Bruno Mars walked away with the three biggest prizes, but the 2018 Grammy Awards show will also be remembered for several reasons.
They include the coronation of Kendrick Lamar as hip-hop’s brightest star in a constellation of many; the predominance of live performances by hip-hop artists; the emotional delivery of “Praying” by Kesha; and the impassioned speech about sexual assault and women’s rights by Kansas City, Kan., native Janelle Monae.
Other political themes that were addressed were a brief discussion of the Dreamers issue, a jab at President Donald Trump via celebrity readings of “Fire and Fury,” and rapper Logic’s fiery speech about equality and race.
Lamar opened the show with an incendiary live performance, one that included appearances by comedian Dave Chappelle, Bono and the Edge of U2 and a small army of hooded dancers who hit the floor as the sounds of gunfire rained upon them.
Chappelle minced no words: “I just wanted to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man being honest in America, is being an honest black man in America.”
It was an early, opening salvo in a show that, better late than never, celebrated hip-hop for all its contributions to music and American culture.
Monae gave the Time’s Up address, a fiery call for equal pay and safe work environments. Kesha followed with “Praying,” a meditation on depression, empowerment and recovery.
“We come in peace but we mean business,” Monae said.
The theme remained political after that performance when Cuban-American pop star Camila Cabello introduced U2. She prefaced her intro with a speech about Dreamers (DACA) and her parents, who came to the U.S. from Cuba.
U2 then performed “Get Out of the Way” on the Hudson River, not far from the Statue of Liberty, an anthem with clunky lyrics vaguely about freedom and fighting for justice.
Another skit sustained the political mood: Corden “auditioned” several artists to read passages from “Fire and Fury,” the book about the Trump White House. Cher, Snoop Dogg, DJ Khalid and others, including eventual “winner” Hillary Clinton, read.
Logic performed and took the baton and ran with it. After a compelling rendition of “1-800-273-8255” — the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — he ended the performance with a riled sermon about equality and race, alluding to several issues that have been prominently in the news over the past year. And, apparently, part of of it was censored for language.
Bono and the Edge returned to present Album of the Year. Bruno Mars got the hat trick — song, album and record of the year. An evening that started out bravely and featured plenty of political and social messages ended politely, with the three big awards going to one of the industry’s most talented and safest stars, shutting out hip-hop and Spanish-language songs.
Other highlights from the night:
▪ After the opening number, Lady Gaga followed with a dedication to her aunt, “Joanne,” and a call for compassion with “Million Reasons,” a song about heartbreak and hope.
▪ Sting sang “Englishman in New York,” which, not so coincidentally, contains the lyrics “I’m an alien / I’m a legal alien.” He was joined by Shaggy for the reggae-pop love song “Don’t Make Me Wait.”
▪ Tony Bennett, the least hip-hop performer ever, joined John Legend to present best rap/sung performance. Lamar won for “Loyalty” and got a big hug from Bennett. Rihanna joined him on stage.
▪ Alessia Cara won Best New Artist. Chance the Rapper won in 2016, and the band Fun won in 2012. Good luck, Alessia.
▪ Gary Clark Jr. with Jon Batiste celebrated Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, who died this past year. Real music and talent.
▪ Ed Sheeran won the battle of skyscraping pop anthems and ballads but was not present so Batiste accepted the award in his honor.
▪ The Recording Industry announced Sunday that “Despacito” is the first Latin song to reach Diamond status — at least 10 million sold — in 60 years of Gold and Diamond status.
▪ Several Kansas City musicians were Grammy nominees, but none walked away with a trophy. Music producer Anthony White of Kansas City, Kan., was among a team of songwriters and producers up for best rap song for one of the biggest hits of 2017, Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves).” That award went to Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble.”
Cardi B and “Bodak Yellow” also lost to “Humble” in the best rap performance category.
Bishop Cortez Vaughn, also of Kansas City, Kan., was a nominee in the best gospel/performance category. That award went to CeCe Winans for “Never Have to Be Alone.”
Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony were up for two Grammys: best engineered album/classical and for contemporary classical composition. Both are for the album “American Symphony — Finding Rothko — Picture Studies,” composed by Adam Schoenberg. They won neither.
And Joyce DiDonato, who grew up in Prairie Village, was nominated for best classical solo vocal album for “In War & Peace: Harmony Through Music,” but she didn’t win.
▪ The MasterCard commercial featuring SZA and the KC rocker brothers in Radkey aired during the Grammys.