2022 Grammys: ‘A Concert Where We Give Out Awards’

Jon Batiste performs “Freedom” at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

From Olivia Rodrigo’s heart-wrenching performance of her mega hit “Driver’s License” to Jon Batiste’s joyful rendition of his dancetastic single “Freedom,” the 64th annual Grammys telecast gave live music the spotlight like never before. As host Trevor Noah said, “This is a concert where we give out awards.” The multitudes of incredible performances meant fewer silly interstitials, long-winded speeches and endless bloviating that can make three-and-a-half-hours seem interminable.

Following the 2021 award show – which featured awards presented from personnel at four independent venues including West Hollywood’s Troubadour and New York City’s Apollo Theater – the 2022 show wisely gave stage time to backstage tour production personnel, who all too often are the unsung heroes of the live industry and this year more than ever should be recognized for the incredible work they do.

Kicking off the night’s litany of excellent performances was Silk Sonic’s high-octane “777,” an acid funk, rock jam with shades of Funkadelic, James Brown, and Earth Wind & Fire. Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars’ 70s-era jams are more than just rhinestone-studded leisure suit send-ups, which they rocked to full effect along with their slo-mo reactions to winning all four of the awards they were nominated for: Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Best R&B Song and a tie for Best R&B Performance (with Jazmine Sullivan for “Pick Up Your Feelings”); instead, their songs are full-throated homages to a decade they genuinely revere—and that was just the show’s powerful opening salvo.

The first half of the Grammys pulled no punches, in what seemed a concerted effort to keep a younger and more easily distracted demo engaged. This included Rodrigo’s awesome power ballad “Drivers License,” which the 19-year-old rising star launched into by singing from inside a Mercedes onstage. Her pitch-perfect performance made it clear why she, her song and album Sour won Grammys for Best New Artist, Best Pop Solo Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album, respectively.

Olivia Rodrigo performs “drivers license” at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Latin superstar J Balvin with Maria Becerra showed off an epic performance of “Qué Más Pues?” with at least 64 dancers at last count doing well-lit arm dances. Their Grammy performance, among many of the night’s, were maximalist productions filled with grandiose arrangements and full-on choreography. The evening was chockablock with lush orchestration, horn sections, entire jazz bands, rows of back-up singers and mass choreography.

To wit, BTS’ performance of “Butter,” had an elaborate James Bond theme, complete with a member dropping in from a rope and Dr. Evil’s NASA-like console; while Lil Nas X’s medley of “Dead Right Now,” “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and “Industry Baby” with Jack Harlow featured legions of dancers – with both productions bringing down the house at MGM Grand Arena.

Production manager Nicole Massey, who has been a part of Billie Eilish’s team since 2019, introduced the superstar before Eilish’s stunning rendition of her hit “Happier Than Ever,” which was nominated for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Music Video and Best Pop Solo Performance. Massey called Eilish “the best 20 year-old boss in the world” and said how much she loved her job, which has also included working with Coldplay, the Backstreet Boys, Madonna and Rod Stewart,

The Grammys highlighted three other tour professionals —significantly all women. This included Katie Wilkinson, Chris Stapleton’s assistant tour manager, who said she does everything from wardrobe, ticketing to cooking for Stapleton in an effort to “make sure the road feels like home;” Misha Hedman Mayes, H.E.R.’s tour manager, who spoke of meeting H.E.R. when she was 10 years old; and Joan Lee, the wardrobe supervisor for Carrie Underwood.

Brandi Carlile performs “Right on Time” at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

While roughly the first half’s of the show featured a fusillade of pop power, the second half offered performances from a wider musical spectrum and an older demo. Brandi Carlile, resplendent in a kaleidoscopic sparkly suit, demonstrated why her ballad “Right On Time” was nominated for three Grammys including Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance. She was joined on stage by the Hanseroth twins and Shooter Jennings after most appropriately being introduced by her foremother legends Joni Mitchell, 2022’s MusicCares Person of the Year, and Bonnie Raitt, who won a 2022 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Old school hip-hop legend Nas performed a medley of his classic “I Can,” “Made You Look,” “One Mic” and “Rare;” while Chris Stapleton received a standing ovation for his powerful rendition of “Cold.”

The night’s most political moment came when John Legend debuted his song “Free” which followed a stirring video-taped speech from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. The song, with its many Biblical references, also featured Ukrainian singer Mika Newton, Ukrainian-American bandurian player Siuzanna Iglidan, and poet Lyuba Yakimchuk who had fled the war-torn area just days ago. A call for donations appeared on the screen following the performance.

The short shrift given to Aymée Nuviola, Billy Strings, Maverick City Music as they performed from the roof of the MGM Grand was unfortunate as they gave incredible tastes of Latin, bluegrass and gospel, respectively, that were sorely missing from the show – though wonderful to hear the snippets.

Lady Gaga’s solo renditions of traditional jazz fare “Love For Sale” and “Do I Love You” was a moving tribute to her 95-year-old music partner and jazz great Tony Bennett, who has since retired. Earlier the duo’s “Love For Sale” album won a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. And Carrie Underwood debuted her new single “Ghost Story” in a straight ahead minimal manner that came as something of a relief from the evening’s more grandiose productions.

Lady Gaga performs a medley the 64th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

The in memoriam-segment began with an extended tribute to Taylor Hawkins, the Foo Fighters’ beloved drummer who tragically passed on March 25 , causing the band to cancel their Grammy performance. Many at the ceremony were still in mourning (including Eilish who wore a Hawkins T-shirt during her performance). Equally deserving of longer tributes were so many great and hugely impactful musicians we lost this year, including: Charlie Watts, Betty Davis, Meat Loaf, Don Everly, Ronnie Spector, Dusty Hill, Biz Markie,  Mark Lanegan, Vicente Fernandez, Lee Scratch Perry, Shock G, Michael Nesmith, Tom T. Hall, Stephen Sondheim, DMX, Michael Nesmith, Nanci Griffith, Lloyd Price and the Force MDs’ Jesse Price, among others. Many of their pictures flashed too quickly and far from the screen while Broadway stars Cynthia Erivo, Rachel Zegler, Ben Platt, and Leslie Odom Jr. performed a Sondheim medley of “Not a Day Goes By,” “Send in the Clowns,” and “Somewhere.”

Jon Batiste is a national treasure who infuses his New Orleans-based musical stew with a virtuosic gumbo of jazz, soul, pop and classical as he did when he performed a rousing rendition of “Freedom.” His set resembled Pee-Wee’s Playhouse while he played piano and danced and exhorted those around him, which included Eilish and her brother Finneas “to be yourself,” “be who you are,” and love yourself” and showed why his album We Are was a smart choice for Album of the Year.

H.E.R., left, and Lenny Kravitz perform “Are you Gonna Go My Way” at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Two performances capped off the night, an epic performance by H.E.R., which began with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on bass and keytar respectively, playing on “Damage” which led into H.E.R. performing “We Made It” on drums; before she ceded her throne to Travis Baker, who with Lenny Kravitz kicked out the MF jams on the latter’s much-needed “Are You Gonna Go My Way.”

The evening’s finale was “Dead Man’s Curve,” a boot stomper by the Brothers Osbourne that showcased off the band’s virtuoso chops. Earlier in the evening the band won Best Country/Duo Group Performance for “Younger Me.”

Batiste’s acceptance speech perhaps best summed the challenges the Grammys, and really all award shows, face: “I believe this to my core, there is no best musician, best artist, best dancer, best actor,” Batiste said. “The creative arts are subjective and they reach people at a point in their lives when they need it most. It’s like a song or an album is made and it’s almost like it has a radar to find the person when they need it the most.”