Every year, the Grammys broadcast fills its three hours with performances, so much so that the actual winners of the prizes tend to get overshadowed by the combinations on stage. The producers must have figured that if it works well for the actual awards show, it might as well work for the nominations special.
Such was the case with tonight’s Grammy Nominations Concert Live! Though there were some surprises in there (check out all the nominees here), it was hard to figure out exactly who was being rewarded with so much stuff happening on stage in Los Angeles (and in the case of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, on stages that were not even in the country).
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis kicked the show off from outside the Nokia Theatre, with some funny gags about security. They made their way into the Buckyball prison that was the stage and ripped through a relatively spry version of “Thrift Shop.” Macklemore has some natural charisma that he tends to coast on, but all props to his band of Robin Thicke jacket-wearing backup dancers and that dude walking and playing the trumpet at the same time.
After LL Cool J unveiled the nominees for Song of the Year (Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason,” Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven,” Katy Perry’s “Roar,” Lorde’s “Royals,” and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love”), he tossed the action to Taylor Swift live from Sydney, Australia. One thing you can say about LL: He can really wear a suit.
Swift thanked the Grammys for her nominations, even though only one of them had been announced. That led to a ridiculously overstaged performance of “Trouble,” featuring a giant staircase and some mask-wearing courtesans. Like their American counterparts, the Australians in the crowd went predictably nuts, especially during the mid-song costume change that found Swift transition from ball gown to some sort of corseted romper.
Then came the inexplicable moment that found Keith Urban and Miguel jamming on Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” The Grammys love trying to force “moments” like this, resulting in confusing nonsense. Miguel wasn’t totally embarrassing, if only because it was hard to decide which part of Urban’s performance was worse: His awkward vocal delivery or his sub-Lenny Kravitz guitar noodling.
Ed Sheeran came out to unveil the nominees for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance (Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Rhianna’s “Stay,” Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason,” Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” and Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie”), and in the process delivered the second different pronunciation of poor Nate Ruess’ last name (for the record, it rhymes with moose).
After the announcement of the Album of the Year nominees (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ The Heist, Taylor Swift’s Red, Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.a.a.d. city, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, and Sara Bareilles’ The Blessed Unrest), LL paid a simple tribute to Nelson Mandela, and it was the one understated moment the Grammys have had in its 56 years.
That transitioned into Katy Perry in Toronto, wearing a figure-skating costume and explaining that “Roar” is all about believing in yourself. “Roar” is a beast, though the neat acoustic arrangement robbed it of some of its bombast. Still, it’s the mark of a quality pop song that it can stand up to being stripped to its most basic elements.
LL announced Lorde as “royally talented,” which suggests his dialogue was written roughly two minutes before this show went live. Meanwhile, Lorde’s run through “Royals” was arrestingly sparse, full of rhythmic twitches and the 17-year-old’s now-signature set of dance moves (hip spasm/arm twitch/shoulder shrug/repeat). She’s got a very particular stage presence—nervous, unpredictable, vaguely possessed—that shouldn’t work but absolutely does.
Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive,” Lorde’s “Royals,” Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven,” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” are your Record of the Year nominees, delivered via Melissa Etheridge and that goth girl from NCIS. LL sent us home with a “Blurred Lines” party hosted by a crazy-orange Robin Thicke, T.I., and some dudes from Earth, Wind & Fire. Whatever you think of Thicke and “Blurred Lines,” you have to admit the guy knows how to work a crowd, and his performance was highlighted by some front-row flirting. Oh, and Earth, Wind & Fire bassist Verdine White’s super-crazy hair/suit/everything.
The Grammys will be handed out on Sunday, January 26, which gives everybody plenty of time to argue about who should win. Who are your picks in the big categories—Song, Record, and Album of the Year? Start your engines in the comments.