Hip-hop, Beyoncé can’t save the 2023 Grammys from a botched end

Fifty years of hip-hop, a record-breaking run from Beyoncé and a massive snub kept the 65th Grammy Awards ceremony from turning music’s biggest night into its sleepiest during Sunday’s show at LA’s Crypto.com Arena.

Despite featuring performances by some of pop’s liveliest artists, energy and excitement were scarce during the more than three-hour show, which was broadcast live on CBS and streamed on Paramount+. The event marked the Grammys’ return to LA after a stint in Las Vegas last year and an intimate, reduced production in 2021 due to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The awards show’s return to downtown LA, in a large venue and with a high-profile audience, should have been a fall apart. A jubilant affair, in which the freedom to finally see music together again in a concert-like setting was honored with a lively, imaginative and well-orchestrated production.

Instead, the night was a return to the usual Before Times Grammys riot, where big, clunky sets, disappointing sound, awkward staging and far too much filler were the norm. Ironically, it was the scaled-down 2021 Grammys at the Los Angeles Convention Center that signaled the awards show had the potential to take a fresh new direction.

In the midst of the pandemic, the nominees sat at socially distanced tables on an outdoor porch overlooking the event’s former home, the Staples Center (since renamed the Crypto-com Arena). Over-the-top dance numbers and an arena full of half-invested spectators weren’t an option, and we learned that such an intimate setting was better. It was the best celebration the Recording Academy has thrown in recent memory.

This year, organizers brought back former Daily Show host Trevor Noah, which was a smart move. His improv experience, off-the-cuff humor and deep love of pop music and the artists who make the hits make him a great choice.

But even Noah struggled to pump life into a flat show on Sunday. His dialogue between awards and performances felt wooden and rehearsed, sprinkled with the usual scripts about the “power of music” and “music that brings people together in difficult times.” Stars including Taylor Swift and Rihanna were seated around tables near the stage, a layout that showed latecomers passing in front of Noah as they searched for their seats and the sight of people chatting during its introduction.

Sets by normally effervescent artists like Bad Bunny, Lizzo and Harry Styles were muted, their momentum punctuated by sleepy, taped interludes of a chat session with fans. They debated which of their favorite artists should win, and it was like looking at a social media scrollbar, but less exciting.

The big boost the ceremony got: A tribute to 50 years of hip-hop, curated by Ahmir Khalib “Questlove” Thompson, with a cross-generational performance by rappers on the same stage. Run-DMC, Grandmaster Flash, Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy, Salt-N-Pepa, Ice-T, Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, Method Man and Missy Elliott and Rakim were among the hip-hop luminaries and frontiersmen who performed snippets of their hits from different eras of the genre.

The other highlight of the night was when Beyoncé broke the record for most Grammy wins of all time when she won for Best Dance/Electronic Album. It was a moment everyone seemed to be waiting for, but hopes that she would finally take home the Album of the Year award were dashed; it went to Styles. It was the billionth time the Grammys had snubbed her for top honors.

Aside from those moments, there was more excitement and drama on Ticketmaster’s website, where Beyoncé fans dangled in anticipation on the Renaissance tour waitlist. An ad for Chex Mix featuring Sir Mix-A-Lot also proved more vibrant than the show’s run.

Madonna acknowledged the low energy at the place – “C’mon guys. let’s make noise Y’all gonna sleep here” – as she took the stage to introduce a steamy performance of Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ “Unholy.” They won the pop duo/group performance award. Other winners included Styles for Best Pop Vocal Album for Harry’s House, Beyoncé for Best R&B Song for “Cuff It,” and Kendrick Lamar for Rap Album with “Mr. Morale & the big steppers.” Lizzo was named Record of the Year for “About Damn Time,” and Bonnie Raitt was named Song of the Year by First Lady Jill Biden for her number “Just Like That.” A dynamic performance by Jay-Z ended the show, but the chance for fireworks was gone.

While live television is risky and difficult, it can also offer the kind of unexpected moments that pop and hip-hop thrive on. Those magic blunders were rare on Sunday unless you factor in the number of people who were late due to LA traffic, including Beyoncé.

The Grammys played it safe after three years of uncertainty, resulting in the show itself being the night’s biggest loser.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2023-02-05/grammys-2023-review-beyonce-loses-aoty Hip-hop, Beyoncé can’t save the 2023 Grammys from a botched end

Sarah Ridley

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