The Ten Things About the 2016 Grammys That Are Gonna Piss Everyone Off
Meghan Trainor, 'Fifty Shades of Grey,' and more things to get prematurely incensed over
If righteous indignation isn’t the reflexive reaction for most folks when watching the Grammys, it’s probably at least their preferred mode of viewership. Because really, no one watches music-award shows to see good work rewarded, to see pop’s biggest and best stars shine their brightest, and certainly not to be exposed to any previously unfamiliar artists for the first time. Mostly, we just want to know what people are gonna be complaining about on Twitter the next morning — if we’re not already there bitching ourselves.
With that in mind, we’ve created a primer for the areas of potential annoyance to watch out for at this year’s ceremonies — some of which we believe will happen, some of which we know for a fact will happen, all of which we’re betting will draw the public’s ire from Monday night well into Tuesday morning.
1. Taylor Swift’s opening performance. For an artist up for seven statues, honoring a year that was almost unquestionably the most successful of her career, Taylor Swift feels strangely like an afterthought at these awards. It doesn’t help that 1989 is 15 months old, nor that it feels like she was already half-honored for it at last year’s awards (where lead single “Shake It Off” was nominated for Record and Song of the Year), nor that she’s already delivered kickoff performances at the AMAs and the VMAs during this album cycle, nor that public sentiment largely turned against her over the course of her endless, globe-trotting victory tour. Throw in Taylor’s sporadic live pitchiness, and you’ve got a Grammys that’s guaranteed to get people snickering from its opening minutes.
2. LL Cool J, yet again. James Todd Smith is on his way to becoming the Bob Hope of the Grammys, with this year marking his remarkable fifth straight ceremonies as host. If this surprises you — even if you’ve watched all five of those years — that’s probably because his role as host is a negligible and altogether unnecessary one, the former hip-hop heavy (and current NCIS: Los Angeles star) reduced to pitching CBS’ purposefully unexciting programming and letting fans at home know what hashtags they should be using. Only so many “Really, don’t call it a comeback” jokes left to make at this point.
3. The Weeknd’s Fifty Shades theme winning Best R&B Song. “Earned It” isn’t a bad song, though no way was it one of the Weeknd’s best of the year: The only reason it should have been nominated over “The Hills” or “Can’t Feel My Face” would be some dubious distinction-ing about the Fifty Shades waltz being more Authentically R&B in its string-swept melodrama. In any event, it shouldn’t beat Miguel’s “Coffee” or D’Angelo’s “Really Love” — two of the period’s best by any measure — and maybe not underrated ballads by Tyrese or Jazmine Sullivan, either. But the song’s (and Fifty Shades’) mainstream omnipotence will out.
4. Meghan Trainor beating Courtney Barnett. This is almost unfair to poor M-Train, because if there was ever an Honored-to-be-Nominated artist in this category, it’s Courtney Barnett, whose singular, low-key brilliance and utter lack of mainstream hits make her about as anomalous a fit for the historically fluky Best New Artist award as we’ve had this century. Still, a lab-designed BNA expectant like Meghan Trainor is never gonna be the people’s champ, regardless of other nominees, and even Barnett herself is likely to forget Trainor’s name as quickly as she learned it, so you can expect plenty to be incensed on her behalf.
5. The tribute to Lionel Richie. Nothing against 2016 MusiCares Person of the Year honoree Lionel Richie and his vast catalog of (moderately) timeless hits. But in a year suddenly overflowing with music-legend death — David Bowie, B.B. King, Glenn Frey, and Lemmy from Motörhead are all scheduled tribute recipients, and you have to figure they’ll somehow account for Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire as well — having a who’s who of Top 40 MOR (Demi Lovato, John Legend, Luke Bryan, and, you guessed it, Meghan Trainor) pay homage to a pop great that’s alive and well feels wildly unnecessary.
6. “Glory” winning Best Rap Song. Speaking of Legend, his and Common’s pandering Selma anthem — which feels like it came out six Grammys ago at this point — is, somehow, still eligible at this year’s ceremonies. It’s facing some much-worthier competition from Fetty Wap, Kanye West, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar (whose nominated “Alright” actually became the modern-day civil rights anthem “Glory” so desperately wanted to be), but betting against this song at a gala where they give out shiny statues as reward for good performance would just be foolish at this point.
7. Tori Kelly and James Bay’s duet. If there’s a moment that’s just gonna stump the Internet from this year’s Grammys, it’ll almost certainly be this duet between two Best New Artist nominees, presumably neither of whom were quite famous enough to carry a performance by themselves. The two will be performing a mashup of their hits, but outside of fans of theirs and regular listeners to Adult Top 40, there might not be a ton of viewers familiar with either’s songs — neither artist has yet cracked the top half of the Hot 100. Kelly’s not too bad, and she proved at last year’s VMAs that she has the pipes to make a middling song a memorable performance, but Bay is gonna remind a lot of people of another British James B., who unleashed his similar braying on an unsuspecting American public a decade ago.
8. Lady Gaga missing the point. Five years ago Lady Gaga would have been just about the perfect choice to key a David Bowie Grammys tribute: She’d show up wearing a fluorescent Ziploc bag and with her face hidden under a veil of pig entrails, she’d sing some Klaus Nomi-operatic version of “Fame” that segued into a spoken-word recital from the China Girl’s perspective, and she’d close by giving birth to the planet Mars. But this Gaga — post-Tony Bennett Gaga, post-Super Bowl Gaga, post-Diane Warren Gaga — she’ll probably wear a tasteful black cocktail dress, sing a ballad version of “Changes” with only piano accompaniment, and stretch the final “I can’t trace T-I-I-I-ME!!!” to 27 syllables. Pass.
9. Alabama Shakes winning Album of the Year. Sound & Color isn’t a bad album — it’s not even a boring album, not like how people that haven’t heard it probably think it is. But it’s not a critically lionized, culturally unimpeachable work like To Pimp a Butterfly, and it’s not a chart-conquering, era-defining blockbuster like 1989 (or even the Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness), which means that if it wins, a lot of people aren’t gonna know what to do with it. And for the record, the Shakes fit the Album of the Year mold better than any of the other nominees: An NPR-friendly, rock-soul hybrid who have a powerhouse lead vocalist and actually sell records? If Kendrick beats them, it’s gonna be a much bigger upset than people realize.
10. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis doing… something. They’re not listed nominees, performers, or presenters — a cursory CTRL + F for them on the Wiki page for the 2016 Grammys returns zero reults. But if you’re betting that America’s loudest hip-hop duo will not be heard from, somehow, on this night — the night of Kendrick’s possible Grammy redemption, and just a couple weeks before the release of This Unholy Mess I’ve Made — you better pray that those dudes get stuck north of the border during All-Star Weekend.