The two artists who undeniably garnered the most attention preceding the 54th annual Grammy Awards were triumphantly Adele and tragically Whitney Houston, each of them indelibly gifted with standout voices of their generation. Between the award announcements and performances, the attention seemed to bounce between Adele’s success and Houston’s untimely death. As predicted, Adele swept up six awards including Record of the Year and Album of the Year for her album “21.” With almost every performance came an artist’s impromptu dedication to Houston, ultimately leading to singer Jennifer Hudson’s chilling tribute performance.
Backed by a full orchestra, Bruce Springsteen kicked off Grammy night with enthusiastic kicks from underneath his electric guitar. In the audience, Paul McCartney clapped along to the Boss and the E Street Band’s latest single, “We Take Care of Our Own.”
Host L.L Cool J followed up with a prayer to honor Whitney Houston, who passed away Feb. 11, a day before the show, at age 48. The audience—from Katy Perry to Faith Hill and Tony Bennett—bowed their heads as L.L. Cool J finished with, “Whitney, we will always love you.”
Nominated for six Grammy awards this year, Bruno Mars performed “Runaway Baby,” from his album Doo-Wops and Hooligans. Mars synchronized costumes and choreography with his band, looping dapper in a gold blazer as he slid into the splits mid-song, never once missing a beat or his key.
Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt joined country and R&B forces on shortened yet soulful version “Sunday Kind of Love” in tribute to another lost artist this past year, Etta James.
As expected, the award for Pop Solo Performance went to Adele for “Someone Like You,” despite competing against pop mega-forces Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Pink. In her acceptance speech, Adele said that the song changed her life. With this win and a classic look of voluminous curls and red lips, Adele proved not all pop hits are the result of sugar-coated dance beats and scantily-clad songstresses.
Chris Brown made his Grammy comeback with three nominations after a three-year absence following the release of violent images of his assault on then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009. His signature pop-and-lock dance moves dominated his song “Turn Up the Music” against a technicolor stage that times flashes of rainbow colors and skyline images perfectly as each beat dropped. With this performance, Chris Brown reminded the audience of his stage presence as he pleased the crowd with his dance moves despite his likely lip-syncing and court record of violence against women.
The clementine-clad Fergie and Marc Anthony presented the award for Best Rap Performance. Nominees include Jay-Z and Kanye West for “Otis,” Drake and Nicki Minaj for “Moment 4 Lyfe,” and Chris Brown featuring Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne for “Look at Me Now.” Watch The Throne’s Jay-Z and West won, though they unfortunately were not in attendance to accept the award. Perhaps there was another event substantially cooler and more worthy of the rap stars’ attendance?
In typical Grammy fashion of pairing performers with clearly different sounds, the unexpected duo of Rihanna and Coldplay performed together. Rihanna slithered on the ground to her hit “We Found Love,” tossing her newly blonde locks as the song’s signature techno dance beat kicked in. As her song ended, the camera cut to Chris Martin of Coldplay on an acoustic guitar playing “Princess of China" when Rihanna joined him after only a few lyrics. After a quick duet, Martin raced to stage where the rest of Coldplay was waiting to perform hit single, “Paradise.” The performance didn’t prove to be an authentic collaboration but rightfully gave two of this year’s biggest acts much-deserved stage time on music’s biggest night.
The Foo Fighters in all their bearded glory beat out rock cult favorites Radiohead, Coldplay, The Decemberists and Mumford & Sons for Best Rock Performance. The band’s winning single, “Walk,” comes from album, Wasting Light, which was recorded on tape in the garage of lead singer Dave Grohl’s garage. Grohl marks the first winner of the night to be cut off by the show’s outro music as he screamed out, “Rock 'n' Roll.”
In celebration of The Beach Boys reunion, Maroon 5 performed the California band’s classic, “Surfer Girl.” Foster The People was up next with even more well-known Beach Boys’ staple, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” Finally, The Beach Boys swung slowly along as they sung “Good Vibrations” which ended with a standing ovation by the audience and smiles all round.
It seems that only a legend is worthy of presenting another legend. Stevie Wonder introduced Paul McCartney, who crooned “My Valentine” in front of a full orchestra which included the sorrowful yet sweet strings of a classical guitar.
