Why Does the Last Performance at the Grammys Always Kinda Suck?
What did we do to deserve a nightcap with Robin Thicke?
The 58th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony was, let’s face it, a bit of a snoozer, but there were some instantly iconic highlights like Kendrick Lamar’s fiery performance and Lady Gaga’s flashy tribute to David Bowie. And though Taylor Swift’s Album of the Year win over Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly was a flabbergasting (if inevitable) upset, her speech rebuking Kanye West was certainly memorable. Shame, then, that our final image of the 2016 Grammys was Pitbull and, uh, Robin Thicke.
Award shows are, in theory, a celebration of artistic talent, but in reality they’re an endurance test for audiences at home. Running three-plus hours long, the Grammys, Oscars, and their ilk have many exciting moments, no doubt, but by the time the credits roll shortly before midnight on the East Coast, it’s normal to feel physically, mentally, and spiritually drained. For producers, then, it’s a big task to end on a note that conveys a feeling other than “relief,” but the Grammys have really, really whiffed it in the past five years.
LL Cool J, the fun dad of hip-hop, has hosted for a half-decade straight, so let’s examine how the last performances from the (can’t believe we’re saying this) “Cool J Era” of the show. In 2012, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, and more played an arrangement of three Beatles songs. The next year, Travis Barker, Chuck D, and LL Cool J himself offered an unfocused tribute to late Beastie Boy Adam “MCA” Yauch. Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age joined forces in 2014, making for a powerful closing note but not necessarily a clamored-for conclusion. Common and John Legend wrapped last year’s show with the forced grandeur of “Glory.”
None of these five performances (save for maybe LL Cool J’s weird self-promoting Beastie Boys cover) was straight-up bad, but they were odd, somewhat unfulfilling ways to end Music’s Biggest Night. There’s a certain tacked-on irrelevance to them. Big names and an occasional hat-tip to rock fans don’t quite tie up a neat narrative arc, and they certainly aren’t worth sitting through three-and-a-half hours of television just to watch. The closing numbers are positioned as a grand finale, but they’re really just exit music for you to vaguely hear while you turn off the TV, now that all of the awards have been given out. It doesn’t help that the producers run the end credits over the performance — can you imagine how that must feel as an artist? You’re the live equivalent of the song the host plays at a party when they want their drunk guests to GTFO.
Perhaps the Grammys should take a page from the Academy Awards, which while also bloated as all hell, know the virtue of a quick and quiet goodbye. Best Picture, acceptance speech, fin. Everybody gets to go to bed. The Grammys should either really put the effort into making the finale an event, or just call it five minutes early. At the very least, don’t give Robin Thicke any more work.