Barely 24 hours before this year’s Grammy Awards ceremony began, Whitney Houston, a woman who’d once seemed like a cyborg engineered to win as many Grammys as possible, was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel room. Houston was exactly the sort of artist who the Grammys are built to honor — enormously talented, ridiculously popular, showy in a way that people in the cheap seats could hear just fine, willing to completely ignore any youth-culture musical trends. She was Grammy royalty before her demons brought her down, and the show should’ve bent itself into pretzels to honor her legacy. It should’ve opened with Mariah Carey or Adele or Dolly Parton or maybe even Beyoncé belting out “I Will Always Love You,” and it should’ve thrown tons of clips of her in, every time it went to commercial. That didn’t happen. Instead, we got a fairly obligatory Houston tribute at the end of the dead-people segment, and we got host LL Cool J intoning a quick prayer before hollowly attempting to whip up some crowd excitement. The whole thing felt tone-deaf and perspective-free in the same way that Clive Davis’s annual pre-Grammy party was. (Houston was in town for that party, thrown by the man who signed her, and staying in the same hotel where the party was. That party went ahead as planned, with all the usual celebrities showing up to mug for cameras, while Houston’s corpse lay three floors up and her teenage daughter freaked out in the lobby. It’s the sort of Rome’s-burning display that makes the music business look like the most clueless and heartless business on earth.) Rather than adjusting things to account for sad reality, this was an average, perfunctory Grammy ceremony and that can be a boring thing indeed.
So: A perfectly adequate Bruce Springsteen opening performance that mostly rankled because it went in the place of something that could’ve been more powerful. A whole lot of senior-citizen performers doing their best to seem fresh and vital. A few headline-grab performances. A runaway winner. Academy president Neil Portnow’s painful annual plea that we all stop downloading music. Rough stuff. But there were a few moments that made the entire three-and-a-half-hour marathon worthwhile. Click the gallery to read about some of them, and check our Comment Party post for the list of winners and videos of the performances.