Pop music critic Chris Richards dissects the Grammys

Hi everyone. Thanks for coming to chat about last night's 54th Annual Grammy Awards. Did you think the show was much of a mess as I did? I see some great questions queued up, so let's dig in. (And forgive me in advance for all spelling errors! I'm going to try and type quickly.)

the dance smash-up with Chris Brown and Foo Fighters was such a waste of time. Really Grammy show organizers? Almost made me wish the obligatory sanctimonious speech by boring guy was longer this year.

I agree and found nearly all of the performances lacking this year. Host LL Cool J promised a night of  special "Grammy moments," and I felt like we were all held hostage waiting for one to arrive.

Also interesting was Dave Grohl's speech about how music shouldn't be made in a computer -- then Foo Fighters perform with Deadmau5, a guy who makes music in a computer. That wasn't the kind of "Grammy moment" the show's producers had in mind, I'm betting.

A convicted felon/assaulter was invited to perform at the Grammy's last night - the same show where his victim performed. I'm appalled at the insensitivity and slap in the face the Grammy's chose to deliver to women everywhere. Where is the outrage? Instead, the Post and other news outlets have nary a word to say about this. One of the best articles I've seen on it so far is here.  Shame the Post is too busy talking about Nicki Minaj.

I did express this in my front page review of today's Washington Post. I think in many ways, you're right. Why did the Grammys spend more time recognizing Chris Brown than Whitney Houston?

He's obviously trying to rehabilitate his image, but contrition doesn't appear to be a part of it. He had his big chance to ask for the world's forgiveness when he won best R&B album, but shouted out his fan club instead. A huge opportunity missed, I think.

Do I have to throw away my Bon Iver now that the Grammy's have accepted them? Or do I snicker with him, as they've been around for at least 5 years? Kind of like when Shelby Lynne won best new artist on her 5th album? I watch the Grammy's every year to find out what music is now irrelevent. I did enjoy Alicia Keyes and Bonnie Raitt's Etta tribute. Also, I like Adele, so I guess I am a sell-out, too.

As with many Grammy awards, the best new artist isn't always new. I love Bon Iver but thought this award belonged to Skrillex. Who's with me?

Maybe it was just because of the coverage of his refusal to perform in one of the medleys, but I found Vernon's speech really passive aggressive. If it's all about the art and supporting the people who don't get recognized (which are admittedly worthy goals), isn't the simpler approach just to stay home?

For those who aren't aware, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver reportedly turned down the opportunity to perform at the Grammys because he was asked to perform a duet with another artist. After last night's dreadful collaborative performances, this was clearly the right move.

But I feel you on the speech. You can't get up there and say how the award means nothing to you, and then extensively thank your entire team. Like many 21st century artists, Vernon appears to be a conflicted dude, but he had a chance to make a strong statement and didn't.

Kinda adore Minaj. Like a good portion of Pink Friday. Thought the Roman mashup was a hot mess. If this is a fair preview of Roman Reloaded, I won't be getting it. So...is it?

So much talk about Nicki Minaj's performance, but did anyone think it was truly shocking? It just seemed like post-Gaga theatrics to me.

I'm not sure what to expect from the upcoming Nicki album -- I haven't heard it yet, unfortunately.

How long will the Grammy voters be enamored with her? She is good, but not compellingly great, but I fear she has endeared herself to Grammy voters and we will have to deal with her for decades. At least she is not awful, but I've yet to see anything more than average talent and maximum hype.

Interesting thoughts on Swift. I didn't like her performance last night. The song "Mean" was allegedly written about the music blogger Bob Lefsetz who (rightly) ripped Swift's off-key performance at the 2010 Grammys. Last night, I think she was attempting us to get on her side by playing the " last laugh" card.

Which is both tacky and absurd. The faster Swift realizes she is 1. an adult and 2. a superstar, the better.

What does it say about the state of music (or at least the industry's opinion of it) when the closing number is a half-baked guitar jam on a 35 year old song? Couldn't they have at least had the Beastie Boys come out and segue into Sounds of Science (includes obvious sample of The End)? At least then we'd only be looking back 15-20 years...

A great question. It felt like a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony - far, far far away from a celebration of this moment in music.

I was actually missing Arcare Fire's show-closing performance from last year -- and I don't even like Arcade Fire!

Why wasn't there a decent tribute to Don Cornelius, and why wasn't his picture featured during the segment of various artists who had passed?

Good point. But not sure about the slideshow.

