Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

Tortured By Television: The 2013 Grammys

Every so often, one of our illustrious contributors can't come up with anything to write about. When that happens, we strap them down in front of a television and force them to take notes. The results are Tortured by Television.

Damn it!

[Pre-Show] I thought I had it all figured out this year. As February approached I surrepitously made my travel plans, and began laying low around the Culture Blues offices, hoping to go unnoticed. Like an animal anticipating a natural disaster, I knew the Grammys were approaching. This year was going to be different, and I wouldn’t have to be tortured by them, because I was going to be in the South Pacific, far, far away from things like cable television and internet access. It was all perfect... then Nemo happened, my flight got cancelled on Friday night, and I lost my reservation for the bungalow I was going to hide in.

“Look on the bright side” my colleague and “friend” Jeremiah White said. “At least this way you can write about the Grammys this weekend.”

I looked at him while holding back tears, and smiled.

So here I am once again, sitting in front of my television as the richest, most glamorous and, in some rare cases, most talented stars of the music world gather at Los Angeles’ Staples Center to hand out awards and clap for each other. I wish I was anywhere else, doing anything else, but I’m here drinking, typing, angry. It could be worse: I could be in a Siberian Prison, or watching the Country Music Awards.

Yes dear friends, the 53rd annual Grammys are upon us, and I bet this year will essentially be no different than any other: artists I don’t appreciate will win awards which should’ve gone to more deserving acts, performers I don’t enjoy will attempt to entertain me, and L.L Cool J will irritate me with his lip-licking compulsion. All the while celebrities will smile, while wearing clothes which cost more than your dreams, and pretend to care about people other than themselves. Boy am I glad they televise this event.

Before I get to the fun, it is customary to drum up some question for me to ponder while I watch this awards show, so let me get those of the way.

1) Will this be Frank Ocean’s coronation?

2) In light of the highly publicized “Dress Code Memo”, will the outfits at this year’s Grammys be extra conservative?

3) Which artist will have the best musical performance of the evening?

4) Who will the surprise winner be tonight?

5) Will the Grammys capitalize on their recent popularity, or will they lose their newfound appeal to young people?

Those look some like some good questions to ponder for now, and unfortunately it’s 7:59, so I guess this is happening.

8:00PM: The now-familiar disembodied voice welcomes us to The Grammys, and lists the various celebrities who will be appearing at this year’s award show. As always I’m unimpressed. The voice goes on to introduce the young-lady who is kicking off this year’s ceremony with a performance: America’s favorite broken heart, Taylor Swift.

8:01PM: A strange clown-like figure riding a Victorian tricycle pedals across the stage, delivering poetry comprised of Swift’s lyrics, before shooting a gout of flame from an apparatus attached to his mode of transportation. I swear to you, I did not make a single part of that up.

What the hell is this shit?

8:02PM: The camera pulls out so we can see all of the confusing horror that is Swift’s stage production. It’s difficult to identify just what all of this imagery signifies, but I’m going to go with excessively-white (the color, not, like, caucasian) carnival. Swift herself is dressed like a glitter-encrusted carnival barker in a top hat, and is almost hidden among all of the chaos. When the camera finally locates her, and the spotlight hits, Swift uses the opening lines of We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together to beg me to turn off my television. Somehow I find the strength to refuse.

8:05PM: My boy Lip Licker Cool James has once again returned for hosting duties (I guess CBS loves him?). He opens up the show with a monologue about the importance of the Grammys, while licking his lips approximately 26 times over a four-minute stretch. I really think we should commission a study to figure out why L.L. possesses this particular tick. Is it a nervous reflex? Is his mouth inordinately dry? Couldn’t the Grammy producers get him some extra water, or lip gloss?

8:09PM: Ed Sheeran and Elton are the second performers of the evening, and they deliver a simple yet effective version of The A Team from a small dais within the audience. Because of their location they don’t have much pomp and ceremony accompanying their performance, but that’s a good thing because I still haven’t finished processing (read: forgetting) Swift’s.

I want to build a colony on J-Lo's thigh.

