56th GRAMMY Awards - Show
- Commentary by Sun-Times music writer Mark Guarino
- LIVE BLOG: Come discuss the 56th GRAMMY Awards
- How did Chicagoans do at the GRAMMYs?
- Stars walk the 2014 GRAMMYs red carpet
Updated: January 27, 2014 12:04PM
The 56th Annual Grammy Awards was a long show with almost four hours of singing and speeches. Except when the notably silent Daft Punk took the stage.
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk, the motorcycle helmet-wearing producer-DJs, won the Grammy award for album of the year Sunday for “Get Lucky,” which meant the French duo was forced to take the stage while committing to staying mute, its signature. Besides the evening’s highest honor, the group also won record of the year, best dance/electronica album, and best pop duo/group performance awards.
Paul Williams, the legendary songwriter (“Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Evergreen,” “The Rainbow Connection”) and a collaborator on the album, accepted Daft Punk’s album of the year Grammy, saying, “Two robots called me to make an album … what they wanted me to say was that, as elegant and as classic as the Grammys have ever been was the moment when we saw those wonderful marriages. … It was height of fairness and the power of love for all people, at any time, in any combination.”
Williams referred to one of the telecast’s most unexpected moments: a group marriage. Queen Latifah married 33 straight and same-sex couples during a performance of “Same Love” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis that was end-capped by Madonna singing her 1986 hit “Open Your Heart” in what appeared to be a suit tailored by Col. Sanders.
The mash-up of mash-ups — a group wedding, an iconic pop star, a pair of Grammy darlings, plus New Orleans R&B horn player Trombone Shorty and singer Mary Lambert — created a cathartic moment for the awards show, then entering its fourth hour. A gospel choir joined in (why not?), performing against a wall of simulated church windows.
Along with Daft Punk, the biggest winner of the night was Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. The producer-rapper duo won honors for best new artist, best rap song, best rap album, and best rap performance,
For all the aerialist spinning, robots and neon cactuses, the awards felt like a surprise party where the guest of honor got tipped off a month ago.
Each year, the majority of the 82 categories for the annual awards are presented earlier in the day, which makes room for a 31/2- hour show filled with performances that producers strive to make bigger, and more newsworthy, each year.
Many of these performances are overpowered by their artifice. Take perennial acrobat Pink: The singer brought lip-synching to an impressive new level at the Grammys when she performed an aerialist routine while her song, “Try” played. The performance, which had her spinning in circles, both through her own efforts, and by people in the audience, who spun her around until she lifted into the air.
One of the big hooks of the night was the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearing on CBS, the same network that telecast Sunday’s awards show. Despite the occasion, the reunion between Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr didn’t match the hype.
Starr joined McCartney’s band for “Queenie Eye,” a single from McCartney’s latest album, released last year. With McCartney sitting at a piano, the camera caught Starr hitting the drumkit behind his shoulder. But wide shots showed touring drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. also playing a kit besides Starr.
Did it matter? Not apparently to Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon, who both danced like it was just yesterday. Or as presenter Julia Roberts said in her introduction, “That’s pretty cool.”
Starr had his own moment at the Grammy Awards, performing his 1973 solo hit “Photograph” in front of a multi-screened backdrop displaying his own photo work snapped during his Beatles days.
Musician and producer Don Was played bass, serving as musical director of an all-star band that included guitar legend Peter Frampton, drummer Kenny Aronoff, former Toto guitarist Steve Lukather and keyboardist Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
One sign the Grammys does not trust its own star power — or that the Grammys are not considered headline news by younger viewers: Many of the performances were collaborations between newer artists and veterans. The one that felt most electric — and apparently got the rather sedate Staples Center audience moving — was between Pharrell Williams, Stevie Wonder, Chic’s Nile Rodgers, and Daft Punk. They performed “Get Lucky,” which owes heavily from the 1970s funk that Wonder innovated. Combined with Chic’s “Freak Out,” the performance was a Grammy highlight.
Robin Thicke joined veteran band Chicago for a three-song melody (“Does Anyone Really Know What Time It is?”/ “Beginnings”/“Saturday in the Park”) to honor the band’s induction into the Grammy hall of fame.
Thicke and keyboardist Robert Lamm traded verses throughout, while Thicke sent a few of the verses up several octaves with vocal flourishes that might send Chicago fans to their old vinyl.
The segment ended with — what else? — “Blurred Lines,” although this version did not include twerking, twisted tongues, and uncomfortable sexual positioning. Instead, Thicke ended the song on his knees flanked by two back-up singers in tasteful, below-the-knee skirts.
Chicago wasn’t exactly Grammy’s kind of town, but Kathy Griffin, an Oak Park native, won the award for best comedy album. Griffin is just the third woman in Grammy history to win the honor in the comedy category.
Besides Griffin, Chicago jazz writer Neil Tesser won a Grammy for best album notes for a special John Coltrane reissue. And, if Chicago can claim Stephen Colbert as one of its own — he attended Northwestern University and is a Second City alum — he won a Grammy for best spoken word album.
Otherwise, Chicago favorites Jeff Tweedy, Mavis Staples, Kaskade, James Cotton and Justin Roberts all failed to pick up Grammys this year. Even Kanye West had a bad night, losing the best rap song award to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.