Dr. Jill Biden was in the house tonight at the 65th annual Grammy Awards, but the real first lady on the live CBS telecast clearly was Beyoncé.
Taking home two awards before the downtown L.A. show started on the small screen and Paramount+, and then Best R&B song with “Cuff It” and Best Dance/Electronic Music Album for Renaissance during the broadcast itself, Queen Bey is now literally the Queen of the Recording Academy with 32 career wins — more than any artist in Grammy history.
You rarely see someone as phlegmatic as Beyoncé miss a beat, but even she did when got up to accept her record-breaking trophy as the crowd of Grammy winners past, present and likely future and thousands of fans in the arena went wild for the undisputed GOAT.
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A bet that almost no one wanted to wager against all week leading up to Music’s Big Night, the hype of Beyoncé’s barrier-breaking victory, along with Harry Styles’ Album of the Year award, were but two of many elements giving the more the nearly four-hour show some real drama on and off stage,
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Taking it to the dancer-filled stage in the round with 2023 winner Bad Bunny and the first fully in-person show in three years, from the get-go, the Trevor Noah-hosted show even had Taylor Swift busting a genuine move in her front-row seat. Turning the often soulless and undoubtedly soon-to-be-renamed Crypto.com Arena partially into a dinner club, the show executive produced by Raj Kapoor Ben Winston and Jesse Collins succeeded as a mainly hit-filled mixtape of top-tier live performances (Lizzo, Styles), pre-recorded advocating fan roundtables, White House residents, tributes, scandal-teasing fashions (we see you JLo, Mr. Styles), superstar presenters, a Vladimir Horowitz shout-out from Billy Crystal and more.
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To quote past Grammy winner Crystal tonight out of context, the third time proved a charm for past and present host Noah with a show that hit almost all the right notes.
Yes, there was the comedown of Bonnie Raitt’s Song of the Year win near the end that felt very 1989 Jethro Tull when it should have been Metallica — or in this case Kendrick Lamar, Lizzo, Beyoncé or several other nominees, if you know what I mean.
There was the insulting lack of closing captioning by CBS under Bad Bunny’s Spanish performance and award acceptance. There was also that lame Madonna segment where she had to implore the crowd to make “some noise” for her controversary routine that seemed so old-fashioned. There was the gibberish of that fantasy video from Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. Then there were the disrespectfully lame few caught on camera who distinctly didn’t applaud when Dr. Biden came onstage to present the Grammys’ inaugural Social Change Award to Iranian artist Shervin Hajipour for his song “Baraye” and then Song of the Year. Sure. Beyoncé, Adele and Swift were in the audience but did not perform Sunday, and the show was just too damn long.
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Yes, there was all that, but unlike most other awards shows, there still was more than enough superstar superpower to go around at the 2023 Grammys. That, along with records that people actually listen to actually winning, for the most part, was in no small part why the vast majority of the fairly fast-paced show was fun to watch and dance to.
Spilling out “Trump wanting to learn Spanish,” Chinese spy balloon and actually funny Renaissance jokes from the red-carpeted arena floor — plus a Jay-Z quip that floundered and an Adele and Dwayne Johnson meet-up that went by too fast — former Daily Show host Noah sauntered among the illustrious nominees and legends at the start to figuratively set the stage as a hype-man deluxe – which is sort of what an award show host should do. Of course, all of that almost paled next to the wonderfully glacéd intro of Brandi Carlile’s hard-rockin’ “Broken Horses” performance by her daughters and wife Catherine Shepherd – which added an intimate feel to the shindig
There was also some non- Beyoncé history to celebrate in a historical fashion.
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Later devilishly taking the stage to perform “Unholy,” Stan Smith and Kim Petras won the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for their tune about halfway through the show. That victory saw the German singer become the first transgender woman to claim the award at the Grammys.
Then hip-hop took the spotlight, and I don’t just mean Lamar’s well-deserved win for Best Rap Album.
First, a tuxedoed Dr. Dre accepted the inaugural Global Impact Award named after the N.W.A, producer supreme and Beats founder himself.
Then, to paraphrase JFK, the Grammys hasn’t seen so many icons together as were onstage for the hip-hope 50th anniversary celebration since Beyoncé and Jay-Z were last in attendance together. Seriously, kicked off by the equally iconic and Kangol-wearing LL Cool J with a street-level backbeat musical backing and curation by The Roots’ Questlove and Black Though, the backstory of the beats that rule the world was center stage.
The onstage array of Big Boi, the slaying Busta Rhymes with Spliff Star, De La Soul, DJ Drama, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee Missy Elliott, Future, GloRilla, Grandmaster Flash, Grandmaster Melle Mel & Scorpio/Ethiopian King, Ice-T, Lil Baby, Lil Wayne, The Lox, Method Man, Nelly, Public Enemy, Queen Latifah, Rahiem, the demigod Rakim, the remaining members of the trailblazing Run-D.M.C, Salt-N-Pepa and Spinderella, Scarface, Swizz Beatz and Too $hort, plus LL Cool J himself, was glorious.
Moving even the stoic Jay-Z to smile in the crowd, the repeatedly bleeped-out hip-hop 50th medley also was an exercise in relevance and reverence. A relic in many respects for the past decade or so, the Grammys and the Recording Academy took far too long to give the world’s most popular music genre its true due.
That wasn’t the case tonight.
In looking back to hip-hop’s roots and its present form with Jay-Z outside the arena at the very end of the show doing an elaborate beggar’s banquet version of DJ Khaled’s nominated “God Did” with the man himself, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, John Legend and Fridayy, the Grammys finally got it right. Having delivered the showstopping 75th Tony Awards back in June last year with powerhouse host Ariana DeBose, CBS is on a bit of a trophy ceremony roll with tonight’s show.
For once, Music’s Biggest Night was a case of believing most of the hype.
It’s a lesson and a strategy that the Oscars might want to consider for next month’s 95th Academy Awards – let’s hope so, with or without Beyoncé in the house.