Criticize the Grammys if you must--I do frequently--but it's hard to deny the event remains music's biggest night ... at least when host LL Cool J reminds audiences of that constantly. Still, without an Adele-sized winner, Sunday's show belonged to Justin Timberlake, who didn't disappoint during his much-anticipated performance of the first two tracks from his upcoming "The 20/20 Experience" album.
In other talkable news, Mumford and Sons unjustly won Album of the Year (Frank Ocean or Black Keys or Jack White, come on), fun. even more unjustly won Best New Artist and Song of the Year and Gotye won Record of the Year for the inevitably overplayed but still good "Somebody That I Used To Know." Also, a cleavage-flaunting Katy Perry took advantage of the Grammys forgetting to forbid "inside boob," Wiz Khalifa added nothing to Miguel's exceptional performance and Chris Brown--no, not interested in talking about him.
Here were 10 of the night's most memorable moments from where I was sitting (my couch):
-- During Taylor Swift's "Alice in Wonderland"-inspired, just-OK performance of "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," she adjusts the talk-singing portion to say, "I'm sorry, I'm busy opening up the Grammys." Somewhere, Jake Gyllenhaal sheds a tear. Not really.
-- As fun. performs "Carry On"--which is less a song than a Hallmark card performed as a group--rain falls on the stage, assumably because the band wants the track used during a big-screen romantic moment. Sorry, guys, "Safe Haven" is finished, and you're not in it.
-- Introduced by Beyonce and Ellen DeGeneres as a major event, Justin Timberlake (er, JT & the Tennessee Kids) appears with a huge band plus Jay-Z for "Suit and Tie," for which TVs switch to black and white. Even better: the soulful, horn-soaked falsetto of "Pusher Love Girl." Welcome back, man.
-- To the surprise of no one, the collaboration between Maroon 5 (performing "Daylight") and Alicia Keys (breaking the underboob rule while letting Adam Levine and Co. join in on "Girl on Fire") works no better in reality than on paper. Doing back-up "whoa-ohs," Levine seems to be singing Billy Joel's "The Longest Time."
-- Kelly Clarkson wins Pop Vocal Album, praises fun., insults Miguel by saying she doesn't know who he is and then says his performance was the sexiest thing she's ever seen. Her speech is one of the night's most memorable, and her tribute performance later in the show is lovely.
-- Performing with Dr. John and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Black Keys show what happens when a band participates in a collaboration that works. Their brassy, jubilant version of "Lonely Boy" is fantastic and blissfully untainted by, say, unnecessary Maroon 5 support.
-- Sting joins Bruno Mars for "Locked Out of Heaven," as if to give him permission for shamelessly ripping off the Police. Since this is supposedly a Bob Marley tribute, Rihanna and Ziggy Marley appear to assist, effectively making Sting's place on stage doubly ridiculous.
-- Following the immensely forgettable Lumineers, Jack White rejuvenates the show with, you know, actual quality. His performance turns the band that preceded him to dust, which is fitting since "Ho Hey" is essentially the sound of pixie dust blowing away.
-- Some kind of twirly design (and roses and sparkly glitter business) is unwisely projected onto Carrie Underwood's dress during her performance. When an artist can hold attention with nothing but her voice, the gimmicks are distracting. Nice that, earlier, Rihanna went without the tricks.
-- Honoring the late Levon Helm, the drummer/vocalist for the Band, Elton John, Mavis Staples, Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard, Mumford and Sons and the Zac Brown Band gather for the Band's "The Weight" in a performance whose mild randomness doesn't interfere with its power.
Matt Pais is the RedEye music editor.
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