Though he was denied album of the year, which went to Adele for “25,” Chance the Rapper made Grammy history Sunday.
The 23-year-old South Side artist beat out his primary inspiration, Kanye West, and Drake for best best rap album for “Coloring Book,” and also won best new artist. He praised his parents, Chicago and his keyboardist-producer Peter Cottontale and manager Patrick Corcoran, the core of his homegrown musical mini-empire.
Chance’s first Grammy, for best rap performance (“No Problem”), broke an invisible barrier. The rapper has never sold a single piece of recorded music, instead making his music available for free streaming on-line while developing a worldwide following. Recordings that were not commercially sold were previously banned from Grammy consideration, but the academy relaxed its eligibility standards last year, paving the way for Chance’s victory.
Chance also solidified the bond between 20th Century Chicago gospel and 21st Century Chicago hip-hop in a fervent performance with a white-robed choir.
Adele also won for song and record of the year (“Hello”) among her five Grammys. But even she seemed surprised to best Beyonce for album of the year. Beyonce’s “Lemonade” “was monumental,” she said.
As for the rest of the nationally televised broadcast, its first hour could be divided into two categories: Before Beyonce, and everything else. The performances were largely benign and banal, not once approaching the fervor of Kendrick Lamar’s showcase from last year.
The dichotomy between the two leading candidates for album of the year was dramatically underlined by their performances. While Adele was stately and dignified – and briefly teary-eyed after an emotional tribute to George Michael that she cut short and then re-started -- Beyonce brought an ethereal, abstract earth-mother vibe to a performance that was a mixture of spoken word and dreamy abstraction. One imagines a large portion of America wondering, “What just happened?” and hoping that Adele would come back soon.
Some notes, queries and smart-aleck observations from the Grammys telecast:
Schizophrenic opening: First there was Adele alone on a circular stage ringed in lights saying “Hello” to the nationwide audience. She was dignified, stately and on key. And then host James Corden charged into a series of Chris Farley pratfalls on a flight of golden stairs. “This is a disaster!” he proclaims. Who are we to argue?
The ‘80s crawled into a corner to die, until …: Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban resurrected the cheesiest production values of that decade’s pop mainstream in their synth-pop-country duet on “The Fighter.”
Spare us: Now we know what the members of Twenty-One Pilots look like in their skivvies while giving a self-empowerment speech. “Anyone from anywhere can do anything,” the pant-less singer advised while clinging to the last strands of his dignity.
The night’s best music criticism award goes go … Rihanna: As Bruno Mars embarrassed himself with a second-tier bump-and-grind bedroom come-on, the dismissive chuckle from Rihanna spoke volumes.
Incisive Grammys critique alert, Part 2: As Katy Perry sang while promoting her latest single: "Happily numb, so comfortable, we're living in a bubble."
It’s about time: The redoubtable if little known soul singer and songwriter William Bell finally got some recognition as he poured out his troubles with “Born Under a Bad Sign” with guitarist Gary Clark Jr. Albert King, for whom Bell originally wrote the song, undoubtedly would’ve been proud.
Make no small plans: In an acceptance speech, Beyonce said her aim with "Lemonade" was to “give a voice to our pain, our struggles … our history."
At least now we know she doesn’t lip sync: Adele messed up her tribute to George Michael and began again, apologizing profusely.
Don’t laugh, it makes sense: That Lady Gaga-Metallica collaboration wasn’t as far-fetched as it seemed – I’ve met hardcore Slayer fans at her shows. Besides, when singer James Hetfield’s microphone took a nap, the image of Gaga and Hetfield screaming into each other’s faces underlined the boldness that most of the awards ceremony was lacking.
Biggest letdown: They held a “Saturday Night Fever” 40th anniversary tribute and they didn’t bring John Travolta strutting on stage in a white suit? He was in the house presenting an award, after all. On second thought … nah.
Best Kind of Prince tribute: Just let the Time do their thing. The next best thing to Prince in ‘80s Minneapolis was Morris Day, whose mighty Time put some swag into funk and was a kicking band to boot, with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and their performance affirmed they haven’t lost an ounce of pizzazz.
Creepiest Prince tribute: That would be Bruno Mars, who had the costume, the hair and the sound just right but somehow still felt all wrong. Coming to a karaoke bar near you, Bruno and his Princeaholics.