, as the live broadcast from the Staples Center in Los Angeles landed its second-best TV ratings since 1993.
Albums may not sell the way they did 20 years ago, but the record industry’s star power remains surprisingly resilient, and the broadcast nicely mixed established names with rising talent and drama both manufactured and poignant. The world’s two best-selling pop stars, Taylor Swift (in a circus-like opening performance of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”) and Adele (whose acceptance speech for Best Pop Vocal Performance for a live version of “Set Fire to the Rain” was far briefer and less all-encompassing than last year), were present, of course. So were veterans such as Mumford & Sons, Justin Timberlake and Kelly Clarkson.
But the show’s most intriguing performances came via big-time debuts – Miguel (who dueted with rapper Wiz Khalifa in black-and-white jackets), Frank Ocean (who performed “Forrest Gump” and won Best Urban Contemporary Album), Fun. (which performed “Carry On” and won both Song of the Year and Best New Artist) and Gotye (who won Record of the Year). Making a case for the future health of rock were the Black Keys (who won for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Album and killed it with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Dr. John on “Lonely Boy”) and Jack White (who provided old-fashioned rebellion with an apparent f-bomb during “Love Interruption”).
Subplots, amplified by Twitter and Facebook, were also plentiful – Katy Perry’s cleavage openly flaunted the Grammys’ (perhaps savvy) pre-show memo mandating that stars cover up; Chris Brown pointedly remained seated during a standing ovation as his rival, Ocean, accepted his award; Brown and Rihanna, once embroiled in domestic violence, sat with each other; and online GIFs replayed Swift cheerily bopping to Mumford and other acts.
As with last year’s broadcast, the “in memoriam” section was sadly robust. Two of the show’s most emotional highlights were tributes to the Band‘s Levon Helm (starring Elton John and an overwhelming Mavis Staples) and the closing hip-hop homage to Beastie Boy Adam “MCA” Yauch (with Public Enemy‘s Chuck D, host LL Cool J and Rage Against the Machine‘s Tom Morello). If Ocean, Miguel, Fun., Black Keys and Gotye develop to their potential, perhaps future Grammys won’t need death for ratings success.