8:18PM: The world’s most famous Puerto Ricans, Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez, come on stage to present the evening’s first award, for Best Pop Solo Performance. Jennifer Lopez makes a few jokes at the expense of the Grammys recent “dress code memo” while looking better than any woman possibly can while wearing black, formless, fabric. Her phenomenal right leg is exposed through an asymmetrical slit, hypnotizing all heterosexual men watching at home.

8:20PM: And the winner is... Adele, for Set Fire To The Rain (Live from The Royal Albert Hall). Adele is visibly shocked by the fact that she won this award- I’m guessing mostly because she didn’t release any new music last year, and really just came out to California for vacation. Nevertheless, I’m positive on Adele, so good for her.

8:21 PM: NPH comes onstage to deliver a meh joke about Katharine Hepburn, and to introduce the karaoke kings of 2012, fun.

8:22 PM: Ohmigod,  fun. are not playing We Are Young! That guy, the one who used to be in The Format, sure has a lot of balls.

8:25 PM: And now it is raining upon fun. I’m sure the rain is meant to emphasize the depth of emotion which Carry On evokes... yet as I watch it all I think about is those poor, wet, instruments.

8:32: Bonnie Raitt and John Mayer take the stage to introduce Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley, who are here to celebrate the “art” of country music... I can now stop paying attention. (But when they cut to Katy Perry, who gazes adoringly at Mayer, I do want to cry-vomit.)

8:28 PM: Some American Bandstand footage of a young L.L. is shown, for the sake of nostalgia and posterity I suppose. Surprisingly he didn’t do any lip licking back then, but as the camera cuts from Nostalgia L.L. to Now L.L. he is caught mid-lick. Hmmm, perhaps this affliction struck L.L. as he matured?

8:29PM: Apparently that was, somehow, a tribute to Dick Clark. If I was related to Dick Clark I would be massively offended.

Apparently Wiz forgot his shirt.

8:40 PM: After a quick introduction the camera finds Wiz Khalifa, who is wearing an outfit so atrocious I hope it will force the Grammy’s to release a memo about it next year.

8:41 PM: Wiz and his singing friend (super sexy recording artist Miguel) are performing a sultry rendition of Adorn, a song which I’m assuming soundtracked a lot of sex in 2012, though not any of mine. To each his own!

8:42 PM: After making an immeasurable number of panties drop, Miguel proceeds to list the nominees for Best Country Performance. It’s a transition which is every bit as awkward as it sounds.

8:43 PM: And the Winner is... Blown Away by Carrie Underwood! I remember Carrie from her American Idol days. Things have gone better for her these past few years than they have for me.

8:50 PM: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw (they’re married) now take the stage, to present the award for Song of the Year. The two of them are some sort of Country royalty right?

8:51 PM: And the winners are... Jack Antonoff, Jeff Bhasker, Andrew Dost and Nate Ruess for We Are Young (fun. ft Janelle Monae). The guys from fun. seem like humble and affable dudes, and they’re also dry now, which is a bonus.

These two are going to have a lot of freaky "award sex" this year.

8:51 PM: Holy shit, Lea Dunham dates the guitarist from fun. (Jack Antonoff)! Talk about “it” overload! Amirite?

8:53 PM: A very tan and gypsy-ish looking Johnny Depp takes the stage and proceeds to tell us what an “honor” it is to introduce the “sublime” Mumford & Sons. Thank goodness I can’t lose respect for Johnny Depp.

8:54 PM: As I watch Mumford & Sons perform I Will Wait something disheartening quickly becomes apparent to me. I would like to take a second to explain to people that it is not cool to like Mumford & Sons. By that I mean that it is both uncool to like Mumford & Sons, and liking Mumford & Sons does not make you cool. I hope I’ve cleared up any confusion about this issue.

9:03 PM: Ellen and Beyonce take the stage to introduce the one and only Justin Timberlake. The only reason I know Ellen was there was because the disembodied voice introduced her.

9:04PM: My screen is drained of color as J.T. brings a massive band on stage, and proceeds to do some handkerchief related sleight of hand while treating the Grammy audience to his latest single, Suit & Tie.