I thought Amy Winehouse wasn't recognized properly, either. The Grammys don't need to be a wake, but the producers could have thought of a way to address this.

Chris, what's the deal with commercial rock in the 21st century? A 15 year-old group won all the rock awards with a sub-par album and nary much competition. Will rock ever be embraced by a mainstream audience again? Does it matter if it's not?

In order for that to happen, we need to stop thinking that there's a difference between rock and "indie rock." Bon Iver is a rock act, plain and simple. Arcade Fire, who won album of the year in 2011, is a rock act. And with the industry still ailing, they're both as commercial as anyone else these days. 

What were the Grammy producers thinking giving so much stage time to Chris Brown, a convicted abuser of women? I found it insulting and appalling, and continue to be completely gobsmacked that he was such a featured part of the night - particularly in the wake of Whitney Houston's passing. Are they just THAT out of touch with social norms?

More Chris Brown angst. I hear you.

Did something happen toward the end of their duet? It seemed like Jason Aldeen all of sudden couldn't sing and let Kelly take it to the end. Just seemed like something odd happened. Did you catch that? Also, what happened during Katy Perry's number?

I didn't notice Aldean dropping off.

I did, however, notice the Katy hiccup.  How could you not? The consensus on twitter pointed toward the glitch being staged to add some drama to the show. Has anyone seen published confirmation of that?

Watching Chris Brown's performance reminded me of the 80s video game Qbert. I wonder if he'll do frogger or Zaxxon next year.

I made that same quip in my review.  Viva Q*Bert! Also: that stage set-up also looked a LOT like what Skrillex has been using on tour -- a terraced white structure covered in video projections. Hmmm.

Totally agree with you on the fact that Skrillex deserved best new artist. Not only is Bon Iver NOT new, but his music isn't anything particularly ground breaking. People may not find Skrillex all that musical, but he IS a pioneer of a genre that has undergone a huge growth in the past two years and really changed the music industry and really, concert culture. The fact that he didn't win sort of felt like elephant in the room...?

I agree! I disagree!

I think Bon Iver makes truly wonderful music, but Skrillex's music embodies an entire scene and sound that has swept across America with a quickness in the past year. I think that made him more worthy of the prize. 

I agree that this was a below average Grammy's. What makes some years good and others not so much? Were the producers different this year?

Producers have been the same, I believe. I think the challenge is capturing the energy of the year via the evening's biggest nominees.

It's also a telecast in need of eyeballs, and that's why you see so many veteran artists performing -- Boss, Macca, etc.

But I'm really tired of these generation-jumping duets -- not on principle, but because they're not good! Bon Iver performing "Holocene?" That  would have been good.  Maroon 5 doing a stiff, faithful cover of a Beach Boys song? Who does that serve? 

All I can say is that Adele redeemed the entire night of has-beens, never-should-have-beens, and wannbes by showing everybody how it should be done: great musicianship wins the nights.

It took us this long to get to Adele? That's proof that the Grammys are defined by the performances, not the awards.

I'm loving all of the Bon Iver outrage. Especially since his collaboration with Kanye resulted in the best music on the last Kanye album... As for his speech, it was a little phony. You don't release albums if your music is just for you. And you don't accept a Grammy when you are against the business side of music. And I am a huge Bon Iver fan. Finally, had they asked him to perform with Peter Cetera on the theme from Karate Kid II, it would have been an #amazinggrammymoment


Can't lie, I was excited to see Skrillex take home three Grammys and disapointed when he didn't win Best New Artist. But I wasn't surprised. The entire show felt out of touch, so him not winning makes sense and further supports the argument of many EDM fans: the mainstream just doesn't really get it... and that's just fine. :-)

In a way, Skrillex wins by losing. There's no more "mainstream" for EDM to be protected from in 2012, and by today's metrics, Skrillex is already a star. But he can still position himself as an "underground" figure. The loss is a win.

What was with all of the Paul McCartney performances? I think the decision-makers must be baby boomers (only someone with memories of the Beach Boys at their peack could have enjoyed the geriatric stiffness we saw last night). One McCartney performance would have been fine, more Adele would have been great!

Two Paul McCartney performances, two Foo Fighters performances, two Chris Brown performances, and none of them felt essential to the evening. What a waste.

It appeared that it stopped working at the end of the song. He tapped it a couple of times, but it didn't help.

I must have been tapping my keyboard while he was tapping the microphone. Thanks for the clarification.

I thought she performed admirably under really difficult circumstances. What did you think? Although perhaps a little odd to show Whitney H performing the same song earlier...

