Op-Ed: The Grammys – By Bob Lefsetz


Taylor Swift was insufferable, LL Cool J was jive, the Weeknd soared and the Eagles sounded like angels ferrying Glenn Frey to heaven.

But what struck me most was the changing of the guard. The baby boomers, the rockers, they're in the rearview mirror, it's a pop world run by young people and if you're waiting for the classic rock era to come back I can only quote Pete Townshend…that song is over.

How did this happen? Wasn't the business supposed to crater when the legends crapped out?

But the truth is Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean can all sell out stadiums, Ms. Swift too, and we haven't had that spirit here since…well, maybe not 1969, but for a very long time.

The business may be run by old men, but soon they're going to be gone too and it will be a whole new era. One in which separating the seeds from the stems in your gatefold cover will be completely history, just like waiting for your favorite song to come on the radio and knowing every track on a mediocre album because you bought it and can't afford another.

We've been distracted, by piracy, by streaming rates. But the truth is time was passing, and despite the inane comments by Neil Portnow and Common, there's tons of money in music and it's only gonna get better. Arguing about streaming payments now is like bitching about home taping back before the CD came along to rain more riches upon the music business than it had ever seen before. Remember when people wouldn't pay for broadband? The public wants to give you their money, that's why you can't get a ticket to see Adele and the rest of the hit acts. Sure, the middle class acts are struggling, but so is the middle class itself, that's what Bernie Sanders is trying to save.

But Bernie Sanders was nowhere in evidence at this hermetically sealed show, where insiders were up front and there was rarely a sense of energy in the room. Scalia died but I heard no reference to the man single-handedly holding back artistic freedom… That's right, try getting an abortion in Texas so you can continue your career. But every act's a Republican these days, out for themselves and refusing to lift their brother. What a long strange trip it's been from Paul Kantner giving the middle finger to the establishment.

But Bernie is about credibility and truth. Who wrote this show, who hired LL Cool J? The script sounded straight out of 1985, there was no honesty, no edge, just flattery and pabulum, and you expect those at home to be inspired to get it right? When everybody on stage is doing it for the exposure?

But you've got to question their judgment. Taylor Swift wore a slinky outfit, she's outgrown her geekiness, but her production was a wall of sound, and not in a Phil Spector way. You could see it, but you couldn't HEAR IT! And the last time I checked it was about what went into your ears as opposed to what went into your eyes.

And then there was the lame intro and the flashbacks to previous shows… Huh? That'd be like whipping out your baby pictures on a first date. Be present, isn't that what the millennials strive for?

But there was an emphasis on hip-hop immediately. As if rock had been lost along the way and old farts were no longer entitled to seats at the table, it was refreshing.

And when the second performance was by young country stars… You know something has changed. There was no sense of history, no playing to the past, and that's a good thing.

And then came the Weeknd.

HE COULD SING!

That's what separates the amateurs from the professionals… You almost couldn't believe it, we're not exposed to such greatness, everything is faked, from music to videos, that's the story of the twenty first century, and then someone with talent, from Canada, where they still believe in that, brings us back to where we once belonged. You couldn't take your eyes off him, you were stunned.

Not so much when he segued into "In The Night," but you can't ask for everything.

Andra Day made Ellie Goulding look like an amateur.

As for the Lionel Richie tribute…talk about a train-wreck. Obviously it was payback for agreeing to be honored by Musicares, but this was the first truly tone-deaf performance. And why does everybody on the Grammy telecast have to perform with someone else? Have any "Grammy Moments" ever resulted from this? NO!

Then we had the inane recitation of the fable that country radio held back Little Big Town's "Girl Crush" because they thought it was about lesbianism. IT WAS A PUBLICITY STUNT! People can't trust Hillary Clinton because she says what's expedient, paying back all her donors along the way, and you've got the Grammys doing the same thing. Don't they realize times have changed?

And I love Stevie Wonder, but thank god Maurice White was already dead, that was a lame tribute. Either do it right, with the whole damn band, or don't do it at all.