9:07PM: Jay-Z takes the stage to deliver a cameo verse during J.T.’s performance and, like everyone else on stage (including the background dancers and musicians), is dressed immaculately well in a luxurious black tie ensemble. After Hov and the first track are finished the color returns to my screen, as Timberlake premiers Pusher Love Girl for the first time on television. The Grammys assure me such an exclusive is a big deal, though I am sure most people who care have already heard the song.

9:11PM: Nas (who is wearing a dynamite pewter sports coat) and Kelly Rowland (who also looks lovely) are now onstage to present the first ever award for Urban Contemporary Album. That’s essentially what's happening, though it really feels like one long Nas humble-brag.

If you look carefully, you can see Chris Brown clapping furiously in his white suit, and Adele trying to side-long glance at him.

9:12PM: Chris Brown AND Frank Ocean are nominated for this award. This shit could get REAL! And the winner is.... FRANK OCEAN!!! The seating arrangements are such that Ocean actually has to walk directly in front of, and then past, Brown in order to get to the stage. For a moment the two were close enough that Ocean could have smiled in Brown's face while dropping “Excuse me, I’ve got to go pick up my Grammy” on him. Such a moment didn’t happen at the Grammys... but it did in my fantasies.

9:19PM: Did you know Dave Grohl has won 13 Grammys? He really is a legend of the absolute highest order (not that Grammys actually mean anything, but 13 is a massive number). Grohl is accompanied by Pauley Perrette, of NCIS fame, who at 43 is one of CBS's hottest young stars. The two of them are onstage to plug Grohl’s Sound City documentary, a project I’m sure you have all heard a lot about lately (how could you not?). After their commercial is over the duo present the award for Best Rock Performance.

9:21PM: And the winner is... Lonely Boy by The Black Keys. Thus continues The Black Keys party which I have yet to find my way to.

9:23:PM: Maroon 5 are next up to perform and they're playing Daylight, a song which actually doesn’t bother me all that much (note: that is not a compliment). As I watch Adam Levine I can’t help but consider how massive a celebrity he somehow is, and proceed to get other-worldly jealous.

It was impossible to locate a picture which properly expressed how distracting Keys' underboob was during her performance.

9:24PM: The sublime Alicia Keys (see Johnny Depp, that’s proper usage of the word "sublime") has joined Maroon 5 and, instead of sitting behind her customary piano, she is standing behind a snare drum and floor tom. The entire gathered mass of performers rip into a superb rendition of Girl On Fire, which sets this little medley apart as the best musical moment of the night so far. Keys' outfit looks pretty conservative at first, but all of her drumming and dancing quickly makes her underboobs the real star of this performance. I wonder what that memo writer is thinking right now.

9:27PM: Penny from Big Bang Theory and Keith Urban (Nicole Kidman's husband) are now presenting the award for Best Pop Vocal Album. How is it that Big Bang Theory is the most popular comedy in America, but no one admits to watching it?

9:28PM: And the winner is... Stronger by Kelly Clarkson. I also remember Kelly Clarkson from her American Idol days... Apparently I watched a great deal of American Idol.

9:36PM: When we return from commercial Rihanna and Mikky Ekko bring things down with the somber and artfully arranged duet, Stay. There is something very tasteful about this performance, and its tenor is perfectly suitable for a stuffy awards show such as this.

9:40PM: Carly Rae Jepsen and Ne-Yo take the stage to present the award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. I wonder which of these two presenters will be the fist to appear in a VH-1 Where Are They Now? special.

Jigga's hat joke drew the largest laughs of the night. The Dream doesn't seem to mind.

9:41PM: And the winner is... No Church In The Wild by Jay-Z, Kanye West, Frank Ocean and The Dream. Kanye did not attend the Grammys this year, and because of that an angel weeps in heaven. At the end of their collected acceptance speech Jay-Z thanks “the swap meet” for The Dream’s silly Boyz In The Hood baseball cap, amusing both those in attendance and those at home.

9:49PM: Kat Denning’s gorgeousness makes my television melt as she introduces The Black Keys. Which reminds me, I really need to give Two Broke Girls a shot.

