Reporter's Notebook

The 2016 Grammy Awards
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Kendrick Lamar Saves the Grammys

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Tributes to late artists and respectable crooning from young ones were pretty much all the Grammys offered until Kendrick Lamar arrived to remind the world what music engaged with the present and unafraid of offending can achieve. He showed up as an inmate in a mock prison, and if the racial implication of the image wasn’t clear, he performed the first verse of the fiercely political confession “Blacker the Berry,” with stop-start instrumentation that somehow made the song even more intense than the version on his album.

The performance morphed into what looked like a tribal ceremony with an eye-searing bonfire, as Lamar broke into “Alright,” which is nominated for Song of the Year and has become a rallying song for Black Lives Matter. The set then shifted again as Lamar performed alone in front of the mic; quick camera cuts created a chaotic, hallucinatory effect. When the music ended, behind Lamar was a silhouette of Africa—but inscribed with the word “Compton,” the home of Lamar and a birthplace of gangsta rap.

After Beyonce’s performance at the Super Bowl a week ago, we can officially say a Black Power moment in mainstream pop has arrived.

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

David Bowie’s music contained ache, hope, mystery, memories, foresight, experimentation, tradition, and so many other things. Lady Gaga’s version of David Bowie’s music, as seen in a frenetic medley at the Grammys, contained only energy and a gappy grin.

It opened with various bits of Bowie iconography—the Aladdin Sane thunderbolt, the third eye, a spider—projected onto Gaga’s face (thanks to technology by Intel, as laughingly self-important ads before and after the performance told viewers). Working at an unforgiving pace, mugging and twirling and hip-shimmying, she and her band then ran through snippets of  “Space Oddity,” “Changes,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Suffragette City,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Fashion,” “Fame,” “Under Pressure,” “Let’s Dance,” and “Heroes.”

It was Bowie as a series of fragmented pop hooks and dance moves, right on the line of camp—and very, very fun to watch. If the treatment felt vaguely sacrilegious, it also seemed difficult to think of a possible Bowie tribute performance at the Grammys that wouldn’t. Gaga’s commitment certainly couldn’t be doubted, even without factoring in the Bowie tattoo.

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Hip-hop’s drought in the Album of the Year category at the Grammys continues for a 12th year. Kendrick Lamar entered the night with a historic number of nominations and delivered a ceremony-saving performance, but his To Pimp a Butterfly lost out to Taylor Swift’s 1989 for the big award. Of course, it’s never a huge surprise when a strongly reviewed 5x platinum album wins out at the Grammys, especially when its genre is pop.

Swift delivered an acceptance speech with a few layers of meaning and politics to unpack. She touted the fact that she's the first woman to ever win two Albums of the Year from the Grammys, a factlet whose mention may have been an attempt to pre-empt the idea that her win is unfair or not progressive. She also told women to not worry about men who “take credit for your accomplishments or your fame,” which probably referred to Kanye West’s recent lyric saying that he’s responsible for Swift’s fame.

Beyonce then came out and awarded Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk” the Record of the Year award. After that, Pitbull closed the show with the help of Robin Thicke, Travis Barker, Joe Perry, and Sofia Vergara dressed as a taxi.