Congrats to the 33 couples, gay and straight, who walked into the Grammy Awards Sunday night unmarried and walked out as newlyweds. Queen Latifah officiated your wedding; Madonna sang at it; Beyoncé was in the front row—no matter what, that’s an amazing way to kick off a life together.
But the mass marriage that took place to Macklemore’s “Same Love” and Madonna’s “Open Your Heart” towards the end of the night Sunday wasn’t really for the people getting hitched. They were props. It wasn’t really for gay rights either. Any public good that potentially came from the moment—maybe someone at home changing their attitudes about same-sex marriage—were side effects. The main reason for the nuptials, it seemed, was to give the musicians on stage and recording-academy members a chance to announce themselves as good people.
Which, of course, is always the point of everything that happens at Grammys. Like any major awards show, it’s an ad for its industry. This year, the message being sold was, as host LL Cool J dutifully put it at the beginning, that music’s awesomeness transcends all boundaries. Funnily enough, until the ultra-hyped “Same Love” stunt, the ceremony had been doing a pretty good, subtle (if too-slow) job of driving home that message.
Many of the big pop performances of the night successfully made the case that it takes talent and charisma to be one of the world’s most famous performers. Beyoncé and Jay Z opened with a slinking, sexual version of the already-slinking, sexual “Drunk in Love,” treating fans and gif makers to a bonus reprise of the song’s goofy “serfbort” verse. Taylor Swift sat at a piano for an aching take on “All Too Well,” complete with earnest head banging and closing with a fierce stare at the audience. Newcomer Lorde gave minimalist treatment to her song of the year, “Royals,” and cemented her status as an independent when it comes to visual aesthetic, sonic style, and dancing technique. Pink strung herself from the ceiling for the zillionth awards show, and it was still impressive: Nearly no one else in the room could have pulled off all that mid-air spinning without injuring themselves or losing their dinner on national TV.
A few of the Grammys’ notorious, headline-making collaborations worked better than anyone could have expected as well. In particular, rapper Kendrick Lamar and rockers Imagine Dragons blew up my Twitter feed by seeming like a natural fit together. Lamar’s been performing with a live backing band on recent tour, so he seemed comfortable—actually, fired up—uniting with the percussion-heavy FM radio act to deliver a mashup of his “M.a.a.d City” and their “Radioactive,” and he even closed with a scorching freestyle.
But the group effort of the evening went to Daft Punk. In their second live TV performance ever, the French dance duo reunited the crew that created their mega-smash “Get Lucky”: Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers and singer/producer Pharrell Williams (who scored an instantly iconic look by wearing awkwardly large, Smokey Bear hats throughout the night). As if there wasn't enough legendary talent on display, Stevie Wonder joined as well. The song opened on a set appointed like a ‘70s recording studio, with the robot-helmeted dudes nowhere to be found—till a wall panel went down and a bunch of neon lights went up. But the main action was off stage, where the celebrity-filled auditorium became something of a dance party. Unexpected highlight: Yoko Ono’s peace-sign shimmy, a reminder to everyone why the most lovable music video of 2013 was the Plastic Ono Band’s “Bad Dancer.”
When Daft Punk won for album of the year and record of the year, they remained in character—taking the stage in costume, remaining silent, letting their collaborators talk. Which was cool, for reasons beyond mystique maintenance. After all, to create the Grammys’ favorite album of 2013, Random Access Memories, they reproduced classic disco and R&B styles by hiring the very people who pioneered those styles in the first place. By making Rodgers, Pharrell, and songwriter Paul Williams accept the awards, Daft Punk—inadvertently or not—acknowledged that they themselves were just skilled interlopers. Their humility, and their long hug after winning the night's biggest award, felt surprisingly moving.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, for their considerable talents, are interlopers as well—hip-hop musicians whose fan base largely exists outside of hip hop, as shown by the fact that the Grammy committee handling rap categories reportedly wanted to exclude the duo from consideration. That committee’s fears, you imagine, came true when Macklemore swept the rap categories over competition from genre titans Kanye West, Jay Z, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar, many of who made career-defining albums this year. (Macklemore later Instagrammed himself texting Lamar, "You got robbed.") As more than one person pointed out on Twitter, combined with the Daft Punk win, it’s easy to come away thinking the Grammys likes black music only so long as it’s made by white people.
It’s not a stretch, then, to see the Macklemore and Madonna wedding as an example of the Grammys liking gay people, so long as they’re represented by and intermixed with straight ones. Mary Lambert, who sings the hook on “Same Love,” is lesbian; rumors say that Queen Latifah is too. But Madonna (in a glaring, white, cowboy getup) and Macklemore got the lion’s share of attention. Of course, it’s progress to have same-sex marriages sanctioned on a huge national TV event. But it says something that the real stars of the moment—the people committing to love one another for eternity—were given only a few, fleeting moments on camera. It was their day, but it wasn’t their show.
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