Surprisingly not dressed in her usual sequins, Taylor Swift took the stage in a modest boho dress. With a bango slung around her shoulders, Swift sang a lackluster version of her single “Mean.” She winked and smirked through the “I told you so” lyrics, reminding her audience that despite her poor track record as a live performer, she’s unbearably charming.
Song of the Year nominations included “The Cave” by Mumford & Sons, “All of the Lights” by Kanye West and Rihanna,“Grenade” by Bruno Mars, “Holocene” by Bon Iver and “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele. Not surprisingly enough, Adele happily skipped up the stage hand-in-hand with the song’s producer Paul Epworth to accept the award.
However, in a surprising turn of events, country’s girl-next-door Taylor Swift did not crush her country competition for Best Country Album. It was instead Lady Antebellum who won for Best Country Album with Own The Night.
Adele’s much-anticipated performance lived up to the hype as she crooned a hauntingly beautiful rendition of her song “Rolling In The Deep,” which won Song of the Year earlier in the night. With each second of her performance, from the acapella beginning to the bridge she belted out, Adele continued to outdo herself, clearly showing the world that she’s not the next big thing; she has already arrived.
Country stars The Band Perry and Blake Shelton honored Glen Campbell. Their performances pleasantly primed the stage for the true star, Glen Campbell, who proudly sang “Rhinestone Cowboy” while the audience clapped and sang along.
Jazz legend Tony Bennett sang alongside a refreshingly less-country version of Carrie Underwood’s voice that swapped southern twang for fluid jazz harmonies on “It Had To Be You.”
Bon Iver beat out The Band Perry, Skrillex, J.Cole and even Nicki Minaj who had an undeniably explosive year for new artist. He humbly accepted the award, tipping his theoretical hat to the musicians who have yet to be discovered.
In honor of the tragic death of Whitney Houston, Jennifer Hudson, who just a couple nights ago was praising Houston’s voice on “Piers Morgan Tonight,” took the stage. Hudson stood under a spotlight while she delivered an impressive (though not quite on par with Houston’s) version of “I Will Always Love You.” Considering the obviously short notice of this performance and Hudson’s chilling rendition, you have to wonder if this is a song she’s dreamed of performing since she was a little girl.
Deadmau5, Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, David Guetta and Foo Fighters attempted to rouse the crowd with what the Grammy’s had been calling a “dance party” preceding the performance. David Guetta’s electronic beats slunk up and down as background music for Chris Brown and Lil Wayne in a haphazard performance that lacked cohesion. Strobe lights and smoke distracted from a performance that the show could’ve done without. As it turns out, a Deadmau5 and Foo Fighters collaboration make for a pretty abysmal performance.
Looking fresh in a tuxedo, rapper Drake teases us with an introduction of his “good friend” Nicki Minaj, instead of a performance of his own. It’s quite obvious through Minaj’s typical clothing style, that she strives to be different than your average pop or hip hop star, so her bizarre acting and rapping hybrid performance doesn’t come as much of a surprise. After rap lyrics littered with the word “bitch,” she sampled the Christmas carol, “O Come, All Ye Faithful” resulting in an odd performance that left the audience cheering but completely confused nonetheless.
The Band Perry presented the Record of the Year to Adele, sharing the same attitude as the rest of the audience with a simple, understated, “No surprise, 'Rolling in the Deep!'” At this point, does it even really matter who else was nominated?
Adele pulls off a six-for-six clean sweep with tears in her eyes as she accepts the final award of the night, Album of the Year. Despite a runny nose and a little voice cracking, she maintains a level of class and grace that other pop stars can only dream of having. “It has been the most life-changing year,” she sobs. And that is perhaps the understatement of the night.
Editor's Note: This article contains explicit content.
Did anyone think pop-rap songstress Nicki Minaj would fully turn away from her erratic persona? As soon as we all witnessed her baffling performance during this year’s Grammys, it became apparent that Minaj was back, and crazier than ever. Now, the artist returns with her latest release, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, enlisting the help of her demonic alter ego, Roman Zolanski.
