The 59th Annual Grammy Awards: TV Review

As usual, if you wanted to know who won any but the most major awards, you had to go online.

Adele and Beyonce provide the highlights in an evening marked by performer mash-ups, political commentary and memorial tributes.

Poor Adele just doesn’t seem to have any luck at the Grammy Awards. Not in terms of winning them — she does just fine in that department. But for the second year in a role, the singer ran into technical difficulties with her performance. Paying tribute to the late George Michael on Sunday night with an orchestral reimagining of “Fastlove,” Adele abruptly stopped moments in, then cursed (bleeped out by those fast-on-the-draw CBS censors) and said that she wanted to begin again. She then delivered the song flawlessly, and was in tears at its conclusion. Most of the audience seemed to be crying as well. Later, her acceptance speech when she won song of the year was ruined when play-off music drowned out her collaborator and co-winner Greg Kurstin, prompting loud boos from the crowd. When the duo later won for record of the year, Adele chided, “You cut him off last time!”

Otherwise, the 59th Grammy Awards followed its usual pattern of emphasizing performances over, um, awards, which seemed to be delivered as afterthoughts. If you wanted to know who won the vast majority of the prizes, you had to go online. If the Oscars followed suit, all you would see are film clips.

James Corden took over as host this year, and his strenuous efforts made you miss the laid-back vibe of LL Cool J. The talk show host made his first appearance pretending to deal with mishaps including a malfunctioning riser and falling through stairs, but the bit felt forced. He then performed a rap number, which only demonstrated that hip-hop is not his strength. To no one’s surprise, he introduced a “Carpool Karaoke” segment, in this case performed live with an elaborate wearable car mock-up. Among those he enlisted to join him on Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” was Diamond himself, as well Jennifer Lopez, John Legend, Keith Urban, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and, adorably, Blue Ivy Carter.

The evening was essentially one long contest between Adele and Beyonce, and neither disappointed. Adele opened the show with a stark rendition of “Hello” that was all the more striking for its lack of dancers, pyrotechnics or acrobats hanging from the ceiling. All she needed was her powerful voice.

Queen Bey, on the other hand, pulled out all the stops. After being introduced by her mother, the singer sang “Love Drought” from her album Lemonade in a production number that was as much music video as live performance, its opening moments resembling the credits for a James Bond film. Clad in a golden headdress and displaying her bulging tummy — hey, does anyone know that she’s pregnant? — she delivered the sort of epic production that has become standard for her. It was fabulous and stunning, even if you couldn’t avoid the feeling that she’s beginning to enter into the realm of self-parody.

As has become distressingly demonstrated in recent years, the Grammys now double as a de facto memorial service. This evening was no exception; besides the aforementioned George Michael salute, there was a tribute to Prince that featured The Time and, appropriately clad in purple, Bruno Mars, performing an electrifying version of “Let’s Go Crazy.” Fortunately, surviving member Barry Gibb was on hand to watch the tribute to The Bee Gees, even singing along to his own songs. Unfortunately, he had to listen to them as performed by the bizarre assemblage of Demi Lovato, Tori Kelly, Andra Day and Little Big Town (because, really, when you think of The Bee Gees, you think of Little Big Town). Finally, there was an “In Memorium” segment — bookended by John Legend and Cynthia Erivo singing “God Only Knows” — that featured so many beloved musical icons, it just made you angry with God.

Not surprisingly, politics reared its ugly head more than a few times during the evening. Corden made a Trump joke in his opening number, and later did a gag involving “fake tweets.” Lopez told the crowd, “At this particular point in history, our voices are needed more than ever.” Paris Jackson noted, “We can really use this kind of excitement at the pipeline protest, you guys.” The finale of Katy Perry’s “Chained to the Rhythm” featured a backdrop depicting the Preamble to the Constitution. But the honors went to A Tribe Called Quest, performing with Anderson.Paak and Busta Rhymes. Their raucous performance included a shout-out to “President Agent Orange and his unsuccessful attempt at a Muslim ban” and chants of “We the People” and “Resist.”

The Grammys are in the habit of pairing performers off, and this year was no exception. Some of the bizarre mash-ups worked, such as Lady Gaga and Metallica on a literally scorching “Moth Into Flame” that was marred only by James Hetfield’s malfunctioning mic. On the other hand, Danish pop band Lucas Graham and country singer Kelsea Ballerini seemed like they were meeting each other for the first time when they hit the stage.

Other match-ups included Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood on the rocking “The Fighter”; soul legend William Bell and Gary Clark Jr. on a blistering “Born Under a Bad Sign,” which Bell co-wrote a half-century ago; Sturgill Simpson and the Dap-Kings (sadly, without their late leader Sharon Jones) on “All Around You”; Maren Morris and Alicia Keys, singing the hell out of Morris’ “Once”; and The Weeknd and Daft Punk, whose duet on “I Feel It Coming” was performed on a bizarre set resembling the Fortress of Solitude.  

Presenters included John Travolta, who really needs to step up his game before appearing on any more award shows. As if his “Adele Dazeem” Oscar flub a few years back wasn’t bad enough, the actor this time was unable to see the TelePrompTer and was forced to read his intro off an index card. Although, to be fair, baby boomers probably appreciated the fact that Tony Manero now needs reading glasses.

The most colorful acceptance speeches were delivered by Chance the Rapper, whose declaration, “I claim this victory in the name of the Lord,” made him sound like an explorer who just discovered a new land, and the rock duo Twenty One Pilots, who came onstage sans trousers. They explained that they had once watched the Grammys at home on television in their underwear and had said to each other, “If we ever win a Grammy, we should receive it just like this.” It made you glad they hadn’t been naked at the time. Corden took comic advantage of the situation by making his next appearance in boxer briefs.

And then there was Adele, who, upon winning for both record of the year and album of the year, took the opportunities to pay tribute to Beyonce. “I adore you, I want you to be my mommy,” she told Queen Bey. Describing the Lemonade album as “monumental,” Adele declared, “You are our light” as both women burst into tears. Is it any wonder that we love them both?