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“Adele‘s performance is the best tribute to Whitney,” comedian Mo Rocca tweeted during tonight’s Grammys (February 12). “Brilliant unvarnished VOCALS.”
Yes, Whitney Houston‘s passing on the eve of the Grammys has created a dialogue about how “manufactured” music has become since the pop icon’s heyday. Much has been said about the purity of Houston’s instrument, the result of natural talent and technical skill and not Autotune.
With Houston’s death casting a shadow upon the Grammy ceremony, the industry selected their heir to Whitney’s throne. And she wasn’t Jennifer Hudson, who certainly did Houston proud with a powerful, if abbreviated, performance of “I Will Always Love You.”
“We have a new queen,” Twitter user Rebecca Haigh wrote tonight, “Her name is Adele — nothing could touch her performance tonight. Talent, grace, and an incredible voice.”
The British singer took home all six Grammys for which she was nominated, including the top three general-field trophies – Album, Record, and Song of the Year. It was a massive haul on a night that also saw Adele return to form with her first live performance since undergoing throat surgery. Performing her massive hit “Rolling in the Deep,” Adele didn’t go full-throttle on her voice, but she commanded the crowd and received the most rousing and sustained ovation of the night.
We must ask: has a star in recent years been so equally adored by critics, fans, and industry folks? She stands out as a singular presence in the current music scene, relying on neither studio tricks nor sexuality to move records.
The singer, speaking with a thick British accent resulting in pronunciations like “Fank you,” was reduced to tears upon winning the night’s biggest award, Album of the Year. “I just wanna say, Mum, your girl did good!” And turning from the crowd and wiping her nose, she said, “Oh my God. I’ve got a bit of snot.” For anyone else, that would have been a TMI, but for the newly crowned monarch, it was charming and down-to-earth.
Adele wasn’t the only Brit to make an impact at last night’s Grammys. Sir Paul McCartney stood out amongst a rocker lineup of elder statesmen including show opener Bruce Springsteen and — yes, ’90s babies, he’s a veteran now — Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters. Springsteen and Grohl joined Macca for a thunderous jam-session finale of the medley from The Beatles‘s Abbey Road. That was a goosebump moment, making up for Sir Paul’s drowsy rendition of a track from his latest album earlier in the show.
Brit rockers Coldplay performed alongside Rihanna, but their set was more notable for Rihanna’s midriff and Chris Martin‘s toned arms than for anything musical. Elsewhere, Justin Vernon of the U.S. band Bon Iver, a questionable choice for Best New Artist giving their previous album in 2008, disarmed the crowd and maintained some indie cred with his winner’s speech: “It’s really hard to accept this award. There’s so much talent out there and on this stage. There’s so much talent that’s not here.” And he added, “To the Grammy voters, thanks for the hook-up.”
As for the Whitney tributes, beyond Hudson’s short performance, they were kept to a surprising minimum in light of the wall-to-wall coverage of her death on news networks. LL Cool J, displaying remarkable gravitas as a host, immediately remarked upon Houston’s passing in the opening, “There’s no way around this. There’s been a death in the family. Let us begin with a prayer for our fallen sister.” Alicia Keys, Rihanna, and a harmonica-wielding Stevie Wonder all singled out Houston in asides. Meanwhile, the late British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse received no special tribute during the primetime telecast, apart from leading off the “In Memoriam” segment.
What did you think of tonight’s Grammys?
See more posts by Kevin Wicks
Kevin Wicks founded BBCAmerica.com's Anglophenia blog back in 2005 and has been translating British culture for an American audience ever since. While not British himself - he was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri - he once received inordinate hospitality in London for sharing the name of a dead but beloved EastEnders character. His Anglophilia stems from a high school love of Morrissey, whom he calls his "gateway drug" into British culture.