Grammys 2014 - What Worked And What Didn't

Jan 27 2014, 3:04pm CST | by

Grammys 2014 - What Worked And What Didn't

And there you have it folks, music’s biggest night–and audio’s biggest night–has come and gone again. Here’s a music critic’s perspective of what worked and what didn’t at the 2014 Grammy awards.

What worked:  

The Sound

I had an opportunity this year to view the show in a decidedly unorthodox way: streamed via Aereo through Apple TV onto a friend’s television. Though the video lag left something to be desired for, the audio quality was surprisingly crisp, clean, and buoyant, even as the telecast leapt from genre to genre.

The thumps of Beyonce’s staggering 808s on “Drunk In Love”, the perfect ’70s approximation of “Get Lucky” and its various mash-ups, the excellent balancing between all the players on Trent Reznor’s set–be they acoustic (Lindsey Buckingham), electric (Josh Homme), or just plain loud (Dave Grohl)–all of it translated through the wayward jumps of media.

This is a testament to the work of engineers like Eric Schilling, who mixed the bands for broadcast audio, and Ron Reaves and Leslie Ann Jones, who ensured that what happened in the house sounded as good as it possible, thereby amping up the energy for the bands and their fans. These people don’t get enough credit unfortunately; remember this: if you were blown away by the sound and the energy of these performances, well, you wouldn’t have even heard it if it weren’t for the engineers.

The Spectacle

Ever since the “Grammy Moment” concept gelled into full sway, people have been wondering what the ceremony would do to top itself year after year. In 2014, the bar was raised yet again with a mixture of exciting mash-up performances and an attempt to make some groundbreaking history that actually felt well-earned.

Everyone is surely buzzing over Daft Punk’s performance featuring Nile Rodgers, Pharrell, and Stevie Wonder and deservedly so; the energy off that performance was so intoxicating that one could feel its nervy presence lingering in the spirited performance of Carole King and Sara Bareilles shortly there after.

But what truly impressed me was the collaboration between Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons. Of the latter, I had absolutely no idea that the drummer played with such bombast and swagger. He’s so good at what he does, it makes me wonder why I’ve never heard him on the singles – why program the drum parts when you have a monster like this backing you up?

Of course, the talk of the town will invariably focus on Macklemore’s performance of “Same Love”. With thirty three couples–some of them homosexual couples–getting married on stage en masse, how could you not talk about it?

Watching that moment, I felt the scoffing of my father in my head: he’s not a homophobic man, but he’s a decidedly unsentimental one. A stunt like this would surely earn his raspberries. But the sheer magnitude of what happened on stage soon shut out the paternal voices–with Macklemore’s impassioned performance (hearing every word crystal clear, one cannot deny the man has chops), the band’s stirring, gospel-inflected playing, and the truly unprecedented nature of what happened, this was one of the few moments billed as “historical” that might actually be just that.

Indeed, I was watching the performance with a former executive at NBC Universal, and even he had to give it up to CBS for having the stones to do something so profoundly loving and accepting as this.

The Pacing 

The show might have been as long as any other awards ceremony is these days, but I’ll say this: it was a full three hours before anyone at the party I attended looked down at their watches to check the time.

What Didn’t Work:

The Graphics

The squiggly lines encapsulating each award’s presentation were not a hit with my crowd; one of the people in attendance–a graphic designer/artist–complained of the “bad vector images and random vines,” likening it to distinctly un-hip design trends of the ’90s.

A paltry criticism on my part, to be sure, and one perhaps unworthy to bring up, except that it directs us to something interesting: as those in the world of fashion have long suspected, we now have more proof that the 90s are, in fact, “back.” Other indicators of the flannel decade include a prominent representation of vintage 90s performers like Dave Grohl, Metallica, and of course, Daft Punk, who took home Record of the Year for “Get Lucky”.

Neil Patrick Harris may have been the only person to point out that this was Daft Punk’s “second coming,” but the resurgence of this duo is an apt thing to hone in upon: Daft Punk is not only hugely famous–they used to be, too. Bolstered by recent releases by more similar ’90s acts like Crystal Method, it’s now much safer to proclaim “the ’90s are back” than it was last year. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see an exciting collaboration this year between Aphex Twin and some of the EDM heroes he helped to inspire.

Though one hopes the dated look of ’90s graphics won’t be a part of the looming trend.

The Old Guys 

Though many “Grammy moments” stole the show, virtually none of them belonged to the older generation (though Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson provided the exception that proves the rule). Poignant as it was, the “Same Love” spectacle faltered a bit when it sought to add the woefully out-of-tune caterwauling of Madonna into the mix.

As for the performance of a Metallica classic “like you’ve never heard of before”, one could feel the overblown weight of “One” sapping all the energy that Daft Punk had earned only a handful of moments prior; indeed, what does it say about a metal performance when Lang Lang–the classical pianist teemed up with Metallica–completely out-rocked the rest of the band?

And as for Ringo and Paul, well, I invite you to look here.

In summation:

If pressed to review this ceremony as I would an album, I would give it a good grade on the whole. The performances covered a great emotional range, giving us something exciting (Imagine Dragons, Kendrick Lamar, Daft Punk), something sad (Ringo and Paul), something accepting (Macklemore, Kacey Musgraves), and of course, something just plain weird (Taylor Swift’s hair). The bad patter was kept to a minimum, the show moved swiftly along, and of the awards that were televised, most of the artists got (what the public probably felt) they deserved. Lorde certainly did, anyway.

Now for the coming trends: in the wake of Grammys, there’s certainly a lot to look out for in the intersection of music and business. For one, the aforementioned trend of the 90s coming back: they might have been popular in the indie circuit for sometime now–try going anywhere in Brooklyn without running into a beard or a flannel shirt–but I suspect the decade is truly ready to take on the mainstream now, so look out for that.

Also, look out for more expensively-made single-play ads. There was a veritable flood of them last night, as my friend, the former NBC big wig, was quick to point out. Justin Timberlake, Pink, Katy Perry, those are just a handful of the artists who made cameos in big, targeted commercials yesterday.

The former NBC executive certainly sat up and took notice: “Each of those is at least a half million dollar ad, I’m guessing–plus airtime” he said, though he made sure to indicate that he had no way of knowing specifically. Still, he sat there on the couch, pointing out every time another single-play ad came on the screen.

If someone with such deep ties to the advertising world pays such close attention to what the commercials were doing, than you better take note too; they probably indicate a change in trends.

Source: Forbes Apple

 
 

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