I thought this was the most coherent performance of the night and I think it should have opened the show.

Not a popular opinion, but I am all for letting a 22 year old have a chance at having a career and not be ostracized forever. He thanked the Grammy's for allowing him to perform BEFORE the shoutout to his fanclub. As a woman, I was completely mortified and disappointed at the violence between BOTH him and his then girlfriend (she slapped and hit him several times, while he was driving, prior to his assult on her). I don't think men OR women should strike another human.

I agree that everyone is worthy forgiveness in this life, but what has Brown done to ask for forgiveness? 

Do you think the fact that Skrillex and these EDM artists were finally acknowledged by the Grammys this year contributed to its huge viewer audience last night? My roommates and I were discussing this and it's definitely the reason we even tuned in. People get sick of hearing the Foo Fighters and Maroon 5 whine and brag all night. Or at least we did.

Uninformed answer: Naw.

I do think EDM had a huge, ALL CAPS HUGE year, and plenty of fans tuned in for the Grammys because of it, but this year's ratings boom is related directly to Whitney Houston.

I'm seeing reports of 41 million viewers - the second biggest audience of all time. What a pity the show was such a drag.

I worked backwards and assumed that they were supposed to be in the Beach Boys tribute, which would have made a hell of a lot more sense than Maroon 5.

I had the same hunch. And why do the young acts only perform the veteran acts' songs? I'm not a huge fan of Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks," but I'd love to see Brian Wilson sing it.

I might be in the minority, but I was satisfied that the Grammys did not feature a full-blown glitzy tribute to Whitney Houston, bringing out the reigning divas such as Mariah Carey et al, but just a poignant tribute by Jennifer Hudson. It was nice to see an Etta James tribute, but why no Amy Winehouse? Also, I agree that Don Cornelius was a curious omnission. I think the two best performers were Adele and Glen Campbell.

One reader's re-cap.

Taylor Swift gets abused for how she has sung live in the past but at least she sings live. Come to think of it, no Country act I can remember has ever lip synched on the Grammy's. I've seen almost no critizism for the flagrant lip synching last night; why not just play a Rhianna/Chris Brown video rather than have them perform?

Sounded like Rihanna was definitely singing up there. As for Brown, he can't dance like that and sing at the same time.

Saw your tweet about going home on the bus last night after Grammys. Were you at the office and do your really commute by bus late at night?

Ha! Yep. S2 wins for 16th Street Bus of the Year.

Early returns: 41 million people watched that mess. WHY?

Whitney. Houston.

Again, the Grammys missed a huge opportunity last night.

I like the Beach Boys, I like them very much. But I was a little disappointed in their performance and song selection. Their aged voices cannot recapitulate the falsettos of Good Vibrations. It's nice to see that a couple of them are still alive, but I could have done without that act.

I'm with you 100% here.

Did she borrow that from the American History Museum's exhibit on the Great Depression? What the hell was that?

Yeah, I thought the "Grapes of Wrath" look was a bit odd, too.

Can someone explain Nicki Minaj's performance? It was horrible. I watch the Grammys every year and this year was just OFF. Best moments: LL hosting, the opening prayer, Adele performing and winning, and Jennifer Hudson. The rest of the show seemed to be filler, even with the Beach Boys (was their sound messed up?) and Sir Paul McCartney.

What did you guys think of LL as the host? He had a tall order at the top of the show and I think he did justice to the gravity of the situation. But overall...?

He keeps giving the same speech at every awards show but his record sounds just as processed as everyone else's. Why the high horse for this DMV native?

Great question. I adore Grohl's enthusiasm, and the man has made some of the best rock music ever recorded. But that music-in-computers remark is still irking me.

I cannot stand watching Taylor Swift perform. Not only does she put her lack of real vocal talent on full display, but her "surprised" grins and "I'm just a girl singing about meanies" act feels cheesy, phony and forced. Do people really buy it? The whole time I felt like rolling my eyes and saying, "That's enough, Dorothy. Call us when you graduate from high school."

Lots of comments like this coming in.

That is an insult to the world champion DJ of the same name. You should have said Frogger instead.

Dance music fans really were watching last night!

Adele: Flawless Minaj: Flop Chris Brown: Overdone. Foo Fighters: Underwhelming. Don Cornelius: Absent? Jennifer Hudson: All-powerful. LL: Loud!!!!!! Bon Iver: "Uh."

When I say "Bon Iver," you say "UH!"

