ABOVE PHOTO: Beyonce accepts the award for best dance/electronic music album for “Renaissance” at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
By David Bauder
As he accepted an innovator’s award named for him, Dr. Dre mused about what he had in common with many of the people he saw from the Grammy Awards stage.
“Where would a lot of people in here be without hip-hop?” the renowned rapper, producer and entrepreneur said.
The 2023 Grammy Awards may ultimately be remembered as the year the music industry’s top event tried to embrace rap, whose leaders have regarded the institution with suspicion for almost as long as the 50 years of history that were celebrated on Sunday.
It was only four years ago that song of the year winner Childish Gambino boycotted the show over perceived disrespect for rap. Kanye West and Eminem were among past stars with groundbreaking work overlooked for more middling fare and, for years, rappers complained their work was banished from TV.
The 15-minute Questlove-curated travel through time was a joy that brought dozens of stars to the stage, including Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Run-DMC, Public Enemy, Ice T, Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah, Method Man, Salt-N-Pepa … the list goes on, and still there were those you wished were there.
Nearly as important was the eight-minute version of DJ Khaled’s “God Did” that closed the show — Khaled took public note of the length — that featured a spellbinding appearance by Jay-Z.
Quavo’s tribute to Takeoff of Migos was arguably the highlight of a packed and memorable “in memoriam” segment to artists who died over the past year.
Kendrick Lamar gave an incisive acceptance speech after “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” won a Grammy for best rap album, his third trophy in this category.
It was a night it seemed the Grammys finally accepted rap as music’s dominant form. Will rappers finally accept the Grammys? That remains to be seen.
QUEEN BEY’S HAUL
Beyoncé took a place in history on Sunday when her four Grammys gave her a career total of 32, better than anyone else.
The Grammys have a clear pecking order, with four of its awards the most prestigious: song, record and album of the year, and best new artist. Beyoncé has won only one of those awards, when “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” was named top song in 2010.
She’s been nominated eight times for record of the year, and never won. Her most memorable Grammy moments came when two peers stood onstage with their own trophies and saluted her: when Adele said Beyonce’s “Lemonade” should have won instead of her in 2017, and Sunday when Lizzo spoke of skipping school in fifth grade to see Beyoncé perform.
Thirty-two trophies. It’s still hard to shake an empty feeling.
Whose record did Beyoncé beat? That would be classical conductor Georg Solti.
It may take Bonnie Raitt a few days to lose that look of shock. The 73-year-old guitarist won best song for “Just Like That,” a piece inspired by a story of a heart transplant, where she tried to emulate the writing style of the late John Prine. It was especially gratifying because Raitt is more of an interpreter. “I don’t write a lot of songs, but I’m proud that you appreciate this one,” she said. It was 33 years after “Nick of Time” was named album of the year.
Show host Trevor Noah skillfully played the role of a fan, instead of serving snark from the stage, moving through the audience “like a floating Chinese balloon,” he said. And why not? With Adele, Lizzo, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles and the like around, there was plenty of star power. Noah was neither insulting nor obsequious. And one delightful device — having fans talk about their favorite albums — paid off when a memorable grandma got to announce Styles’ album of the year win.
OK, while he was performing “As it Was” Styles was dressed a little like one of those holiday tinsel decorations you thought you’d put away. The smooth pop composition clearly served him well. Later, he marveled at the quality of the competition and how hard it is to pick a winner. “You never know with this stuff,” he said backstage. “I don’t think you can look at any of the nominees and not feel as if they’re deserving. I’m really grateful they chose us.”
In accepting a Grammy for her duet on Sam Smith’s “Unholy,” Kim Petras proudly took note of her status as a transgender woman and paid tribute to heroes like the late transgender singer Sophie and Madonna. The latter returned the favor by introducing a performance of the song. Petras and Lizzo, who won record of the year for “About Damn Time,” made strong, joyful statements about accepting differences. “I felt on the outside looking in and I stayed true to myself because I wanted to make the world a better place,” Lizzo said.
One element that worked less well was an effort to have family or friends introduce performances. You lose the idea of “real people” when Madonna is one of the choices. The best was the first — Catherine Shepherd, the proud wife, and the two children of Brandi Carlile (the kids also debuted in a hotel ad). “I’m a very, very lucky queer,” Carlile said backstage.
WHY AM I HERE?
The Rock as one of the Grammy presenters? Jill Biden? James Corden? At least the outgoing talk show host noted the incongruity of him giving an award for dance and electronic music. There’s enough musical firepower in the room that would surely relish the opportunity to present an award. And while we’re asking why someone was there, Ben Affleck turned himself into an unwanted internet star when the camera panned to him in the audience and it seemed like he’d rather be anywhere else. Don’t actors know how to fake looking like they’re having a good time?
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