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The Top 5 Moments of the 2016 Grammys

Well, we made it. The 2016 Grammys are in the books. We had some transcendent performances, a few less memorable showings, and we even missed out on a couple. Rihanna had to cancel for fear that her vocal cords might hemorrhage (yikes), and Lauryn Hill pulled out of her rumored, potentially life-altering duet with The Weeknd.

There were other collaborative moments to make up for it, though. The Alabama Shakes were solid as always, and Justin Bieber’s performance was even worth mentioning. Joined by a not-as-electronic-as-usual Jack Ü—the EDM supergroup comprised of Skrillex and Diplo—Bieber performed “Where Are Ü Now” while his accompanists banged on live instruments. And, it turns out, that song actually has a pretty sweet guitar riff! (It’s not usually played on a guitar, thus the profundity of the discovery.)

Courtney Barnett, a wickedly talented guitarist and the long shot nominee deserving of Best New Artist, had a notable red carpet appearance. Amongst the celebs outfitted by the Versaci’s and the Givenchy’s, Barnett arrived in black blouse, skinny jeans, and black boots—a style endearingly titled “self-styled” by E! in their red carpet coverage. She also gave the freshest, realest red carpet interview:

She’s a rock star that dressed like a rock star and I say bravo! It was a memorable moment in an awards show that had many. Here are the Top Five:

5. Grammys PSA Highlights the Music Industry’s Inequities

Speaking of Barnett: In my Grammy predictions, I anticipated that she, as proprietor of many music videos that have Youtube view totals in the hundred thousands, would be overwhelmed in the Best New Artist category by billion-view songstress Meghan Trainor. And she was. I noted that disparity as a harbinger for category overhaul, and the Grammys, in a fastidiously-scripted PSA given by Common and Recording Academy president, Neil Portnow, magnified the issue.

“When you stream a song, all the people that created that music receive a fraction of a penny,” explained Portnow. “Isn’t a song worth more than a penny?”

That’s a good point, Neil, and it’s a contentious issue that has become more pronounced with the ubiquity of streaming. There was little genuine emotion in the speech though, and there were no solutions suggested. Still, it should apply some pressure to the world’s streaming giants. (FWIW, Meghan Trainor’s net worth as a “New Artist” is four million dollars, as estimated by Celebrity Net Worth. Courtney Barnett isn’t in the database.)

4. Taylor Swift’s Album of the Year Acceptance Speech

Okay, previously I gave Kanye carte blanche to storm the stage if Kendrick didn’t win AOTY. Then Kanye asked Mark Zuckerberg for a billion dollars to finance his ideas and included a derogatory and already infamous line about Taylor on his new album.

Swift, poised and confident, responded with a subtle middle finger in her acceptance speech.

“I wanna say to all the young women out there, there are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success, or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame. But if you just focus on the work, and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you will know that it was you, and the people who love you, who put you there, and that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”

Kendrick still should have won, but good for you Taylor. Good for you.

3. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Acceptance Rap for Hamilton’s Win

The odds for most of us ever getting to see Hamilton is, devastatingly, low, and that grows more devastating as each day passes. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the brainchild/thespian/impresario behind the wildly successful Broadway show, rapped the acceptance speech for the troupe’s Best Musical Theater Album win. It was potent, sharp, and just generally filled with joy—I’ll let the moment speak for itself:

2. Lady Gaga’s David Bowie Tribute

I was initially hesitant when it was announced that Lady Gaga would perform the Grammys’ Bowie tribute. Any shortfall at all and this thing could go down as Grammy sacrilege for all of eternity—was she up for that? Of course she was. Who else so comfortably transitions between costume and personality? She has a brilliant voice, she’s more than capable at tapping the ivory, and now that she’s (successfully) entered the realm of film, who could be better?

The performance, both colorful and celebratory, featured a medley of Bowie hits that began with “Space Oddity” and ended with “Heroes.” It was wonderfully representative of the Bowie legacy—well done Gaga.

1. Kendrick’s Performance

Early in the show, Don Cheadle took the stage to introduce what was to be the most transcendent moment of the night. Cheadle, it was recently announced, will play Miles Davis in an upcoming biopic, and the actor quoted the legendary jazz musician in his introduction: “Sometimes you have to play a long time to play like yourself.” He continued to describe Kendrick Lamar as someone who seemingly skipped that step, jumping “straight out of Compton” into his own, singularly provocative voice.

Even though he didn’t win Album of the Year, it was still the year of Kendrick. The rapper took home five Grammys and, following Cheadle’s poignant inauguration, he gave one of the greatest rap performances of all-time.


In dauntless bravado, Kendrick walked onto the stage shackled and dressed in prison garb. Caged jazz musicians stood all around him and he proceeded to dive into the overtly political, “The Blacker the Berry.” From there, now surrounded by fire dancers, the rapper transitioned into “Alright”—the track just decorated with the Best Rap Song Grammy—and then debuted a new, incendiary track that brought the house down. The performance finally ended with Kendrick’s shadow standing within an outline of the African continent. The word Compton hovered above his head. It was one of those instantly iconic images, and hopefully, despite his non-win, it becomes the eternal banner of the 2016 Grammys.



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