The 55th annual Grammy Awards can't help but feel like a comedown. Last year was an emotional one-two punch courtesy of Adele's overwhelming sweep and Whitney Houston's shocking death. The previous year was a victory for both Canadian music and the indie scene as Arcade Fire took album of the year.
There's nothing that could possibly have happened this year to trump that, certainly not 2010 best album-winner Taylor Swift opening the show in a top hat apparently purloined from T-Pain as she performed a Wonderland-themed take on her smash "We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together." Or even this year's upset best album winner Mumford & Sons' "Babel," whose folk-rock sound has certainly won over the masses alongside the likes of fellow nominees The Lumineers, but which just doesn't feel all that vital compared to, say, Frank Ocean's "Channel Orange" or Black Keys' "El Camino."
And as for Canadian music, well, it was barely a spark much less a fire. Taylor Swift's "Hunger Games" song trumped Arcade Fire's "Hunger Games" songs and while Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" was 2012's most inescapable song, she somehow escaped Grammy votes. Jepsen lost best pop vocal performance to Adele, who returned for some gratuitous gold thanks to a live performance of "Set Fire To The Rain" and then got trumped by fun.'s "We Are Young" (though props to their acceptance speech: "If this is in HD everyone can see our faces, and we are not very young") who also staged an upset for the Best New Artist prize by besting Frank Ocean despite the fact that, as lead singer Nate Ruess also noted, "We've been doing this for 12 years." And CRJ didn't even get nominated for Record of the Year, which went to Gotye (who also snagged Best Alternative Album over Fiona Apple and Tom Waits).
Drake did pick up a well-deserved best rap album Grammy for "Take Care," though it wasn't televised so he didn't show up to accept it and otherwise lost best rap performance to Kanye West and Jay-Z's "N***** In Paris." Elsewhere, EDM superstar Deadmau5 lost to his former protege, Skrillex, who picked up best dance/electronica album and best dance recording, the latter of which saved the Grammys from further mockery for nominating unknown (and untalented) Al Wasler. However, Deadmau5, a.k.a. Joel Zimmerman, cheerfully tweeted: "i make music, I have an amazing supportive fiancé, and I get to eat carneys. That's more than enough for me."
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Melanie Fiona, who picked up a pair of Grammys last year, lost her best traditional R&B performance award to Beyonce, but there's not much you can do there. It's like losing a half-pipe prize to Tony Hawk. Her fellow Canadian R&B crooner Tamia lost a pair of R&B nominations, best song and best album to Miguel's amazing “Adorn” and Robert Glasper Experiment's "Black Radio," respectively. And even Michael Buble, who basically owns the Best Traditional Pop Album with three previous wins and whose nominated "Christmas" album took the top Juno last year, lost to Paul McCartney's egregiously named and not particularly commercially or critically successful "Kisses On The Bottom."
On the other hand, honorary Canadian Carrie Underwood thanked her "amazing perfect husband," Canadian hockey player Mike Fisher when she won best country song. So that's like an assist for Canada, right?
Nationalist nitpicking aside, a solid number of this year's Grammy wins were well earned. Over on the rock side, The Black Keys barnstormed through their awards, with "El Camino" winning Best Rock Album and “Lonely Boy” taking Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance. Oh, and Dan Auerbach won Producer of the Year (which included his production on Canadian retro-rockers The Sheepdogs, if we're still stretching for CanCon) while the duo proceeded to set fire to the stage, to paraphrase Adele, with a Dr. John and Preservation Hall Jazz Band-backed performance that put to shame preceding pop stars like Rihanna and Alicia Keys with Adam Levine.
Kelly Clarkson, meanwhile, won best pop vocal performance for "Stronger" as well as winning best speech, in which she began with "I got stuck to Miranda Lambert!" and was soon free associating on her fellow nominees: "Miguel, I don't know who the hell you are, but we need to sing together. I mean, good God, that was the sexiest damn thing I've ever seen." Then she threw down onstage with un-showy but riveting takes on country classic "Tennessee Waltz" and "Natural Woman." (Though, as an "Idol" winner, she does have an unfair advantage doing covers.)
Later, Jack White, in his best bullfighting outfit, delivered the most electrifying performance of the night as he tore through "Love Interruption" and "Freedom At 21" with his all-female and all-male bands, respectively. But Jack's charisma and guitar chops sold the set more than the songs themselves.
See, The Grammys are supposed to celebrate the best new music, but it's a problem if the nominees can't compete with the best old music. The Bob Marley tribute, however misguided that Bruno Mars/Sting opening was, exposed the weakness of this year's crop of nominees once Rihanna and Ziggy and Damian Marley started playing "Could You be Loved." That was made even more crystal clear during the all-star Levon Helm tribute as the likes of Elton John, Mavis Staples and Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard delivered "The Weight" with the passion it deserved.
Even the moments that most celebrated newness — Elton John passing the torch to countryman Ed Sheeran and Justin Timberlake returning to the spotlight — felt out of place since the Sheeran-John set paled next to John's infamous duets with Eminem and Lady Gaga while the latter wasn't actually nominated for anything (yet).
And so, in hindsight, perhaps Mumford & Sons were the perfect big winners of the 2013 Grammys because they best embodied this year's awards night itself — pleasant and full of talent yet ultimately forgettable.