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Give BTS a Real Spy Movie Immediately, and 11 Other Thoughts on the 2022 Grammys

Billie crushes it, Bieber self-parodies (again), Astroworld victims go unmentioned, and more observations from the Grammys’ self-contained universe

Brian Hiatt Apr 05, 2022

BTS performs at THE 64TH ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS, broadcasting live Sunday, April 3 (8:00-11:30 PM, LIVE ET/5:00-8:30 PM, LIVE PT) Cliff Lipson/CBS

Even the most ardent Grammy haters would have to admit that the ceremony at least has an ethos: The alternate-universe vision of current popular music it presents is almost its own radio format, where almost everything is more classicist, melodic, and live-instrument-driven than our unfiltered real world. (The choices for awards are, as always, another, much-worse story, and continue — in many categories — to be unabashedly bonkers.) This year, the performances were almost uniformly excellent (depending on your tastes, Chris Stapleton and Carrie Underwood were arguably kinda mid) — so the real issue is who didn’t get to perform.

Silk Sonic’s “777” showed the partnership can move beyond retro — if they want. The hot live performance, which combined Bruno Mars’ funk-rock guitar and James Brown vocal channeling with Anderson .Paak’s show-stopping ability to rap and play drums simultaneously, only emphasized that despite the duo’s purported time-traveling mission, a lot of their most exciting musical moments couldn’t really have existed in the Seventies. Bruno and Anderson should stay together, drop the gimmick, and see what comes next.

Olivia Rodrigo somehow ceded the big-rock-is-back performance to Billie Eilish. The Grammys have always loved ballads even more than they love making dizzyingly odd Album of the Year choices, so it’s inevitable that Rodrigo would end up performing “Driver’s License” on the show rather than “Good 4 U.” To be fair, the performance was beyond exquisite, the song itself is an instant classic, and it all gets extra points for using a Mandalorian-style digital backdrop to let her crawl like a viper through those suburban streets. It was, all in all, a perfect coronation moment. And yet … it’s hard not to miss the sugar rush we would’ve gotten from a punked-out performance of “Good 4 U,” which brought guitars to the top of the charts for the first time in years.

Give BTS a real spy movie, immediately. OK, here’s the pitch: What better cover for international super-spies than traveling from country to country as the biggest band in the world? Might as well put Olivia Rodrigo in there as well, given that the entire universe is now fervently shipping her and V based on a five-second interaction. In any case, with Jungkook just recovering from Covid, the group was barely able to rehearse as a full group for the performance and still killed it, doing what they do best — creating a mini-universe for their music, in this case an intriguingly revamped version of “Butter,” complete with the world’s first suit-jacket air guitar.

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Billie Eilish (and Finneas) seized the moment. In her roughly 35 Grammy performances so far, Eilish has too often fallen into the ceremony’s candle-lit ballad trap, so it was bracing to see “Happier Than Ever” bloom into full-on arena rock that lived up to her Taylor Hawkins T-shirt — complete with Finneas making a super-rapid switch between acoustic and electric guitars. It may well have been the greatest pop-rock performance in the fake rain since Kelly Clarkson’s epochal 2005 VMAs take on “Since You Been Gone.”

Lil Nas X’s handlers belatedly got their wish — Jack Harlow’s verse was cut nearly in half on “Industry Baby.” Dressed like the drippiest member of the Kryptonian council of elders, Lil Nas X was the pop divo the world needs right now. But it was notably odd that Jack Harlow only got to rap part of his “Industry Baby” verse — especially since Harlow just revealed to Rolling Stone that he had to appeal personally to Nas after his management tried to slice Harlow’s verse in half “for the algorithm.”

Brandi Carlile, slap us across the face. Is it possible for an artist as lauded as Brandi Carlile to actually be underrated? Her glittery performance of “Right on Time,” with two separate money notes, helps explain to any doubters why her pals Elton John and Joni Mitchell treat her as an equal.

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Classic rap is going to be a thing. Nas and his big band were legitimately spectacular, and his stage mastery — honed over decades — suggested that the current vintage-hip-hop resurgence (the Super Bowl, Versuz, LL Cool J’s Rock the Bells SiriusXM channel) is only going to get bigger. 

Why, though, was there almost as much pre-1950s pop on this broadcast as there was rap? It was hard not to notice that J Balvin was one of the only young rappers on the entire show. Where was Doja Cat’s performance? How about J. Cole (youngish), Baby Keem, and Tyler, the Creator? (Outside of rap, why didn’t Jazmine Sullivan — whose Best R&B Album winner, Heaux Tales, was unfairly shut out of an Album of the Year nom — get to perform?) Stephen Sondheim certainly deserved a tribute performance, treacly as it was, but why didn’t DMX get one too?

Catwoman’s dad rocks. Even Jared Leto was trying to figure out how Lenny Kravitz hasn’t aged in 30 years, though even he couldn’t upstage H.E.R. killing it on every instrument short of the flugelhorn.

Justin Bieber still doesn’t know when he’s parodying himself. His solo piano turn at the start of “Peaches” was impressive, but his eyes-clenched-shut soul-man delivery was ludicrously disconnected with the “badass bitch” and “weed from California” lyrics. 

The Astroworld victims deserved a tribute. Just four months ago, 10 young people died in the worst concert tragedy in years. The tragedy deserved at least a mention on “music’s biggest night.”

It’s absurd and inexcusable that Jon Batiste’s Album of the Year victory marked the first time a Black performer won that award since 2008. And that one went to a Herbie Hancock album of Joni Mitchell covers. I mean, come on.

From Rolling Stone US.

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