What I realized last night is that there are 2 kinds of performances on the Grammy's - those done by singers and those done by performers. Singers = Adele, Jennifer Hudson, Jason Aldean/Kelly Clarkson, and Alicia Keys/Bonnie Raitt. Performers = just about everyone else. Overall, the singers were great and showcased what music is all about. The performers? I did not enjoy most of them, which seems to be the sentiment of most people. Seems to me the Grammy's would be a much better production if it was all about singers.

Interesting point here. Adele sparked a lot of discussion similar to this last year with her boosters saying that she was more "authentic" than other artists.

I don't buy the idea that great singing is the only factor in a great performance, but it does become an issue when the Grammy performances that focus on singing are great, and the Grammy performances that focus on stagecraft are boring. Follow me?

To reference Grammys past, I'd rather see Lady Gaga working the stage in some retina-baffling outfit than hear Taylor Swift sing out of key.


Chris Brown apologized to Rhianna in July, 2009. He's obeyed the restraining order. He's on track for completing community service. He checks in with his probation officer. I mean, is he supposed to bring this up every time he's in public? It was 3 years ago. When does it get to be part of his past?

In defense of Chris Brown.

Why two songs by Paul McCartney and two songs by the Foo Fighters and so on and so on? They had 3-1/2 hours to hand out EIGHT awards. They had to fill the time with something. Whose moronic decision was it to announce the majority of winners well in advance of the actual show?

Nine awards were handed out in the telecast, and 69 were handed out in the pre-telecast ceremony. That's about par for the course in recent years. Last year, there were ten awards handed out.

And Jay Z for that matter? For a pair that egotistical (and who insist on constantly pumping themselves up as heavy-hitters in the MUSIC industry) I thought it was super lame neither of them showed up.

Finally, someone asked about this. I think Kanye West and Jay-Z skipping the awards all together makes a stronger statement than Justin Vernon shrugging his shoulders in the winner's circle. But again, conflicted 21st century artists. Vernon is zeitgeisty that way.

Not to add even more to the Chris Brown thread, but even ignoring his checkered past and apparent lack of regret, how about the fact that the Grammys are supposed to be about great music and he lip synchs on the show? Despite his new Best R&B Album Grammy (!!! -- What a disaster the R&B categories are! Please discuss!), his music is not that innovative, or heartfelt, or sung live (see Post concert review as well), or even really R&B (Yeah 3X is dance-pop). Why not give some actual singers or musicians the chance to perform on the night that is supposed to honor the best in, you know, music?

Time is running out so I'm just going to post as many Chris Brown comments as I can. This seems to be a big issue to you guys. Rightfully so.

Why do you call his new song unspectacular? Since I downloaded, I haven't been able to stop listening to it!

Oof. You'll have to read my review of the album in a few weeks.


I would have enjoyed that, too. But I can understand why she didn't.

I thought the Katy Perry blip was completely planned. It seemed clear because that wasn't Katy that come out at first. I was watching on DVR and went back to see what had happened. The Katy doppelganger was wearing a different outfit and was being carried off stage when the real Katy dropped down from the rafters. There was no time for her to have make that transition.

Smart blip analysis.

He had one, and he stormed out of an interview and broke a window with it. That's why I have no use for him. (Also, Wet the Bed is a horrible song.)

More thoughts on Chris Brown...

You mean when he was with Nirvana, right? The Foo Fighters just totally bore me.

Yes, with Nirvana, of course, but I think the first Foo Fighters album is pretty spectacular. I also really enjoyed Them Crooked Vultures. Notice the thread here? Grohl plays drums on all. I take flack for saying this all the time, but I stand by it:  he's the greatest drummer alive.

The fact that Dave Grohl took a dig at "computer generated" music and then gave such a poor performance only makes him seem foolish and dated. You don't see any of the DJs taking digs like that; in fact Skrillex freely admits he loves all kinds of music and has punk rock roots. Grohl is only digging his own grave.

I hope you saw Skrillex's speeches during the pre-telecast. They were some of the most genuine remarks of the entire night.

Who is the big winner at next year's show?

He was that guy you saw in the tuxedo at the end of last night's show: Drake.

Thanks again, everyone. This was a great chat. I'll start praying to the pop gods that next year brings us a more dynamic, more compelling, more coherent Grammy awards.

Please check out our extensive Grammy covearge on Click Track, the Washington Post's Pop Music Blog: washingtonpost.com/clicktrack

And if you're on Twitter, you can find me at @Chris _ _ Richards.

And if you want to send me an email, I'm at richardsc@washpost.com

Thanks again!

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