About two thirds of the way through last night’s endless Grammy ceremony, Justin Timberlake ambled onstage for the second time, this time to flank Recording Academy CEO and inveterate pirate-scolder Neil Portnoy. Timberlake asked a question: “Best Grammys ever?” Then he answered himself: “Best Grammys ever.” Well, no, Justin. The idea of a “best” Grammys, or even an “OK” Grammys, is nearly impossible to conceive. As far as I can remember, the best Grammys ever was 1998, when Ol’ Dirty Bastard soy bombed Shawn Colvin and Soy Bomb soy bombed Bob Dylan, if only because that was the year that the entire enterprise seemed to be falling apart, with fun and interesting results. Since then, precious little has interrupted the Grammy parade of self-congratulation and bad old-people decision-making. Last night falls somewhere on a long and predictable continuum of disappointment.
The comments section here has already had its day with me for writing about how I like Mumford & Sons, but Mumford’s big Album of the Year victory over Frank Ocean was exactly what I’m talking about here: A readymade travesty that anyone who follows these things saw coming miles away. If you give these voters half a chance to reward goofball traditionalism or heritage-artist coasting over actual real-time excellence, they will never not take it. And last night’s performances were mostly rote and uninspired (the Levon Helm trio, the Black Keys Treme mini-episode) or howlingly dumb (Taylor Swift’s show-opening Cirque du Soleil jack).
But as with every year, we had a handful of true heroes and fun minor moments. From a certain perspective, it’s worth it to sit through an Ed Sheeran/Elton John duet to get a half-glimpse of Riff Raff, inexplicable seated in the third row. And so here are a few command performances and dumb, enjoyable trivialities that made last night’s death-march that much more bearable.
2013 GRAMMY WINNERS
• Album of the year: Babel, Mumford & Sons
?• Record of the year: “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Gotye featuring Kimbra
?• Song of the year: “We Are Young,” fun.
?• New artist: fun.
?• Pop solo performance: “Set Fire to the Rain (Live),” Adele
?• Pop vocal album: Stronger, Kelly Clarkson
?• Rock performance: “Lonely Boy,” The Black Keys
?• Urban contemporary album: Channel Orange, Frank Ocean
?• Rap/sung collaboration: “No Church in the Wild,” Jay-Z, Kanye West featuring Frank Ocean, The-Dream
?• Pop/duo group performance: “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Gotye featuring Kimbra
?• Rap performance: “N****s in Paris,” Jay-Z, Kanye West
?• Rap song: “N****s in Paris,” Shawn Carter, Mike Dean, Chauncey Hollis, Kanye West
?• Rap album: Take Care, Drake
?• R&B performance: “Climax,” Usher
?• Traditional R&B performance: “Love on Top,” Beyonce
?• R&B song: “Adorn,” Miguel Pimentel
?• R&B album: Black Radio, Robert Glasper Experiment. ?• Rock song: “Lonely Boy,” The Black Keys
• Rock album: El Camino, The Black Keys
?• Hard rock/metal performance: “Love Bites (So Do I),” Halestorm
?• Alternative music album: Making Mirrors, Gotye
?• Dance recording: “Bangarang,” Skrillex featuring Sirah
?• Dance/electronica album: Bangarang, Skrillex
?• Comedy album: Blow Your Pants Off, Jimmy Fallon
?• Score soundtrack album: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
?• Producer of the year, non-classical: Dan Auerbach
?• Short-form music video: “We Found Love,” Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris
?• Long-form music video: “Big Easy Express,” Mumford & Sons