9:50PM: The Black Keys, accompanied by Doctor John and the New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band, rock the foundations of the Staples Center with a lively presentation of Lonely Boy. As I watch them perform I can see why they’re popular, I just don’t get why I can’t buy in. It's a classic "it's not them, it's me" situation.

9: 53PM: From The Black Keys we transition into a performance by Kelly Clarkson, who is onstage to honor two recent lifetime achievement award winners: Patti Page and Carole King. Sadly the high energy of The Black Keys performance makes Clarkson’s startlingly great medley of Tennesee Waltz and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman feel a little flat. That being said, the woman can sing her ____ off.

9:57PM: Clarkson pulls some double duty, and also presents the award for Best Country Album.

9:58PM: And the winner is... Uncaged by The Zach Brown Band... I wish I could just fast forward this part.

10:06PM: After returning from commercial L.L. says some words about Bob Marley (in a "Jamaican" accent), before introducing Bruno Mars (who I think is doing a tribute to The Police). Obviously L.L. wasn’t exactly clear when explaining things.

10:07PM: Mars and his white-hot band are flying through an air-tight rendition of his song Locked Out Of Heaven, when Sting and his super-old pickguard-less bass take the stage to join in.

One of these guys can have sex for four hours, the other is Bruno Mars.

10:09PM: After they finish up Locked Out Of Heaven, an effortless shift is made into The Police's 1983 classic Walking On The Moon, and I can kind of see where this is going now. I wonder who will come out for the Bob Marley section?

10:11PM: Apparently the answer to that question is Rihanna, Damian and Ziggy Marley, who are now performing Could You Be Love, and making me wish I was somewhere about sixty degrees warmer. Like, for instance, in the South Pacific.

10:19PM: The next act to take the stage is The Lumineers, a band whose name you may not know, but whose song, Ho Hey, was in every commercial you watched in 2012.

10:21PM: From the Lumineers, the Grammys take us to a performance by Jack White and his all-female backing band, who offer up a sweet version of Love Interrupted from White’s most recent solo record, Blunderbuss.

1023PM: White now joins his all-male backing band (he has one of each, duh!), and all of the Y-chromosomes onstage deliver a bombastic interpretation of I’m Shakin'. The second phase of White's set provides a good yin for the previous yang.

Every time I see this photo I have to remember to breathe.

10:26PM: Katy Perry sdosehfmdnvxfvhv hcdhmjwfufx sdvvdgibbgbm wdc.... Sorry, my jaw was on my keyboard. Anyway, she is on stage to present the award for Best New Artist.

10:27PM: fun. just beat Frank Ocean for Best New Artist. I want to burn something in protest.

10:33PM: When we return from commercial, Hunter Hayes is sitting behind a piano. I bet this visual would have a different effect on me if I was a female. Hayes plays a few lines of Wanted, before revealing to us that he was really onstage to introduce Carrie Underwood.

10:34PM: As Carrie Underwood performs her “hit” Blown Away I find myself considering just how much wind there is in Oklahoma.

10:37PM: As Underwood transitions into Two Black Cadillacs, the lighting crew begins drawing patterns onto her dress and, although I don’t want to be, I’m totally impressed by how it looks. I bet people will be talking about Underwood's dress effects for some time.

10:39PM: The almighty Prince is on the stage to present the award for Record Of The Year. Prince, btw, has won seven Grammys, about half of what Dave Grohl has won.

Someone heeded the Grammy dress code memo!

10:40PM: Prince is wearing a hoodie which looks like it belonged to a very stylish old lady, some kind of futuristic tribal necklace, and carrying a walking stick- yet somehow I feel let down by his attire.

10:41PM: And the winner is... Somebody That I Used To Know by Gotye. This was one of the most hotly contested categories of the night, and I am not at all surprised by Gotye’s win. His track contained that indefinable world-music spark which the Grammys have always been partial to, because that's how Paul Simon wants it.

10:49PM: The dude who runs the Grammys and Ryan Seacrest are now onstage, to bore us all to tears with an absurd amount of exposition about The Grammy foundation.

10:51PM: Justin Timberlake joins Seacrest to discuss The Grammy Foundation. I still can’t muster interest.

