The Best and the Worst of the 2021 GRAMMY Awards

It is arguably the biggest night for music during the year. The 2021 GRAMMY Awards were held for the 63rd time on Sunday night in Los Angeles. The awards look to honor the best that is in the music industry over a wide array of genres – rock, pop, rap, Americana, even classical – and offer a view as to what was the best of the year. In the very-COVID inspired show – the nominees were arranged in very spaced out (physically) tables while the performers were sequestered on a special five stage circle for performances – the Recording Academy arguably came out and put on one of the best shows of the past decade or so.

But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t downsides.

I’ve remarked on this before, but there certainly wasn’t enough “rock” oriented acts that performed during the program. But that is to be expected; rock music does not drive the needle (no pun intended) for music in the 21st century. It has become very much a pop and rap dominated show because that is what the people want to see (AKA those that have the disposable income to spend on streams, streaming services and the occasional CD). This does not mean that the GRAMMY Awards show is “trash” because these are the predominance of the acts that perform – it just means that is what is driving the industry nowadays.

Furthermore, if people did not watch the program, then they shouldn’t have a view on the show itself. You usually have to see something before you make any commentary on it – not five minutes, not a half-hour, WATCHED THE ENTIRE SHOW. It went slightly over three and a half hours (think it was closer to 3:45, if my memory is correct) and there were some moments that were exceptionally good…and very bad.

Without further ado, here’s The Best and The Worst of the 2021 GRAMMY Awards!

BEST

HAIM absolutely came out in the first half-hour of the program and blew away the competition. The sisters were nominated for Album of the Year for their work Women in Music, Pt. III and, with a very subdued set, proceeded to NAIL their tune “The Steps.” When the musicians and singers that were gathered on the stage are watching your performance and jamming just as hard as the band is, you have done your job. HAIM certainly carried the banner well for rock-oriented music and it was great to have them as the representative for the genre – there were not many more that graced the stage on Sunday night.

BEST

The partnership between Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars bears watching. They came out with a very 70s R&B style (including matching leisure suits!) under the moniker “Silk Sonic.” It was good to see Mars back on stage again; it had been quite some time since he had been on the musical scene and he seemed to be in impeccable form. The duo also came out later in the show and delivered a scorching tribute to Little Richard during the “In Memoriam” segment that was outstanding.

BEST

It has been getting trashed elsewhere, but I thought that the “In Memoriam” tribute to the late Eddie Van Halen was perfect. There were many directions that they could have gone with this, but the GRAMMY producers decided that a minimalistic approach was the best one. Thus, we got a sweeping shot of Van Halen’s “Frankenhalen” guitar, on a perch in a spotlight by itself, while a video played Eddie utilizing his finger-tapping technique on a video screen behind it. It was a perfect tribute to someone who made his complicated work look oh, so simple…and it was a hell of a lot better than having Machine Gun Kelly butcher “Eruption” onstage.

BEST

I would listen to Brittany Howard, the bombastic vocalist/guitarist of Alabama Shakes, sing the damn phone book. Her take on “You’ll Never Walk Alone” during the “In Memoriam” was a soul-stirring performance. Chris Martin of Coldplay provided accompaniment on piano for the segment and the two absolutely made the song their own – exceedingly difficult to do for a song that has been made famous by a British soccer team (Liverpool FC) and as the closing song to comedian Jerry Lewis’ Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy telethon for decades.

WORST

I usually like Trevor Noah, the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. He is extremely funny, has a great pulse on pop culture and, hey, let’s be honest…he is young, energetic and handsome. But he, on a couple of occasions, fawned a bit too much over the winners. He was nearly orgasmic when Beyonce won her first Grammy of the night, which tied her with Alison Krauss for the most Grammys won in a career. He was nearly beside himself when she broke the record later in the night.

Look, I am all for fandom. But, when you are hired to do the emcee job for a major awards show, you are supposed to put that fandom to the side and do the job. Noah failed on this account on a couple of occasions. If he hosts again next year, I certainly hope he tempers the “enthusiasm” and shows an equal appreciation to all the award winners.

