How were last night’s 57th Annual Grammys Awards? That all depends on who you ask. The music industry’s Super Bowl played out like a super-sized variety show, with 20-plus performances packed in amidst only 8 on-air award presentations. Those tuning in at home might not have been aware that Kendrick Lamar finally won his first gold statue, netting best Rap Song honors for “i”. But last night the Grammys made it all about the stage shows, which ranged from polite to politically-charged to deeply personal.
Much of the night belonged to Kanye, who doled out two performances. West partnered with Rihanna and Paul McCartney to the nail trio’s new single “FourFiveSeconds,” before returning for his own solo run through his heartfelt single “Only One.” Draped in fog and lit by a single shining porthole, West electrified the nation with his one-man-army salvo, and his line “No you’re not perfect, but you’re not your mistakes” sounded more genuine than ever. Not to be outdone, Beyoncé turned out a surprisingly tender show as well, running through “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” and nailing a reverent, soulful tone. That tone spilled over into John Legend and Common’s performance of “Glory,” which is currently nominated for an academy award.
Sam Smith and Mary J. Blige reprised their anthemic duet on “Stay With Me,” but in truth the two were not the most captivating collaboration of the night. That honor went to, of all pop stars, Ed Sheeran, who won the night’s unofficial award for Most Preposterously Talented Supergroup Backing Band. With the help of Questlove on drums, John Mayer on lead guitar, Herbie Hancock on piano, and the legendary Adam Blackstone on bass, Sheeran tore through his heartache anthem “Thinking Out Loud” and made a few fans at the OKP office as a result.
And then there was Pharrell. In a boldly predictable move, the producer-singer-songwriter phenom chose to once again bring “Happy” to the masses at last night’s Grammy’s, but not in a way you might expect. Pharrell’s segment opened ominously, with foreign voices and horror movie strings replacing the familiar bright bounce of his mega-hit. Melodramatic and over-the-top? Absolutely, but don’t say you weren’t surprised to learn that “Happy” had a frightening side. As a live orchestra poured across the stage and into the stands, Pharrell leaned easily back in to the original style of the tune, but only took a few seconds before making his next big move. Backed by dancers in black hoodies, he repeatedly raised both hands in the air, emulating the “Hands Up/Don’t Shoot!” gesture that was Michael Brown’s last dying pose and has since become a symbol of peaceful resistance to racist police policy. Bringing rattling artistic suspense and timely politics to “Happy” was a brilliant move. “Happy” has grown from a saccharine cartoon movie cut to inescapable mega-hit to Youtube art project to primetime politicized freak-out. The song has done more than anyone could have expected and has now served its full purpose for both Pharrell and all of us. It can, finally, be left in the past.
Scroll through our roundup of the night’s best performance videos below, and be sure to catch the Purple One’s surprise arrival (and crucial message) at the end of it all.
Watch Ed Sheeran, Questlove, Herbie Hancock, John Mayer and Adam Blackstone:
Usher performs “If It’s Magic” in tribute to Stevie Wonder:
Watch Sam Smith & Mary J. Blige:
Watch Common and John Legend:
Watch Kanye West:
Watch Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney:
Finally, watch Prince present the Grammy for Album of the Year (in which Kanye pulls another Kanye):