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Rob Sheffield on How to Save the Grammys

Ratings are down, but this year’s nominees prove the show might have a chance of redeeming itself. Just don’t invite DJ Khaled.

cardi elton lorde

Elton John, Cardi B and Lorde

EMG/REX/Shutterstock, Ryan Kang/AP/REX/Shutterstock, Michael Jamison/REX/Shutterstock

Let’s face it – last year’s Grammy bash was a historic dud, even before the Sting/Shaggy duet. But never fear—it should be easy to fix this year’s show, especially with host Alicia Keys and such a stellar crew of nominees. This year is a chance to bring back the Grammy magic that can only happen with so many legends in one room. So here’s some new rules to make the Grammys rock again.

All Cardi, All the Time
Since Cardi B is up a slew of major awards, it’s simple: get Cardi into the show whenever possible. She had one of last year’s classic Grammy moments on the red carpet, when she said, “I’ve got butterflies in my stomach – and in my vagina!” Let those butterflies soar, Cardi. The world needs you.

Recreate A Star is Born
Hey, Gaga and Bradley Cooper are nominated. So is Brandi Carlile, who’s in the movie rocking alongside them for the fateful scene where the Roy Orbison tribute goes horribly wrong. As Halsey would say, “How great!” So let’s see that Roy tribute. (They could even get Andrew Dice Clay to show up and frown sadly. Dice is probably free that night.) This is a historic opportunity, Grammys – don’t let it pass by. Remember when the Oscars blew it after The Bodyguard by not bringing up Kevin Costner to take a bullet for Whitney on live TV? Never again!

Let the Players Play
What can you say about a year when Taylor Swift has the year’s best-selling album, yet snags exactly as many Grammy noms (one) as the Grateful Dead, Sting or Jimmy Carter? Here’s what you can say: Nobody gives a rat’s ass who wins the actual awards—even less this year than usual. So phase out the trophies and make more time for musical performances. We watch the Grammys to see the stars do what they do best, which is (spoiler!) not make acceptance speeches. The more music, the better.

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 10: Singer Alicia Keys on stage at the 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the Staples Center on February 10, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Caulfield/WireImage)

Alicia Keys performs with a hologram of Frank Sinatra at the 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the Staples Center on February 10, 2008 in Los Angeles. Photo credit: Michael Caulfield/WireImage

No Holograms
Alicia Keys is hosting this year’s show – a long-deserved do-over for for her, 11 years after one of the most humiliating Grammy stunts ever, the time they made poor Alicia sing a duet with a Frank Sinatra hologram. “Sing it, Frank! Yeeeaaah! Tell ‘em!” There’s more than enough living legends for Alicia to schmooze this year.

Get LL Cool J in the Mix
The Grammys and LL Cool J are a match made in heaven – whenever he hosted, the Grammys were a guaranteed blast. Uncle L can slay in hip-hop throwdowns (like his Adam Yauch tribute with Chuck D, Travis Barker and Tom Morello). But he’s also got the finesse for tricky moments like his graceful Whitney Houston tribute, after she died the weekend of the ceremony. He’s not hosting this year, but the show always elevates when LL shows up to rock the bells.

Don’t Invite DJ Khaled
This windbag cannot stop yelling his name on TV, with his pitifully pompous hype-man bellow and his Long Island wedding-DJ schlock. He makes any occasion feel so small-time. So send him an invite for some other event, hopefully in Anarctica.

Make it Right With Lorde
Last year had the fiasco when they refused to let Lorde do “Green Light” – so she just sat in the audience all night, while we all wondered why she wasn’t singing instead of Shaggy. Academy president Neil Portnow made it worse after the show, saying female artists need “to step up.” It was a castastrophic branding fail for the Grammys. Setting aside airtime for Portnow speeches is never a GOOD idea; this year, it’s an especially bad one. So pass the mic to Lorde.

Don’t Pick Up the Phone
You know he’s only calling because he’s drunk and alone. Sorry – for a moment there, I thought I was Best New Artist nominee Dua Lipa! Rooting hard for you, Dua.

Cher on stage with designer Bob Mackie during the curtain call for "The Cher Show" Broadway musical opening night at the Neil Simon Theatre, in New York"The Cher Show" Broadway Opening Night, New York, USA - 03 Dec 2018

Cher. Photo credit: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Get Cher Up There
So what if Cher isn’t nominated? Bring her onstage to belt “Fernando” like she does in Mamma Mia! – or let her perform a deep cut from The Cher Show. This woman helped invent the whole modern award-show aesthetic with her fierce Bob Mackie outfits – she could even wear the ensemble she rocked the night she won Best Actress for Moonstruck in 1988. She single-handedly saved the 2010 VMAs when she announced, “I have shoes older than most of these nominees!”

Let Country Be Country
One of last year’s most humiliating gaffes was the insult to country: Maren Morris, Eric Church and Brothers Osborne forced to sing an Eric Clapton song, as their tribute to the Las Vegas massacre victims. Ugh – like there aren’t enough country songs about mourning dead people? Don’t fear the twang – give it some love. And no, Donnie Wahlberg in a cowboy hat praising Johnny Cash did not count.

Elton is Always the Right Idea
One of the few bright spots last year: Elton teaming up with Miley to croon “Tiny Dancer.” He’s a never-fail. Let him team up with Young Thug (who just dropped his own “Rocket Man” remake) or A Tribe Called Quest (who sampled “Bennie and the Jets” and stole the 2017 Grammy show). Hell, let him do whatever he wants. He’s Elton.

RihannaFenty Beauty by Rihanna One Year Anniversary Celebration, New York, USA - 14 Sep 2018

Rihanna. Photo credit: Stephen Lovekin/REX/Shutterstock

Keep a Camera on Rihanna
All hail our Eyeroll Queen. How many award shows over the years have been spiced up by reaction shots of Ri in the crowd sneering or cringing or yawning? Her passive-aggressive slow clap for Ed Sheeran at the 2017 Grammys remains a model of weapons-grade shade. When everything else in the show is going to hell, you can always count on Rihanna.

Don’t Wear Beige
Please, people. Didn’t we learn from A Star Is Born?

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