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Were the Grammys cursed this year? And did Frank Ocean curse them specifically? It's a question you had to ask yourself during the multiple gaffes that took place during last night's awards telecast. A brief bit of catch-up: in an interview with Rolling Stone last week, Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich and writer David Wild offered their take on why Frank Ocean had decided not only to sit out this year's ceremony, but to decline from submitting his work for awards consideration altogether.
According to Wild, the whole thing could be chalked up to sour grapes on Ocean's part: "Frank had a very definite idea of exactly what he wanted to do and how he wanted to do it. Ken said, that's not great TV, and what he's taught all of us is, 'We're not putting on a radio show ... you have to make it a TV moment.' And he knew from the start that that was not one of those moments...So, his feelings about the Grammys right now, I would imagine, probably go back to that in one way. But honestly, it wasn't us."
It didn't take Ocean long to issue an invective against Wild and Erhlich on his Tumblr, revealing that he initially planned to take part in the show's Prince tribute but decided that the best way to honor his legacy would be "to continue to be myself out here and be successful." He continued to hit back against Wild's statements, pointing out perceived flaws with the Grammys themselves: "I've actually been tuning into CBS around this time of year for a while to see who gets the top honor and you know what's really not 'great TV' guys? 1989 getting album of the year over To Pimp A Butterfly. Hands down one of the most 'faulty' TV moments I've seen. Believe the people."
Whether that grievance actually constitutes a 'faulty' TV moment is a matter of opinion—but last night's telecast was certainly and objectively filled with gaffes. It's almost as if host James Corden's silly, staged tumble down the stage's luminous stairs was a portent of things to come: there were mic problems during Lady Gaga and Metallica's collaborative performance, and then there was the issues that plagued Adele's turgid, monstrously bad cover of George Michael's "Fastlove"—the issues themselves mirroring the mic problems that also torpedoed her performance during last year's ceremony. Several presenters, jokingly or not, indulged in improv-heavy banter after claiming that they couldn't read the teleprompters; shortly before revealing the winner of the Best New Artist Grammy, Jennifer Lopez was caught staring into space for several seconds, a potent metaphor for the Grammys' numbing capabilities.
At times, it seemed like the only way to avoid messing up during this year's ceremony was by doing nothing at all—and many of the night's performers did exactly that. The Weeknd's Daft Punk collaboration "I Feel It Coming" was one of the best singles from last year, a lovely and beatific slice of slow-pop that radiates with nostalgia and life—but on the Grammys stage, the Weeknd's Abel Tesfaye seemed bolted to the floor, lacking any sort of energy as the fully-helmeted Daft Punk tweaked and twisted knobs behind him. Bruno Mars brought the house down in his own right, but the night's many collab moments elsewhere—Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban's neon-lit performance of "The Fighter," Maren Morris and Alicia Keys' "Once" duet, the ill-advised "7 Years"/"Peter Pan" mashup from Kelsea Ballerini and Lukas Graham—flatlined on arrival, running on empty not unlike Corden's cardboard Carpool Karaoke car.
After six years of the honorable LL Cool J handling Grammy hosting duties, there was a level of curiosity regarding how Corden would approach hosting the show: Would he turn every moment into a meme? Would he fall on his face not unlike Neil Patrick Harris at the 2015 Oscars? As it turned out, neither: instead, Corden's hostly banter rarely rose above pure self-promotion, from the aforementioned "spontaneous" Carpool Karaoke "Sweet Caroline" cover (only slightly redeemed by a bit-crashing Blue Ivy) to a cringeworthy rap that made Hamilton sound like Mobb Deep by comparison. The commercials advertising Apple Music's recent acquisition of Corden's full-length Carpool Karaoke series only underscored the agenda he was there to push.
As for other agendas: when not mock-mockingly poking fun at himself, Corden and the show's writers managed to slip a few Trump-adjacent remarks in—which landed with all the impact of a wet fart. Elsewhere, however, there were more overt political statements, a curiosity for an awards show that has typically avoided statement-making in the past. There was A Tribe Called Quest's literal wall-busting performance with Busta Rhymes and .Anderson Paak, Paris Jackson's unexpected #NoDAPL shout-out—hashtag and all—certainly took the audience by surprise.
And then there was Katy Perry's performance of her Skip Marley-featuring new single "Chained to the Rhythm." Never one to turn out a solid live performance, Perry's vocals were all over the place, redefining the notion of "A little pitchy, dawg"—but amidst a literal backdrop of the Constitution, that seemingly didn't matter this time around, as this was much less about Perry debuting a new single and more about Perry debuting a new persona: vaguely political, kinda woke, and a million light years away from the issues of cultural appropriation that plagued her last album cycle. How far she plans on taking this persona is anyone's guess, as well as if the internet-public is willing to allow her contrition (that is, if she even seeks it).
Beyoncé's acceptance speech for winning Best Urban Contemporary Album was also dotted with personal and political references; it was a carefully prepared speech, and the fact that she debuted it so early in the night despite being up for other awards was a suggestion that even she knew taking home the night's top prize—Album of the Year—was no guarantee. Sure enough, it went to Adele for her massively successful 25, the British megastar's acceptance speech essentially acquiescing to Beyoncé's loss in a very Macklemore-esque way.
It doesn't seem to me, though, that Beyoncé even cares about winning these awards at this point—especially since the level of energy and detail she puts into her performances at these shows seem to overshadow and obliterate the mere notion of needing a trophy for validation. Her Grammys performance was no different, a resolutely trippy and immersive presentation of Lemonade deep cuts "Love Drought" and "Sandcastles" that doubled as a ruminative meditation on motherhood (she is pregnant again, in case you haven't read the news or, uh, didn't notice) and stood out as the night's true showstopper performance. It's no less extraordinary that she did so while sitting down—a feat on a night when so many others were satisfied with standing still lest they make fools of themselves.