Roman Zolanski, Minaj’s frighteningly comical alternate persona, first introduced himself on the 2010 hit single, “Roman’s Revenge.” Assertive and undeniably raunchy, listeners could imagine Roman booty bouncing with Big Freedia, followed by a night of cat-fight back-alley brawls with rapper Mickey Avalon as an accomplice. Although Minaj’s “gay twin brother” would remain dormant after the release of her first full-length debut, Pink Friday, Roman dominates the first half of her sophomore album.
“Come on a Cone” is erratic and filthy, but in all the right ways. “And I’m not masturbating, but I’m feeling myself,” shamelessly boasts Minaj. The rapper breaks barriers; using Roman as a filter, Minaj is able to be as impulsive and ferocious as she wants to be, competing against both male and female counterparts for the title of hip-hop royalty. Seriously, only Minaj could make something so appalling such as, “Dick in your face / Put my dick in your face,” into what will probably become one of the year’s most memorable lines, if not a trending topic on Twitter.
Roman’s unpredictable presence in the first half of the album works in Minaj’s favor; she uses her eccentricity to its fullest extent, resulting in declarations that would leave the foulest of rappers disgusted. It’s just over-the-top sexual hilarity, reminiscent of Khia’s “My Neck, My Back (Lick It),” or Missy Elliott’s “Work It.”
After the ninth song, though, the album veers off into a whole new direction. One moment you’re in hip-hop diva land; the next, it’s an electronic dance extravaganza, and after a few minutes of the latter, you will quickly want to return to the former. “Starships” is just bad; it tries hard to be this year’s “California Gurls,” but fails miserably. It feels awkward toward the end of the album; in between lackluster club-bangers like “Starships” and “Beautiful Sinner,” you have ballads such as “Marilyn Monroe” and “Young Forever,” which are so misplaced and irrelevant that they take away from the album as a whole.
“I am the female Weezy,” states Minaj at the end of “Stupid Hoe.” She has the potential to be, but fails because she sacrifices cohesiveness for creative expression. In messing with her multiple musical identities, Minaj’s sophomore album comes off as rushed and bloated, in contrast to the smooth impression of the album’s
Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded will divide fans — those who grew up with Minaj during her mixtape days, and those who prefer the bubblegum pop queen she is now. With the rise of female rappers Iggy Azalea, Azealia Banks and Kreayshawn, Minaj will have to remain tight on her rap game while also refining her pop voice if she hopes to continue dazzling with her music.
Katy Perry - ‘Part of Me’
Though her last single, “The One that Got Away,” was eerily timed with the announcement of her split from Russell Brand and the tabloid speculation of her shock and sadness, it seems Perry has gotten way over it and released this break-up anthem, “Part of Me.” She sings in her usually shrill vocals that he can “keep the wedding ring. In fact, you can keep everything (yeah, yeah) except me.” Get it, girl.
Producer Dr. Luke doesn’t stray from the formula that gives the duo five No. 1 singles (now six). In fact, you can hear parts of “California Gurls,” “The One that Got Away” and “Teenage Dream” melded into this pop machine of a song. Insufferably reductive? Sure. Painfully addicting? You betcha.
Nicki Minaj - ‘Starships’
Before the release of Nick Minaj’s “Starships,” the latest single off her yet-to-be-released Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, you can assume the conversation between her and the record executives went similar to this: “While we appreciate the frank honesty of ‘Stupid Hoe,’ we’d love to hear another ‘Super Bass.’ So fun — and so successful! If you don’t have any inspiration, take a listen to some LMFAO and Katy Perry.”
Although “Stupid Hoe” was aggravating and annoying, at least it felt genuine. This mess, on the other hand, feels like Minaj turning into yet another alter ego: the record executive drone. The beats are stale, the lyrics cliche. Maybe “Super Bass” was a fluke, but at least preserve the pop sanctity of it by not trying to repeat it.
Usher - ‘Climax’
Knowing Usher’s predilection for bedroom slow jams and the title of his latest single, “Climax,” this song didn’t appear to be anything more than R&B sexy-time jam. But Usher pulled a fast one on listeners and has somehow managed to stay ahead of the curve. A complete 180 degree turn from the Euro-trash of “OMG,” “Climax” drenches itself in the slow, dubstep-inflicted synths of James Blake and The Weeknd.