10:53PM: A brief, but touching, memorial montage of those music industry members who lost their lives is shown, and I am filled with the same empty melancholy which fills any man when they consider death.

10:57PM: Elton John, Zac Brown, T-Bone Burnett, Mavis Staples, Brittany Howard and Mumford & Sons are all paying tribute to the late Band singer/drummer Levon Helm by performing his most famous and timeless song, The Weight. The moment feels grand and worthwhile.

11:03PM: Staples missed the cue to end the song... it was quite endearing.

11:10PM: Juanes is onstage when we return from commercial. He proceeds to play 90 seconds of Elton John’s Your Song, with sections of it in Spanish. Thankfully it only lasted 90 seconds. Juanes then introduces Frank Ocean, and I am excited for one of the few times during this now 3-hour spectacle.

I couldn't find a pic out there which captured what we saw at home, so here is a view which shows how some of the "illusion" was pulled off.

11:12PM: Ocean sits behind a piano, which has a projected image of him running on it’s exterior, and behind him there is a screen with a long sunlit road. The effect makes it seem as if Ocean is running towards us along this road throughout the entirety of his performance of Forrest Gump. This particular rendition has more of a free-time quality to it, but nonetheless remains gripping. When the song ends Ocean turns and, with the aid of the projected images, appears to walk away till he disappears.

11:16PM: The lovely Adele has taken the stage to hand out the night's final award, Album Of The Year. Suddenly I sense the end of my misery and I perk up considerably.

11:17PM: And the winner is... Babel by Mumford & Sons... God I hate the Grammys. If I was Frank Ocean I would be livid right now... and also very rich.

11:18PM: Wait, Mumford & Sons are British!?!?!?

These dudes are cooler than L.L. so I decided to run a picture of them instead.

11:24PM: The last commercial break ends and I get ready to sit through the final musical act of the night. I see L.L. once again and notice he is no longer wearing his white tuxedo jacket. Instead he has donned a leather jacket and informs me that he will be the final musical act of the night. He attempts to make things better by letting me know he will be accompanied by Tom Morello, Chuck D, Travis Barker and Z-Trip, but I still feel a little cheated.

11:30 The assembled musicians deliver a fast-moving medley of L.L.'s latest single, Whaddup, as well as snippets of Rock The Bells and No Sleep Till Brooklyn (as tribute to MCA of course), while Chuck D slides in refrains from the Public Enemy Terrordome whenever he can. I guess this may have been a mashup, but I'm not familiar enough with the new L.L. single to know. On a side note I would like to point out that it was nice to see Morello soloing once again.

[Post Show]Finally, mercifully, my prayers are answered, and the credits begin rolling. I feel a joy welling inside me as I know my Grammy-related responsibilities are almost over, and my hands begin shaking. Allow me to answer my questions from before so that I can sit in the dark and rock myself to sleep.

1) Will this year be Frank Ocean's coronation? At the end of the day, I would have to say no. Ocean didn't win any of the major awards he was nominated for, but at least he got to walk past Chris Brown to pick up one statuette.

2) In light of the highly publicized “Dress Code Memo” will the outfits at this year’s Grammys be extra conservative? I think the outfits were a bit more conservative. Other than Alicia Keys I couldn't think of a woman who bared an amount of skin worth mentioning.

3) Which artist(s) will have the best musical performance of the evening? This is a tough one, so I will have to call it a tie. The Black Keys and their mass of musicians were dynamic and exciting, while Maroon 5 and Alicia Keys really worked well together.

4) Who will the surprise winner be tonight? I guess I am going to with fun. because they won so much tonight, though I am still shocked by the whole Mumford & Sons winning Album Of The Year fiasco, and that they're British!

5) Will the Grammys capitalize on their recent popularity, or will they lose their newfound appeal to young people? This year's ceremony did not match the buzz and entertainment value of last year's, so I would imagine that The Grammys have squandered some of the supposed momentum Les Moonves was bragging about. Kids are a fickle bunch and if  you're not constantly wowing them, then you're losing them.

How Torturous Was It?: This question is rhetorical right? As far as Grammys go, this is the worst of the three I have watched in this capacity.

Would You Watch It Again?: If Mother Nature makes me.

 

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