WORST

While I did like the stage arrangement for the performances – five stages were arranged in a circle, with cameras in the center of that circle that could be directed at any stage chosen – you could still note the lack of audience excitement. Sure, watching Harry Styles jam to HAIM was cool, but the fans are a part of the experience. Seeing them enjoy it is more important than the artists themselves tapping their feet.

WORST

I am all for artistic expression. Having said that, I normally don’t like to see a reenactment of Thee Dollhouse in Tampa when I watch an awards show. Thus, Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s performance of “WAP” wasn’t exactly a highlight of the show for me. I understand that the song was a MONSTER hit for the duo, but their interpretation of the song for the GRAMMY stage was a bit over the top. Like I said, if I wanted to go to Tattletales in Atlanta, I’ll go to Tattletales in Atlanta.

WORST

In a stark contrast with 2020, it seemed that the GRAMMY voters were not quite sure who to get behind this year. The four major awards were won by four different artists – Megan Thee Stallion for Best New Artist, Taylor Swift for Album of the Year, H.E.R. for Song of the Year and Billie Eilish for Record of the Year for “everything i wanted” – and it really did not seem that the voters had a clear favorite in mind. It was also painfully apparent that the best record didn’t receive any attention from the Academy at all – The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” and album After Hours would have dominated the show.

Overall, when the good outweigh the bad, you’ve done rather good. There was much more about the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show that was enjoyable than was not. Still, would like to see a rock award actually given out during the three-plus hours of programming – maybe that’s something they will get to in 2022!

The Highwomen Deliver Emotional Effort, Sheryl Crow Going Out with a Bang

One of the things that the world of music has gotten hammered on over the past few years is the paucity of female performers, both on the radios and satellites of listeners and in the awards process (Grammys, CMAs, etc.). It is a fair argument too; in country music currently, you have to go down to #11 on the Billboard Country Singles chart to find the first female entry (Carrie Underwood) and, on the Billboard Hot 100, although the first three slots are occupied by women or male/female combos (Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,” Shawn Mendes & Camilla Caballo with “Senorita” and Billie Eilish’s mopey “Bad Guy”), there are only two other female contributors in the Top 20 (the Ariana Grande/Miley Cyrus/Lana Del Rey collaboration for the reboot of Charlie’s Angels entitled “Don’t Call Me Angel” and Ariana Grande with Social House). With two new releases out from top female artists, you might think that this situation would change, but you’d be surprised.

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First up is the rather ostentatiously named The Highwomen, who have come out with their eponymous CD Highwomen. The quartet, consisting of Grammy winners Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile and Amanda Shires along with Grammy nominated songwriter Natalie Hemby, are all very accomplished performers and songwriters in their own rights. Coming together for this record, however, they put their egos at the door and come up with an emotional effort that delivers across the board for their purposes as a female country supergroup.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first, however: they probably should have called themselves something other than “The Highwomen.” That name harkens back to the 80s when four of the titans of country music – the late Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson – joined forces as “The Highwaymen,” a country supergroup that brought each man commercial and critical success. By branding themselves as “The Highwomen,” it seems that Morris, Carlile and Company are equivocating themselves as equal to the legendary male artists who made the name famous (plus they’re putting a HUGE target on themselves). Even Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt – the closest thing there was to a female “Highwaymen” previously – didn’t have the audacity to call themselves “The Highwomen.”

If you can get by the quartet calling themselves “The Highwomen,” you’re going to find a very solid outing from the artists involved. Of course, they have to start off the album with their version of The Highwaymen’s “Highwayman,” and it is naturally called “Highwomen.” It follows the pattern that was set by Cash, Nelson, et. al., with a call-and-response song about repressed women in history. A woman subjected to and executed during the Salem Witch Trials; a Freedom Rider murdered in the South; and (poignantly starting the song) a refugee from Honduras who took the long walk to try to seek asylum with her family in the U. S before dying on the trek. It is an excellent update from the male oriented original and starts a very emotional trek that runs through the album.

