Don’t Rain On Our Parade

Those of you who have actually been following these musings know all too well at times I can be a bit harsh on the subjects.  I tend to write as the spirit moves me, and sometimes the spirits are a tad more evil.  Some of you even take a moment to justifiably call me out on it, going to the defense of those you may be believe I was unfairly snarking or even mocking.  Rarely is that my intent; it is usually motivated from what I see as decisions which mirror those that have legacies of failure, often costing actual people, many of whom are or were personal friends, their livelihoods.  When shows do lousy ratings, there’s far more fallout than merely a whole slew of makegoods being necessary for advertisers.  Particularly in a media climate where Wall Street is increasingly demanding and the braintrust in charge can offer no more creative options than just slashing overhead, that’s now more the case than ever.

But when things seem to go right, often with significant challenges and hurdles, I’ll also try and make sure that those responsible get accolades and victory laps, and perhaps those who will making the next set of crucial decisions might find some inspiration from it.

So kudos, flowers and golf umbrellas to those who staged an extremely entertaining Grammy Awards last night, and yes, that even includes the brass at CBS.

These Grammys were the first major awards show to follow what was arguably the nadir of recent ratings performances from the Emmys, and no, you can’t merely blame a football game going head-to-head for that.  And the glamor was being conducted amidst a storm of near-Biblical proportions outside the Crypto.com Arena complex in downtown Los Angeles, making the Red Carpet a far deeper shade of maroon than usual and a challenge for the Christian Louboutins and Pradas that dared to traverse it.

But even for a medium I follow more closely and arguably know more about than music, the Emmys were filled with people I didn’t recognize, lauded for shows a majority of its viewers likely never watched on platforms more splintered in their availability, let alone popularity, than ever.  And while the salutes to the 75 years of history that preceded it were excellent, it was all too grim a reminder that the current crop, even the most successful of them, somehow pale in terms of impact and resonance.

None such the case with the Grammys.  Thanks in part to some wise publicists’ bookings of some of the more engaging personalities on talk and variety shows ramping up to last night, even I knew who Jelly Roll and Killer Mike were.  Mike was positively engaging as an astute observer of the worlds of culture and politics on Friday night’s REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER, which made the news of his premature exit in handcuffs just prior to the start of the CBS broadcast all the more impactful.  Not the best look for a rap and hip-hop community that continues to seek more inclusion from these awards.  But he did win three for himself before the police escorted him out.

And thanks to outlets on good old-fashioned linear TV like Saturday Night Live, Hannah Montana and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert  I actually knew who a lot of other nominees were.  Jon Batiste, who I once foolishly dismissed as the Kevin Eubanks of our times.  Miley Cyrus, of course, looking absolutely stunning and her usual bluntly honest during her acceptance speech for her win, exclaiming as THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’s Nekesa Mumbi Moody captured it:

“Oh my God, I just got stuck in the rain and traffic and thought I was going to miss this moment,” said Cyrus, clutching her golden gramophone next to presenter Mariah Carey. “And I could have missed the award, that’s fine, but not Mariah Carey.”

And of course, the entire free world, for better or worse, now knows who Taylor Swift is, and she reminded those perhaps a little newer to the dance exactly how talented and revered she is, setting several records, as USA TODAY’s Edward Segarra and Melissa Ruggieri chronicled:

The pop superstar made history at the 66th annual Grammy Awards Sunday night when she won album of the year for “Midnights,” making her the first artist in the show’s history to win the prize four times.

And yes, she proved conspiracy theorists somewhat accurate by using a February prime time Sunday night appearance on CBS to make a big announcement amidst a victory.  But as Segarra and Ruggieri continued, it was perhaps a bit less politically connected:

Swift, who also took home best pop vocal album, used her Grammy moment to reveal the title and release date for her upcoming album “The Tortured Poets Department” (out April 19).

So perhaps THAT’S what all of the “illuminati” have been planning?  Just a way to spread that news and amp up the anticipation for her next act?  There’s an awful lot of NFL fans that haven’t yet bought one of her albums (hand raised).

