The Best and Worst of the Grammys


But the essential Cardi B moment of the night came before the Grammy telecast began, with a psychedelic red carpet interview with E!’s Giuliana Rancic. Within the first 10 seconds, Cardi B said she had “butterflies in my stomach and vagina,” sending Ms. Rancic for a loop.

Ms. Rancic might have read up on Cardi B, but she was not prepared. There is a pat, practiced rhythm to red carpet interviews, a give and take of sycophantry and aw-shucks ego. Cardi B operates on a more instinctual level, meaning that at every turn, Ms. Rancic was flummoxed, befuddled and playing catch-up. It was three-plus minutes of old-style celebrity fluff getting crashed into and unmoored by new-style celebrity self-creation. JON CARAMANICA

The Best Would-Be Host


Dave Chappelle appeared with Mr. Lamar and later chided the Grammys for failing to nominate the rap group A Tribe Called Quest. Credit Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Naras

For the second year in a row, James Corden, a full-time employee of CBS, hosted the Grammys. It should have been Dave Chappelle. The comedian — who went on to take home an award for best comedy album (one of nine televised awards, for some reason) — first appeared with Mr. Lamar, cutting a six-and-a-half minute, show-opening performance that was pure adrenaline with a few chances to catch one’s breath.

His commentary was pitch-perfect, acute in a way that much of the show failed to live up to. “I just wanted to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America,” Mr. Chappelle said, deadpan. “Sorry for the interruption. Please, continue.” After another blistering segment by Mr. Lamar, Mr. Chappelle again played narrator. “Is this on cable? This is CBS?” he said. “It looks like he’s singing and dancing, but this brother’s taking enormous chances. Rumble, young man, rumble!”

Mr. Chappelle wasn’t done. Before introducing the nominees for best rap album, he gave the Grammys another quick jab to the ribs, highlighting the career of A Tribe Called Quest, which was notably left out of the category, much to the dismay of its leader (and Mr. Chappelle’s friend), Q-Tip. Mr. Chappelle did not quote the late Phife Dawg, but you could all but hear one of his classic rhymes between the lines: “I never let a statue tell me how nice I am.” JOE COSCARELLI

Kesha’s #MeToo Moment


Kesha gave her all on an emotional performance of “Praying.” Credit Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Naras

As the Grammys approached, it became increasingly clear that the burden of a #MeToo moment would fall on Kesha, the pop star who accused her longtime producer, Dr. Luke, of years of abuse in a 2014 lawsuit; Dr. Luke, whose real name is Lukasz Gottwald, has denied the accusations. The Grammys, unlike the Golden Globes and the Oscars, are not known for speeches, which is why Janelle Monáe’s introduction to Kesha’s performance felt potent: “We say time’s up for pay inequality, time’s up for discrimination, time’s up for harassment of any kind, and time’s up for the abuse of power,” she announced.

Kesha didn’t stand alone — she came with backup, a chorus of women in white led by Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Julia Michaels, Andra Day and Bebe Rexha. Her performance of “Praying,” a ballad off “Rainbow,” her first album since 2012, was an emotional exorcism. Singing directly to an antagonist — “You brought the flames and you put me through hell/I had to learn how to fight for myself” — she trembled, she screeched, she slipped around the song’s melody. And she fell into the women’s arms as the audience rose to its feet. CARYN GANZ

A Newcomer Stands on Her Own


SZA’s performance of “Broken Clocks” was one of the night’s most visually compelling. Credit Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Naras

Although none of her five nominations led to Grammy Awards, SZA still came out ahead in a way: She was the only nominee for best new artist who got to perform a full song on her own. In “Broken Clocks,” she sang about a frustratingly iffy relationship, topping a slow-swaying vamp with jazzy, asymmetrical vocal lines that could dart nervously ahead, pivot suddenly, linger over a quivering tone and declaim a chorus. She was too distinctive to shoehorn into some Grammy medley. JON PARELES

The Gutsiest Performance (by an Artist and a Child)


Donald Glover, who performs music as Childish Gambino, opted to perform an unexpected song, “Terrified.” Credit Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Naras

Childish Gambino, the novelty rap-turned-soul rewind project of the polymath Donald Glover, was this year’s left-field nominee for album and record of the year. But instead of playing it safe and using his performance slot to do “Redbone,” the nominated song and surprise hit from the nominated album, “Awaken, My Love!,” Mr. Glover did one of the only truly risky things that can be done to subvert this often overly reverential variety show: He played a song that pretty much no one has heard. And, with “Terrified,” backed by a band that did not appear to be miming to a prerecorded track, he stuck the landing.

A cameo from the preteen child actor and musician J.D. McCrary, who nailed his notes, was an added bonus — not to mention great synergy for the forthcoming live-action remake of “The Lion King,” in which Mr. McCrary was cast as the young Simba to Mr. Glover’s grown Simba. Then, immediately after, an Apple commercial used a big chunk of “Redbone.” That’s called having it both ways. JOE COSCARELLI

Camila Cabello Speaks for Dreamers


In a short speech introducing a performance by U2, Camila Cabello spoke about her personal history with immigration. Credit Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Naras

Ms. Cabello, the former member of Fifth Harmony whose solo debut album just went to No. 1, stepped out of Kesha’s backup choir to speak up for Dreamers. Born in Havana, Ms. Cabello was brought to the United States by her Cuban mother as a child and allowed in; her Mexican father later joined them. “Just like the Dreamers,” she said, “my parents brought me to this country with nothing in their pockets but hope. They showed me what it means to work twice as hard and never give up.”