It’s a smart move for him, as the dance craze wanes down. However, more importantly, it works damn well. Usher’s smooth falsetto, crooning for a lover to stay against the icy beats goes down like a good drink.
Madonna - ‘Girl Gone Wild’
Despite the huge hype of her Super Bowl performance and worldwide radio release that preceded Madonna’s first single “Give Me All You Luvin,” the song has all but disappeared from consciousness after the Super Bowl. For an entertainer that thrives on cultural relevancy (in the best way possible), it was likely a big scare, explaining the rush release of second single, “Girl Gone Wild.”
And oh dear. Against a four-on-the-floor beat heard time and time again from Benny Benassi, Madonna unconvincingly sings, “I’ve got that burning hot fire” in paper-thin and high vocals. Madonna proved with 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor that she could still groove even with Euro-dance beats. Apparently, she now equates fun with stupidity, reaching the for the lowest common denominator. Where she once commanded listeners to Vogue, she’s now picking leftovers from Deadmau5’s musical trashcan.
Published on Tuesday February 28, 2012 as: Nicki, Madonna sound stale, Usher impressses with single
The first single off the Icelandic songstress’ forthcoming iPad-LP-multimedia project, Biophilia, is the offbeat artist’s way of leading us through a twisty space journey. Or maybe it’s a psych-up anthem for an alien army? Her lyrics continue to require an extraterrestrial cipher to understand, but her beats and piercing voice do not. It moves along a steady, almost twinkling groove before exploding with a last-minute hook of a breakdown; a crescendo that takes the song to another sonic level.
This initial single from the London trio’s new album, Endless Now, marks a digression from the band’s loud, crashing guitars and heavy drums to a more streamlined, cleaner hum. While the more studio-compressed sound takes off some of their punky edge, it does assert that the group has aspirations beyond the indie circuit. If you didn’t know any better, you wouldn’t be able to pick out this track in a lineup of ’90s FM rock. It’s an anthemic, grungy number that is sure to win over the broader following this cleaned-up sound aims for.
“I can tell certain people don’t like me no more,” broods the rapper, who takes a turn for the solemn in this internal struggle about, yes, trust issues. Drake is unpacking a lot of heady emotions about fame and women that are not necessarily new, but prove nonetheless compelling swathed in the song’s moody ambiance. If two summers ago was the birth of his high-profile career, consider “Trust Issues” the first signs of puberty; confessional, angsty and a little too caught up in itself. This is the musical equivalent of growing pains.
“Moves Like Jagger,” Maroon 5 feat. Christina Aguilera
We knew this was coming. How could either artist, both judges on NBC’s hit singing competition “The Voice,” resist the opportunity to boost their sagging sales after releasing underperforming albums? This collaboration is one long, strutting hook that wisely reigns in Aguilera’s penchant for over-the-top melisma. It’s also the funniest song of the summer: Maroon 5 front man is too clean-cut and manicured to convince anyone that he can move like Mick Jagger. That he tries anyway makes this shameless romp worthy of a cranked-up stereo.
All the controversy and overnight success of this 21-year-old Oakland rapper is perhaps the most bizarre pop phenomenon of the year thus far. How has this unremarkably rapped dig against label-cravers become such a prevalent Internet talking point? Is it her non-beef with Nicki Minaj? Her explanation that her alleged use of racial epithets is purely Bay Area colloquialisms? Who knows? More importantly, who cares? Kreayshawn is often compared to Ke$ha for her sing-talk-rap chattering, but the two aren’t quite analogous. Somehow, Kreasyshawn comes across more calculated.
Rest in peace Sleater-Kinney: long live Sleater-Kinney. Formed by SK’s Carrie Brownstein and ex-members of Helium and The Minders, this is the lead single from the group’s upcoming debut album. It’s rife with the lipstick-shiny snarl of the bands these women used to be in. Everything, from Brownstein’s booming voice to the garage-rock rhythm, snaps into place curiously well, but this is a quieter, more domesticated riot. It’s a promising, if somewhat expected start for a group that has legendary antecedents.