The Margin: A controversy-free Grammy Awards honors Jon Batiste, Silk Sonic, Olivia Rodrigo and others
The Grammy Awards steered clear of the controversy that turned the slap-filled Oscars into a subject of national conversation a week ago. And the Sunday event managed to honor a wide variety of musical artists — the true point of the ceremony — at the same time.
Jon Batiste, the singer, instrumentalist and bandleader, took home the award for album of the year for his release “We Are.” Batiste, who won four other Grammys, bested such artists in the album category as Justin Bieber, Doja Cat, Taylor Swift and the generation-spanning duo of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.
In accepting the night’s top honor, Batiste said music is “more than entertainment for me. It’s a spiritual practice.”
Silk Sonic, the R&B duo of Bruno Mars and Anderson.Paak, opened the show with an explosive performance. The duo was later recognized during the ceremony with two top honors — song and record of the year — for “Leave the Door Open.”
Singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo was named best new artist.
The awards ceremony, televised live on CBS, was hosted for the second consecutive year by Trevor Noah of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” Noah kept things on a light note throughout the three-and-half-hour event, playfully interacting with such groups as Silk Sonic and K-pop sensations BTS. (He even chatted up the latter group in their native Korean.)
Noah did, however, make one reference to the Oscars scandal at the top of the ceremony.
“We’re going to be keeping people’s names out of our mouths,” he said, referring to the now infamous moment when Will Smith confronted Chris Rock for a joke made about the actor’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. In addition to slapping the comic, Will Smith said, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f–king mouth.”
Not that the music-industry ceremony isn’t capable of providing its own moments of controversy and intrigue. The 2022 event had originally been scheduled for Jan. 31, but was moved to Sunday because of fears earlier in the year about the fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus. The Grammys also grabbed headlines when it banned Kanye West, aka Ye, from performing because of his recent “concerning online behavior.”
The show needed to prove it could again find an audience. A record-low viewership of 8.8 million watched the ceremony last year — a decline of 53% from the audience in 2020.
The event kept the focus on the music, with a steady stream of performances. Featured artists included BTS, Bieber, Rodrigo, singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, country stars Carrie Underwood and Chris Stapleton and rappers Nas and Lil Nas X.
One of the most heartfelt moments of the night: When Lady Gaga performed and honored Bennett, her recent collaborator. The 95-year-old Bennett, who introduced Lady Gaga via video, announced in 2021 that he was retiring from the concert stage.
The war in Ukraine was also referenced during the evening — most notably with pre-recorded remarks from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. He said that in his country, “Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos…But the music will break through anyway.”
Numerous winners were also announced before the televised ceremony. The Foo Fighters, who were inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame last year, won awards for best rock album (“Medicine at Midnight”) and best rock song (“Waiting on a War”). The honors carried special meaning for the group, since its drummer, Taylor Hawkins, recently died. (The Foo Fighters had been scheduled to perform at this year’s ceremony, but canceled following Hawkins’ death.)
Hawkins was among those honored during a memoriam segment. Other late artists recognized included Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, rock great Meat Loaf, Woodstock creator Michael Lang and Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim. The segment was accompanied by a selection of Sondheim’s work.
Aside from Noah’s opening comment referencing the Oscars, the Will Smith-Chris Rock incident was mostly ignored. Still, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the recording artist who presented the award for song of the year, remarked jokingly, “I trust that you people will stay 500 feet away from me.”
The comment carried special weight since Questlove was fresh off winning the Oscar for best documentary for his film “Summer of Soul” — the very category that Rock presented during the Oscars.
This year’s show took place in Las Vegas for the first time in its 64-year history. The ceremony was produced by film and television director Ben Winston, who shared his thoughts on Twitter just hours prior to the event.
“Proud to be producing the Grammy today. Heck of a lineup,” he said.