And then came the Eagles…

I'd love to say Jackson Browne knocked it out of the park, but his voice was sketchy. As for the rest of the band, like the Weeknd, you just couldn't believe their voices weren't on tape. When the camera focused on Brittany Howard singing the "oohs" in the audience…I got goosebumps. These are our shared memories, at some point there will be no more Eagles, we'll only have the records, revel in the sound while you can, as well as Bernie Leadon's picking…what a concept, play the lead from the record and nail it! Then again, the Eagles were all about perfection, and you hated them for it. But how many of today's acts will be selling out arenas decades hence?

James Bay and Tori Kelly sang in search of a song.

And then came "Hamilton"…

I first saw it at the Spotify party, at the Chateau Marmont, with glasses tinkling and people talking and it just didn't work, it seemed like a segment from the small screen sixties.

But when I watched it at home…

I hated the coached audience, over-applauding.


But I LOVED the rapped acceptance speech by Lin-Manuel Miranda. How come this guy is more creative than all the doofuses on the main show?

But what I really took from this telecast was that "Hamilton" is a live event. Even the album misses the mark, it's sans the shouting and the sheer passion of the production. "Hamilton" is the best musical event of the year, far outstripping the records nominated for the hip-hop award, and "1989" too. Because Lin-Manuel Miranda took a risk, pushed the envelope, he didn't call Max Martin to ensure success, but hung it out there all the way. If you've seen the show you know what I'm talking about.

And now we're in the middle of the telecast and it's hard not to fast-forward.

Kendrick hooked you and then the production overwhelmed the message.

As for Adele… Did this song sound like a hit to you?

As for Bieber… Totally laughable. When he was strumming his guitar singing his song it reminded me of a high school student playing for his parents. It sucked. Why does this guy get a pass?

"Where Are U Now" was better, but a bit of a train-wreck.

But nothing like Lady Gaga's tribute to David Bowie. It was jaw-droppingly bad. Why didn't they just hire the original, Liza Minnelli, to do this faux tribute to a bleeding edge artist?

Medleys never work. If she'd just sung "Space Oddity" sans makeup and production it would have been better. Who's responsible for this? Couldn't Nile Rodgers have said no? But that's the Grammys, where more is better and no one will stand up to Ken Ehrlich and Gaga is treated like a superstar, as opposed to someone with one hit album. Hell, this was a job for Annie Lennox, someone from the old days who's still got it. What a disaster.

And by this time it's kind of a blur.

The B.B. King tribute was good, but not so good you couldn't go to the bathroom. Sure, Chris Stapleton needed to be on the show, but couldn't he have done one of his own songs? And what did Gary Clark, Jr. do for us this year? As for Bonnie Raitt…I love her, she played some mean slide, but how about delaying her appearance until next year, when her new album is in contention? This was one of those boomer moments, throwing a bone to the aged, but the befuddled alta kachers had already tuned out and gone to bed, like they were gonna sit through the music of these youngsters, it contradicted almost everything they believed in!

But Alabama Shakes delivered. Got to give them credit.

As for Hollywood Vampires… Evidence as to why rock is dead and should stay buried. It was like opening a crypt from the seventies…ee-eww…

And I thought they were going to avoid a train-wreck ending, but they can't resist, throwing everything including the kitchen sink into the mix, albeit spearheaded by one of today's hitmakers.

As for the winners?

Who gives a shit. You're not gonna remember 'em.

But I remember when bands refused to be on this show. Protesting its lack of pulse, and as much as Mike Greene made it legitimate, when Stephen Colbert can win two Grammys, what the hell are the statuettes worth?

There are way too many categories and the big sport is second-guessing the voters as opposed to applauding what's real.

But the show was much better than the Oscars. Because it's living in the present.

We never expected this to happen, to have all our classic artists dropping like flies, we thought they and their music were gonna rule until we died.

But it's a new world now. One in which Clive Davis may be featured on screen, but he has absolutely no power.

Go to a music business event. Everybody's 25-35. The generation's changed. It's their music business now.

And that's a good thing.

But why do so many of the hits have to be written by committee? Are we so afraid of diversity that Max Martin has to work on all the hits? And when Universal sweeps the top category you wonder what it's gonna take for a newbie to break in, one who doesn't want to play by the rules.

But the truth is the barrier to entry is low.

I just wish that more people knew how to play, but even more knew how to think, how to be their own person.

It's not about girl power, it's about people power.

Music is the last bastion of the individual. We like you best when you let your freak flag fly!