She quoted the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty and introduced U2, performing on a windblown barge with the statue behind the band. Every so often, Bono raised his arm the way the statue holds its torch. The song doesn’t entirely add up — it veers between self-help and political resistance — but lines like “The face of liberty’s starting to crack” and “The promised land is there for those who need it most” couldn’t have had a better backdrop. JON PARELES

The Most Unexpected Shout-out

Among current artists least likely to ever be given a moment at the Grammys, Mozzy, the Sacramento street rapper who appears to operate a solar system away from the music industry (in a good way), would have seemed like a safe bet. So to hear Mr. Lamar invoke the budding cult favorite — “As my guy Mozzy say, you know, God up top all the time” — in his acceptance speech for best rap album was a welcome gift for, probably, dozens, and not even ostentatious enough to be baffling for the millions who almost definitely missed it altogether. During a show that tends to work broad, to say the least, you’ve got to take the Easter eggs where you can find them. JOE COSCARELLI

Rihanna Digs Deep


Rihanna set the internet on fire with her joyous dancing to “Wild Thoughts.” Credit Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NARAS

On a night where Lady Gaga, Pink and Miley Cyrus chose balladeering over strutting, the job of being a first-class pop star was left to Rihanna. The overarching aesthetic of this performance of DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts” with Bryson Tiller may have been less than clear, but it was joyous, and Rihanna threw herself into the moment, delighting online observers by breaking into the South African dance called gwara gwara. She punched her choreography with extra oomph while singing live, throwing ferocious faces and showing the world that she was having the most fun of anyone in Madison Square Garden. CARYN GANZ

The Worst

Limp Song Selection


Eric Church, Maren Morris and the Brothers Osborne played a solemn cover of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.” Credit Matt Sayles/Invision, via Matt Sayles, via Invision, via Associated Press

On a night in which two of the most dynamic album of the year nominees, Jay-Z and Lorde, did not take the stage (with Jay-Z reportedly turning down his slot and Lorde having not been offered her own showcase), the static performances stuck out even more than usual. Aged songs with questionable or forced relevance — Sting’s “Englishman in New York,” Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” Patti LuPone’s “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” — were well-executed but unnecessary, while ballads by a dressed-down, feet-on-the-ground Pink (“Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken”), Broadway’s Ben Platt (“Somewhere,” from “West Side Story”) and a piano-bound Lady Gaga (“Joanne,” “Million Reasons”) were limp or snoozy.

Even what should have been a guaranteed gut-punch — the country music tribute to the victims of the Las Vegas concert shooting — ended up a head-scratcher because of the choice to cover Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.” As Bruno Mars put it when he won record of the year for “24K Magic”: “Come on, turn it up one more time — too many ballads tonight!” Untapped nominated acts like Migos, Lil Uzi Vert and even Cardi B, who was relegated to two quick guest verses, could only nod in agreement — that is, if they were still paying attention. JOE COSCARELLI



Jay-Z, who attended the ceremony with his wife, Beyoncé, and daughter Blue Ivy, was the most nominated artist at the Grammys. He didn’t perform, and didn’t take home any awards. Credit Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Forget winning Grammys, or even sweeping all the major categories: all the cool kids are getting shut out! Jay-Z was this year’s most nominated artist, with eight nods for his album “4:44” and various songs and videos from it, but he went home empty-handed. Lorde was nominated for album of the year, but didn’t win. (She was spotted in the audience clutching a flask, though.) Cardi B: two nominations and no awards. And SZA, nominated five times, won no trophies. What was it Phife Dawg said again? JON CARAMANICA

No Big Prize for ‘Despacito’


Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s performance of “Despacito” was a triumph, but the song didn’t win any Grammys. Credit Timothy A. Clary/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Despacito” conquered the world in 2017 with billions of views and streams, but it couldn’t get a top Grammy as record of the year or song of the year. That would have been a milestone for Spanish-language pop (even though the version featuring Justin Bieber boosted the song’s popularity in the United States). Instead, the Recording Academy retreated to the funk nostalgia of Bruno Mars’s “24K Magic.”

Onstage at Madison Square Garden, “Despacito” was back to its original Puerto Rican performers, the singer and songwriter Luis Fonsi and the reggaeton rapper and singer Daddy Yankee. They sang and declaimed its come-ons with lascivious enthusiasm, surrounded by flashing pastel lights and gyrating showgirls suggesting Las Vegas — or the Latin Grammys. The song’s global spread isn’t over; a Spanish/Mandarin version by Mr. Fonsi with the Singaporean pop star JJ Lin appeared in November. JON PARELES

Subway Karaoke


From left: Shaggy, James Corden and Sting tried to transform “Carpool Karaoke” for a New York crowd in a “Subway Karaoke” skit. Credit CBS

James Corden’s trademark “Carpool Karaoke” is usually a harmless bit of talk-show host self-promotion. But Mr. Corden’s comedy also has another recurring shtick: self-humiliation. He carried Sting and Shaggy into it with a fake-vérité “subway karaoke” bit, as they sang old hits and a new collaboration to a stereotypically hostile Noo Yawk reception that was predictable from the setup. The Grammys tried to atone to Sting and Shaggy; that new song got two more plugs, as a stage performance and as walk-on music for Sting, who presented song of the year. JON PARELES

A Choir to Lean On


Sam Smith was one of several artists who took the Grammys stage backed by a choir. Credit Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The Grammys rarely if ever showcase actual gospel music — and this would have been a great year to do so! — but choirs abound, providing sturdy ballast for unsteady performers. Generally, the choirs are black, the performers white. To wit: Sam Smith performed his new ballad “Pray” on Sunday night, but it was dolorous until the backing choir arrived to uplift him at the first chorus. But no choir in the world could make Mr. Smith any warmer than temperate, any cooler than lukewarm. JON CARAMANICA

Continue reading the main story


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here