“We are the Highwomen,
Singing stories still untold.
We carry the sons you can only hold.
We are the daughters of the silent generation,
You send our hearts to die alone in foreign nations,
And they return to us as tiny drops of rain
But we will still remain…”

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Going deeper in the album there are some jewels for the listeners. Perhaps for the first time ever, there is a lesbian “kiss off” song called “If She Ever Leaves Me” that tries to subtly tell a cowboy that the woman he’s looking at picking up – Carlile’s secret lesbian lover – “thinks your cologne’s too strong, she’s into perfume” and that he has absolutely no shot. Another song that is noteworthy is “My Only Child,” a song from a mother to her child about why she didn’t have any more children for her child to play with.

The songs aren’t long on Highwomen, roughly three minutes in length for the 12 songs on the record, but each one packs an emotional punch that doesn’t get displayed often in music. If you’re a fan of the women in the group – or you just want to hear some damn good country (or maybe “Americana”) music – you’d be well advised to pick up the record.

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In her over 30-year career, Sheryl Crow has pretty much done it all. Originally a music teacher, Crow would in 1987 become a backup singer for Michael Jackson on his Bad tour. She would eventually find success as a solo artist through her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club in 1994. Now, more than 25 years later (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, are you listening?), it looks as though Crow is calling it a close for her album recording career with her CD Threads.

Why does it seem like the Missouri songbird is ending her recording career? Because it seems that she brought everyone and their brother out to play with her on the album! Both Morris and Carlile from The Highwomen make appearances with Crow and they rank as the MINOR players on the record. Artists such as Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, Eric Clapton, Gary Clark, Jr., Keith Richards, Willie Nelson, Joe Walsh, St. Vincent, James Taylor and Emmylou Harris all add their prodigious talents to the record, making it for a stellar outing. Let’s put it this way: if this is the way that Crow wants to bid adieu to her recording career, she’s done a hell of a job.

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There are several highlights on the record. “Prove You Wrong” with Crow harmonizing with Nicks and Morris, starts the record with a bang that sets the ever-increasing standard for the rest of the record. “Beware of Darkness” is an ode about falling too far down “the rabbit hole” and letting everyday news bring us down, brought to life by the guitar work of Clapton and the vocals of Sting and Carlile.

It is a couple of collaborations you don’t expect that seem to steal the record, though. First is a stunning “Redemption Day,” a duet with the late Johnny Cash. The collaboration took a version of her song that Cash recorded before he passed away and mixed it with her voice, delivering a performance for the ages. From Crow’s lilting voice to the gravely rumble of “The Man in Black,” the song that Crow wrote about the U. S. involvement in Bosnia gains new life in these times. Crow comments in the liner notes that “online trolls say ‘shut up and sing…’ I’d think no one would have the gall to tell Johnny Cash to shut up and sing…he’d probably respond with the famous photo Jim Marshall took of him at San Quentin, the shot taken ‘just for the warden.’”

JohnnyCashFlipsBirdWarden

The other collaboration is surprising in the mixing of genres that comes together. Crow teams up with Public Enemy’s Chuck D, soul singer Andra Day and guitar wizard Clark on “The Story of Everything,” a song that, according to Crow, “was born out of the feeling of frustration with the state of affairs in America…so much hope accompanied our first black President into office, but that hope turned into fear and division.” The foursome power through the song, calling out those who continue to push the divisiveness in the nation today, and they aren’t shy about laying it at a certain politician’s door. Musically the song is evocative, lyrically it is a protest from the people…and a warning that the people better pull their heads out of their asses.

The record could have been called “Sheryl Crow and Friends” because, without the ample assistance from Crow’s pals, the record wouldn’t have been as impactful as it is. Crow’s steady, beautiful mezzo-soprano is accented by each and every performer and she’s smart enough to know when to get out of the way and let her guests do their thing. If it is goodbye to recording for Crow, this is one hell of a way to exit the stage.

Alas, it appears nobody is listening to these artists. The Highwomen are currently ranked #53 on the Billboard Album charts after peaking at #10 two weeks ago, while Crow’s record reached #30 on the Albums chart and #2 on the Country Albums chart before plunging off in a mere two weeks. This is a sad statement on the music industry today, but it is something that REAL music fans will appreciate by supporting these women.