The Grammys took place in Las Vegas, Nevada for the first time in its 64-year history on Sunday. Held inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the clatter of Wheel of Fortune slot machines and wafts of unsavory cigarette smoke thankfully dissipated by the time the audience was inside the venue. Host Trevor Noah couldn’t help himself and almost immediately made a quip about Will Smith’s now-infamous Oscars slap, joking, “We’re keeping people’s names out of our mouths [tonight].” From there, the performances kicked off with an explosive medley from Silk Sonic whose ‘70s soul aesthetic fit perfectly into the lively Las Vegas atmosphere.
An electric set from Colombian singer J Balvin and Maria Becerra, who did a rendition of “In Da Getto” from the 2021 Jose album as well as “Qué Más Pues,” preceded a controversial performance from Lil Nas X. The openly gay rapper began with a subliminal (or maybe not-so-subliminal) message for his critics. With dozens of defamatory tweets and YouTube clips floating behind him on the giant screen, he flawlessly executed his Billboard chart-topping hit “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” as he used the microphone to simulate a penis, likely angering his detractors all over again. He was then joined by Kentucky rapper Jack Harlow to perform their collaborative track “Industry Baby.” In true Lil Nas X fashion, he later took to Twitter to joke about being snubbed by the Recording Academy.
“can’t believe I lost all my Grammys,” he wrote. “I am now no longer gay!” But his follow-up tweet appeared a bit more ominous when he suggested the Recording Academy was anti-gay using two carefully chosen emojis.
The mood became noticeably somber once Billie Eilish and her hopelessly dedicated brother Finneas joined a live band to perform “Happier Than Ever,” which was nominated for a gilded gramophone in the Record of the Year category.
Wearing an oversized t-shirt with a portrait of late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins (who died of a suspected drug overdose just last week in South America) emblazoned on the front, Eilish waded through water while hovering beneath a couch nailed to the room’s roof before climbing to the makeshift rooftop where lightening and rain appeared to pummel her as she headbanged for the final minute of the song.
Grammy Award-winning MC Nas returned some life back to the stage when he was joined by a backing band for a medley of songs that included “Made You Look” and “I Can” from 2002’s God’s Son and “One Mic” from 2001’s Stillmatic.
But by the time John Legend sat at the piano, the mood had shifted drastically after the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a special video message, urging everyone around the world not to stay silent about Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Tears were visibly streaming down faces in the crowd as the harsh reality of what’s happening overseas sunk in.
“What is more opposite to music?” Zelensky said. “The silence of ruined cities and killed people. Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos. They sing to the wounded in hospitals. Even to those who can’t hear them … Support us in any way you can. Any, but not silence.”
Following Zelensky’s address, Legend performed his song “Free” featuring a Ukrainian singer, Mika Newton, and poet, Lyuba Yakimchuk, who fled the country just days ago.
What was likely intended to be a brief respite from the sobering moment carried its own sadness. Tony Bennett, 95, appeared on video and introduced Lady Gaga, his collaborative partner on the Grammy Award-nominated album Love For Sale. Bennett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a year after their 2015 joint project Cheek To Cheek, and suffers from short-term memory loss, making the videos of Lady Gaga and Bennett playing in the background tough to watch.
The grief continued to bounce off the walls of the MGM when the annual tribute to artists who have died over the past year began with an emotional video of Taylor Hawkins. The names kept coming at a rapid rate; from Young Dolph, DMX, The Monkees’ Michael Nesmith to James Mtumbe, legendary Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, Don Everly of the Everly Brothers and Meat Loaf, once again tugging at the heart strings of anyone watching the show.
While the 64th Annual Grammy Awards certainly had its moments of pizazz and brilliant showmanship, it was a stark reminder of how precious and short life is, and perhaps even a call-to-action to sit back and enjoy the music because sometimes, that’s all we have.
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