Last night’s show wasn’t without its problems – one MAJOR problem, in fact, and I’m pretty sure you know what that is – but it would be unfair to say that there were no highlights, that it wasn’t really great at certain points…because it was, at a few points actually, and these points truly embodied the spirit of what the Grammys are supposed to be about: a celebration of music.
It was Bad Bunny who kicked off the celebration, opening the show with a powerful performance of his songs “El Apagón” and “Después De La Playa, especially significant because “El Apagón” in particular, which means “the blackout”, is deeply associated with the blackouts in Puerto Rico, most recently after Hurricane Fiona.
When the song and its video were released last year, Bad Bunny used the opportunity to raise awareness about the situation in Puerto Rico, turning the video – which begins as a standard music video – into a 20-minute documentary informing viewers about how poorly the people of Puerto Rico were being treated and the corrupt government and business leaders who were failing them. You can watch the video here. John Oliver also covered the story on Last Week Tonight and shouted out Bad Bunny’s efforts – you can see excerpts of that here and here.
Bad Bunny used his Grammys moment to highlight the resilience and joy of Puerto Ricans; dressed in a simple t-shirt and jeans, to represent and community and solidarity, the performance was both intentional and entertaining. Another reminder of why his music is so popular around the world, why he is indeed the most globally streamed artist of the last few years. Putting him first in the lineup was the right production decision.
Then of course there was the Stevie Wonder stage – joined by Smokey Robinson and Chris Stapleton, an example of one of the greatest strengths of the Grammys: the unexpectedly rewarding collaborations – for the Motown tribute. It was a jam session for the ages and part of the thrill of it is to see these artists getting so deeply involved in the gift that is music. As corny as it sounds, that, right there, is the essence of life. Music can connect people. It is perhaps the most powerful artform.
And over the last 50 years, the cultural impact of hip-hop on music has been undeniable. Hip-hop took center stage last night, basically at the mid-point of the show, a tribute to the past, present, and future, a euphoric and explosive showcase of the significance of hip-hop is in the cultural landscape – from what we listen to, what we respond to, how we dress, how we speak, how we write, how we move, and how we think.
As LL Cool J said off the top, not everyone could be included, understandably. But even the absence of those who weren’t there, like Andre 3000 or the other members of Wu Tang apart from Method Man, served as a reminder that hip-hop in its origins and at its best never ignores the struggle and the loss…
Which is why it came full circle with Jay-Z’s four-minute verse to close the show on DJ Khaled’s “GOD DID”. These are some of his best lyrics in years as he reflects on the path of his own career that you might say could also be applied to hip-hop, dismissed and resisted by the establishment for so long only to then become the engine of the music industry and the centerpiece of the Grammys on its 50th anniversary.
â€œGod Didâ€ live at the 65th Grammy Awards performed by @DJKhaled, JAY-Z (@sc), @JohnLegend, @LilTunechi, @RickRoss, and @Fridayy. #Grammys pic.twitter.com/gmAOZcW5T4— Roc Nation (@RocNation) February 6, 2023
And still, that too was bittersweet. Because Jay-Z’s performance came … after. After all those highs, there was a profoundly sad low. A low for the Grammys, an institution that keeps trying to do better, and still managed to get such a big thing wrong.