It’s happened twice now in eight years.
The Grammy people were ready for the usual fun and flash and spectacle. Then, at the last moment, there was a stunning death.
In 2012 it was Whitney Houston, who had some of her greatest moments at the Grammys. This year it was Kobe Bryant (shown here), who had his greatest moments at the Staples Center, where the ceremony is held.
Both times, the Grammy people responded beautifully. Both times, they had the right person hosting.
“We really needed your heart tonight,” Common told this year’s host, Alicia Keys. And eight years ago, they really needed LL Cool J, who suggested the night open with a prayer.
A year later, LL Cool J recalled his thoughts at the time. He felt: “I don’t have the personal wisdom or creativity to tell millions of people what to feel right now.” So he called producer Ken Ehrlich, suggesting the prayer. “He called me back and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
It worked because it felt direct and sincere. “We would not have gotten through the show the way we did,” Ehrlich said, “without him there to get us through it …. I don’t think there’s anyone else who could have” done it.
Well, Keys could have – and did, this year. She made some brief opening comments, stepped aside for a spectacular Lizzo number, then returned to sing a hymn with Boyz II Men.
After that, it was Grammys as usual. This year had consistently great music … consistently impressive stagecraft … and periodically awful hair and clothing.
Most of the big numbers were superb and startling. I’m pretty sure the place burned down at least three times. Tyler the Creator finished his number by falling into a pit of fire … fulfilling, I’d imagine, the destiny some zealots see for him.
A few numbers, particularly Ariana Grande’s, went too far. Chaos is not really a good form of choreography, especially when it seems to have no relation to the music.
Much stronger moments often came from the people who simply looked into a camera and sang. That included H.E.R. and Camila Cabello and Guy Clark Jr. and Keys and Demi Lovato and Bonnie Raitt and Billie Eilish … who ended up sweeping the top awards, bringing a joyous end to a solemn day.