The Grammys had flashes of greatness this year. Chance the Rapper winning Best New Artist and Best Rap Album, then proving he deserved both with an emotional medley of “How Great” and “All We Got” with a full gospel choir. Beyoncé's weirdly mesmerizing fertility-goddess performance of “Love Drought” and “Sand Castles.” Bruno Mars achieving Peak Purple with a note-perfect re-creation of Prince's “Let's Go Crazy.” The distinct, serrated sound of a Roland 303 acid synth line creeping into Daft Punk and The Weeknd's collaborative track “I Feel It Coming.”
The hands-down highlight of the telecast, even before Busta Rhymes came out and referred to our commander-in-chief as “President Agent Orange,” was A Tribe Called Quest. When they launched into a medley of “Award Tour” and “Can I Kick It?” with L.A.'s own Anderson .Paak on drums and an unoccupied microphone stand commemorating their fallen brother, Phife Dawg, it seemed to wake the entire Staples Center from an Adele-and–Ed Sheeran–induced coma. Tribe's five minutes made most of the rest of the Grammys' interminable 3½ hours — above-mentioned highlights aside — feel like a wake.
Which, in a way, it was. The Grammys represent a music industry that has largely, over the last 15 years or so, lost its center and lost the plot. How else to explain that safest of safe superstars, Adele, shutting out Beyoncé and her career-best album Lemonade in all four categories in which they competed head-to-head? How else to explain a bizarrely miscast Bee Gees tribute in a year that could have featured expanded tributes to Prince or George Michael, or any tribute at all to such brilliant, outspoken talents as Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, Juan Gabriel or Sharon Jones? How else to explain the godawful act of career desperation (on both parties' parts) that was Lady Gaga rocking out with Metallica?
If it's remembered for anything, this year's Grammys will most likely be remembered for an abashed, flustered Adele declaring, “I can't possibly accept this award” after winning Album of the Year, heaping praise upon Beyoncé, then thanking everyone and walking off with the award anyway. [Correction: She broke the Grammy in half and gave half of it to Bey.] Beyoncé, class act that she is, accepted the consolation prize of Adele's white guilt with hand over heart, but when even the award recipients themselves feel compelled to call out the Grammys' poor judgment during the telecast, you have to wonder why you just spent nearly four hours sitting through Rihanna reaction shots and Fifty Shades Darker commercials.
So are the Grammys even worth watching anymore? Will Adele, Taylor Swift and a rotating set of “legacy” rock acts (I predict Foo Fighters will be next) keep winning the Album, Song and Record of the Year categories until the robots take over and all our music is just generated by algorithms?
Possibly, but there are reasons to be hopeful — and those reasons, for the most part, aren't televised. The irony of the Grammys is that, while the primetime show seems incapable of stopping itself from sliding into irrelevance, the awards themselves keep getting a little more interesting and a little more on-point. I'm not talking about the measly nine awards handed out during the telecast, which with the exception of Chance the Rapper's two wins were glumly predictable. I'm talking about the 75 other awards bestowed during the “pre-telecast,” which was streamed on Grammy.com earlier in the day.
The Grammys have shown flashes of looking to the future
If you were among the tiny fraction of viewers who tuned in to that, you got to see Nashville-critiquing maverick Sturgill Simpson win Best Country Album and uncategorizable Aussie Flume win Best Dance/Electronic Album. You saw the brilliantly iconoclastic jazz ensemble Snarky Puppy beat a bunch of old-timers to win Best Contemporary Instrumental Album. You saw Beyoncé's kid sister Solange score a Best R&B Performance Grammy for one of the year's best singles (“Cranes in the Sky”) and a gifted young singer-songwriter named Sarah Jarosz take home honors for Best Folk Album and Best American Roots Performance.
So there's hope for the Grammys yet. They've shown flashes of looking to the future, or at least to the present, when artists like Chance and Beyoncé and Flume and Sturgill Simpson drive the culture, not a nice British balladeer who sells CDs to soccer moms by the truckload.
But until more of those flashes make it onto CBS, the Grammys will continue to feel as out of touch as the Trump White House. And like Adele, while we may keep protesting that we can't possibly accept these awards, we'll keep tuning in.