grammy awards 2011

The Top Ten Performances at the 2011 Grammy Awards

Arcade Fire won Album of the Year! Kind of crazy, right? It was nice enough that they were nominated (alongside Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Lady Gaga, and, of course, Katy Perry) and got to play two songs right at the very end and had Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand introduce them — but Album of the Year … well, that wasn’t necessarily expected. Christina Aguilera’s slip, Lady Gaga’s egg, and whatever the hell Gwyneth Paltrow was doing will ultimately remain more memorable (how many of the last decade’s Album of the Year winners can you name off the top of your head?), plus it’s not like The Suburbs was an overwhelming critical consensus for 2010’s best album whose snubbing would have been unanimously hailed as an epic blunder. Also, this will not put an end to the Grammys’ proud history of bizarre nominations and awards. But still: nice. Anyway — what’d you think of the performances? Vulture’s ten favorite, below.

10. Eminem, Rihanna, and Dr. Dre
This kind of dragged, but you had to expect that: “Love the Way You Lie” is such a dour song, and Dre’s not a particularly strong performer. But the novelty of even seeing him out there, and seeing him out there doing a Detox song (“I Need a Doctor”) and saying funny stuff like “kiss my indecisive ass” (good work, ghost writers!) carried the segment somewhat. Seth Rogen ragging on Hanna Montana (“I’ve seen incredible things here tonight. And that was just backstage getting high with Miley Cyrus”) worked for us, too. Also: the Grammys love to bleep rappers cumbersomely.

9. Justin Bieber, Usher, and Jaden Smith
We happened to understand that the ninja drummer line was there because the song, “Never Say Never,” is from The Karate Kid soundtrack. Presumably, though, everyone else was confused, yes? “Baby” acoustic was nice, a longer stretch of that wouldn’t have bothered us at all. Jaden Smiths’ tiger pants and Will and Jada freaking out in the audience: also a plus. Usher and Bieber doing a lot of touching while dancing together: not as awesome.

8. Drake and Rihanna
So many different types of comical grinding! First Drake pretended to reach out and touch Rihanna’s butt, then she kind of backed up on him, then they both kind of loped towards one another, then he kind of stopped and she gyrated in front of him, and then they went back to back and only she moved her butt a little bit. Plus the whole time RiRi had bejwelled undies on and there was some random post-apocalyptic imagery in the back. Good work!

7. Mumford & Sons, Avett Brothers, and Bob Dylan
Sometimes, when a band is under the biggest spotlight of its career and you can tell they’re really trying very, very hard, it can be off putting. With Mumford & Sons, though, it was great: intense and locked in and almost a bit creepy, in a nice way. Generally the visuals on this bit were good, with the editing giving off the illusion that the stage was petite and cozy. Then Dylan wandered out looking extra confused, and stepping over a stand-up bass that was (ironically) laid down. Was that on purpose or not? Ah, who cares: he ragged his way through “Maggie’s Farm” with the help of his opening acts, then closed out nicely with a harmonica riff and a hilarious side-step dance shuffle. Plus at one point they cut to J. Lo and she looked pissed.

6. Katy Perry
Yeoman’s work from KP: a giant swing for the ballad “Just Like the Movies,” and then your standard hyperactive dance routine for “Teenage Dream.” Nicole Kidman’s aforementioned sing-along was nice, and Neil Patrick Harris talking about how having sex on screen with Perry confused him was enjoyable too.

5. Cee-Lo and Gwyneth Paltrow
We’d add some more here to Willa Paskin’s expert analysis, but Willa actually had it written into her contract that if anyone else writes about Gwyneth she’s allowed to drop a pillowcase full of gym locker locks on their head.

4. Arcade Fire
Anything that starts off with Jason Segel being self-deprecating (“I wore a Superman cape to school for like 13 years. Got beat up every day”) is cool with us. But Arcade Fire’s main perk were the nifty helmet cams, operated by BMX bikers bombing up and down the stage. Could that possibly have been AF pal Spike Jonze’s idea? General fever pitch energy levels and frenetic camera work worked in their favor as well. And how genuinely, goofily happy was Win Butler after winning the Grammy?

3. B.o.B., Bruno Mars, and Janelle Monae
Bruno and Janelle’s actual performances were much more impressive — but, holy crap, did you see B.o.B.’s monocle?! Who told him to wear a monocle? (Not, like, in a bad way, whoever you are. We are obviously glad you told B.o.B. to wear a monocle). Also, in his intro Ryan Seacrest mentioned “this is the kind of thing that only happens at the Grammys” (other people said this throughout the night as well), which isn’t really true: random people perform together at rap shows a lot, too. (Yay, rap shows!) But anyway: big points for Bruno’s retro take on “Grenade” and everything Janelle was doing, but especially angrily flinging the mic stand at the end of her bit.

2. John Mayer, Norah Jones, and Keith Urban
As a shoutout to Dolly Parton, the unlikely trio rocked a simple, effective “Jolene.” The unlikely MVP: John Mayer’s weird facial hair. Also, was Mayer reading the lyrics off the teleprompter? And while we’re talking about teleprompters: did it seem like everyone had a hard time reading the teleprompter? Poor teleprompter operating, Grammys’ teleprompter operator!

1. Matthew Morrison and Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow, a.k.a. that random guy with the beard who talks every year
Oh, wow, this was so wonderful: the two of them were discussing the importance of music education and the ways in which the Grammys supports the cause, but they had this jazz band vamping behind them the whole time? Why? Who knows! It was amazing though, even before Mr. Schue actually said something along the lines of “I might play a teacher on TV but I understand the importance of education.” (No, seriously).

The Top Ten Performances at the 2011 Grammy Awards