And even the normally somber and downcast In Memoriam took on a far more upbeat and entertaining feel, as ROLLING STONE’s Kory Grow and Charisma Madarang wrote:

Stevie Wonder, who on Thursday presented Mariah Carey with the Global Impact Award at the Black Music Collective Ceremony, performed a touching piano-backed rendition of Bennett’s “For Once in My Life,” reviving a duet together as a video of Bennett played in the background, and “The Best Is Yet To Come.”

Before he began to play, Wonder, a longtime friend of Bennett, remembered the legendary musician’s “love for art, his love for peace, his love for unity, his love for civil rights.” He added, “Tony, I’m gonna miss you forever. I love you, always, and God bless that God allowed us to have you and us to have this time and space in our lives.”

In honor of Irish singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor, activist and Scottish artist Annie Lennox sang an emotional cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a Prince track O’Connor covered in 1990 that catapulted her to fame at the time. Taking the stage with a tear painted on her cheek, Lennox’s performance followed a video tribute to Buffett.

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey remembered Queen of Rock & Roll, Tina Turner. “A moving symbol of grace and grit, soul and power,” Winfrey declared in her powerful speech. “Our love and respect for Tina grew as we witnessed her bravely reclaim her freedom.”

In a honor of Turner, Fantasia Barrino took on the icon’s Seventies pivotal hit “Proud Mary.” Dripping in gold, Barrino delivered an act worthy of the hitmaker’s legacy and had the audience on their feet by the end of the performance.

I knew all of those performers and those they saluted.  I didn’t know much about the fourth celebrant, but I certainly learned why he was included as a breakout honoree:

Lenny Kravitz, who also received the Global Impact Award this year, took the stage to honor veteran music and entertainment executive Clarence Avant, recognizing the “behind-the-scenes legend” as the “Godfather of Black Music.”

Honoring Avant’s legacy, Jon Batiste performed Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and was joined by Ann Nesby for a celebratory performance of “Lean on Me” by Withers — whom Avant managed, and Sounds of Blackness’ “Optimistic.”

I haven’t even mentioned the emotional returns and performances turned in by Billy Joel and especially Joni Mitchell, who graced CBS audiences with her talents going back to the days of THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW.   I cried far more for her soulful rendition of BOTH SIDES NOW than even for the memories of the numerous people we did lose over the past year.

BILLBOARD’s Andrew Unterberger perhaps recapped my sentiments, and I suspect many others’ from a wide range of demographics and backgrounds, succinctly and eloquently:

(The) 2024 Grammys… felt so, well, full. The artists who’d defined the previous year in music were basically all present and accounted for: six of Billboard‘s top seven picks for the Greatest Pop Stars of 2023 were in the building, with Morgan Wallen (whose relationship with the Recording Academy remains understandably frayed) the lone holdout. The top categories were suspenseful, and the wins cathartic, occasionally historic. The performances were a dazzling mix of contemporary pace-setters and all-time legends. The energy on the floor was buzzing – sometimes even a little too audibly during the quieter on-stage moments. It was the extremely rare three-and-a-half-hour award show that felt… not necessarily shorter than that, but not significantly longer either, an accomplishment in itself.
(T)here’s no denying that the 66th Annual Grammys was the most vital the awards have felt in some time. The performances were blessedly lacking in the kind of third-hour filler that have dragged the broadcast down in recent years, instead showcasing pop’s current best and brightest, along with some true icons of the past. Even when controversial, none of the wins were outright perplexing, uniformly rewarding artists and works that truly felt crucial to the past year. And, well, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé were both there – a good start to any event’s case for being must-watch, center-of-the-culture fare right now. We’ll remember this year’s Grammys much more for what they were than what they weren’t. And that’s closer to getting it right than the great majority of award shows can claim in 2024.
What he said.
Take that victory lap, Ben Winston, CBS and NARAS.  Throw a parade if you desire.  Just watch those puddles; they’re far deeper today than they were last night.
Oscar, you’re on the clock.
Until next time…

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