The “crazy” moment of Sunday’s Grammy Awards ceremony involved a pop star’s urine. Accepting her award for “Kiss Me More” in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category, a winded Doja Cat told the crowd, “I have never taken such a fast piss in my whole life.” She had apparently rushed to the stage to accept her trophy after an ill-timed bathroom break. Next to her stood her partner on that song, SZA, holding crutches that she barely relied on (but used nonetheless) as she made her way to the stage and up its stairs. (Aid to the stars Lady Gaga helped her with her train.) Avril Lavigne, back from wherever she’s been all these years, presented the award.
This moment was the closest that Grammys ever got to the pervasive, intoxicating chaos of this year’s Oscars—a chaos whose epicenter was Will Smith’s impromptu pimp slap of Chris Rock. On that show, the Chaoscars, full contact was made, whereas the best the Grammys could muster was a near miss—and not of hand to cheek but of winner to stage. Are you dozing off yet?
Try as they might to bring in some fresh blood and keep their ears to the street, the Grammy Awards has never outrun its reputation as a snoozefest—the ceremony regularly shows that it deserves the derisive nickname people have used for it since at least the ‘90s, the Grannies. Odd decisions that were simultaneously try-hard and off the mark abounded. Jon Batiste’s We Are, which made virtually no cultural impact when it was released in 2021, won Album of the Year? K. Silk Sonic’s pleasant pastiche “Leave the Door Open” getting Song and Record of the Year? I mean, if you say so. Really, what made their wins so satisfying was Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s reactions to them.
.Paak seemed to love his wig about as much as Chris Rock likes ridiculing Jada Pinkett Smith.
Truly it is a great wig. Counts as a highlight.
It’s probably unfair to expect the Grammys to live up to the Oscars, which often cap awards season and (at least in my mind) always seemed like the most prestigious of the season’s offerings. Nonetheless, moments like the slap create standards against which other things are judged. Given the amount of material that slap gave the world—to rage against, agree with, chew up, spit out, regurgitate, and then complain about when “the discourse” refused to abate—the bar is high. If it’s legal and not a cancelable offense for me to talk about the slap not in political terms but entertainment ones, that kind of thing is the reason a lot of us watch awards shows. It’s one of those spontaneous moments that remind us of the head-spinning potential of getting a gaggle of celebrities in one room and broadcasting it live on television. It is, in short, the point, and the ensuing debates and discussions only further cement it as such. This year, the Oscars really, really mattered.
The Grammys? Not so much. And that’s partially by design. “Don’t even think of it as an awards show,” host Trevor Noah told the crowd in his opening monologue. “This is a concert where we’re giving out awards.” During the show’s three-hours-plus duration, there were 20 performances and nine awards distributed. (That’s a fraction of the dozens that were given out before the televised ceremony.) Further deflating any tension that could arise from the competition was that when nominees names’ were called, we were not shown footage of them in the audience applauding or perhaps biting their lips to telegraph a flash of nervousness. It was just some titles and footage from music videos. It gave the awards dispersal a real sense of disconnect, as if we were to forget the competitive nature of this competition. It was an awfully egalitarian presentation for something that seeks to create a hierarchy in art. Virtually every performance received a standing ovation by the crowd—enough to make me think, “What is this, the American Music Awards?” (Carrie Underwood’s performance of her new song “Ghost Story” was an outlier that didn’t seem to bring most people to their feet.) Maybe that’s the right idea, or at least one that’s widely shared. In his AOY acceptance speech, Batiste said, “I really believe this to my core: There is no best musician, best artist, best dancer, best actor. The creative arts are subjective and they reach people at a point in their lives when they need it most.” That’s nice. But more than that, it is boring.
The Grammys were virtually defanged and muzzled in their treatment of the attending stars, compared to the Oscars. Whereas Amy Schumer mocked nominee Being the Ricardos for being unfunny and made an incest joke about Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal, the Grammys had...Trevor Noah...being daft. Some samples from his monologue, full of what seemed like first drafts:
- “I saw Olivia Rodrigo myself. She was getting carded and she had to show a bouncer her actual driver’s license. It was like history, people.”
- “I saw Nas standing next to Lil Nas X. Plot twist: Lil Nas is actually taller. They don’t tell you this. Yeah.”
- “Lady Gaga and Jared Leto are here, as well everyone. That’s going to be fun. It’s not a full House of Gucci. More like an apartment of Gucci. A Gucci Airbnb, you know?”
Elder whisperer Gaga brought some tension with her inscrutable exuberance during a tribute to her duet partner Tony Bennett. (For all the odd choices she made with her facial expressions, I think Gaga is making really great career decisions and I genuinely admire her gaming agility as it relates to her celebrity, but is she going to be doing tributes to Bennett until he dies?) Margaret Qualley and Jack Antonoff were all over each other in full view of the camera. Noah had an awkward exchange with BTS members that seemed lost in translation. The censors selectively muted marijuana references in Justin Bieber’s performance of “Peaches.” It was allowed during his piano intro, but then cut once the tempo picked up. The effect was as though the censors realized in real time what Bieber’s “weed” referred to—it honestly made me wonder if any of the powers that be had actually heard the song before it was being performed live.
Bieber, by the way, seemed to agree with presenter Jared Leto’s assessment that he and his fellow Best Pop Vocal Album nominees were help making the world a richer place before Leto dad-ified his joke by adding, “Especially for your agents.”
In all, this was a very well-behaved affair. If this year’s Oscars were snark, the Grammys were smarm. If Oscars’ energy was chaos, the Grammys was all about control. It had a veneer of class, like the kind of thing you invite a world leader to, the kind of thing he actually shows up for.
In order to remain in the ether, in order to matter, the Grammys needed something that never materialized. I hesitate to say the Grammys needed a slap, though a good stiff metaphorical one maybe would have woken it from its stupor. More literally, it needed something of Smith’s hand’s magnitude or close to it to maintain the lasting relevance and entertainment value of this year’s Oscars The Grammys were just another awards show, er, sorry, a concert where they gave out awards. After last week, I have to wonder what the fun is in that.