Grammys 2015: Highlights, winners and best moments

By Liam McGurl

[Image courtesy of]

The 57th annual Grammy Awards were a night full of glamour, performances and surprises — like Sam Smith tying Beyoncé with six nominations. As expected, LL Cool J opened the show wearing his signature beret for his fourth consecutive year.


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The early 70s rock band AC/DC opened the show performing their hit “Highway to Hell.”  From the get-go, it was clear that the night would be entertaining for everyone, young and old.

The night was full of similarly shocking performances, as Madonna performed a matador and bull themed rendition of “Living for Love.”  This performance was definitely the most controversial of the night as it featured an entourage of men dressed in bull horns and face masks alongside choir singers performing in gospel fashion.

Aside from Madonna’s sexually-charged performance, the night was full of fairly solemn acoustics – much different than the over-the-top nature of many past Grammy’s.

One of the most emotional solo performances of the night was Beyoncé’s soulful rendition of Thomas A. Dorsey’s gospel tune “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”  Dressed in all white, surrounded by a choir of men in white tuxedos, Beyoncé effortlessly belted out the tune, earning her a standing ovation.  While Beyoncé’s singing brought tears to viewers’ eyes, winning “Best R&B Performance” for her Jay-Z collaboration “Drunk in Love” almost brought a few tears to her eyes.

Beyonce performs "Take My Hand" at the 57th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles

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Katy Perry’s rendition of “By the Grace of God” was equally touching.  After listening to an introduction from President Barack Obama, followed by a speech from a survivor of domestic abuse, Perry delivered an emotional performance.  Full of smoke, shadow art and serious messages, Perry was the star of what might be the most memorable performance of the night.

Among these powerful performances were Ariana Grande’s production of “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart,” Kanye West’s surprisingly somber, and rap-lacking, performance of “Only One” and Sia’s slightly more upbeat theatrical production of “Chandelier” featuring actress and comedian Kristen Wigg as a Sia doppelganger.


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Maybe it was all of these emotional vocals, but even Pharrell’s “Happy” didn’t seem too happy. Regardless, whether or not Pharrell’s popular tune didn’t sound quite as cheerful, it’s a safe bet that he was after walking away with the Grammy for “Best Pop Solo Performance.”

While some may like the usual theatrical nature of the annual Grammy’s celebration, many appreciated this year’s focus on simplistic sets and tremendous vocals.  When it comes to these vocals, there is nothing better than a power-duet. Luckily, these were not in short supply this year.

Sam Smith and Mary J. Blige teamed up for an epic “Stay With Me” collaboration.  Even though the performance was met with an outstanding number of bravos, it’s a safe bet that the highlight of Smith’s night was walking away with four Grammy’s, including “Best New Artist,” “Best Pop Vocal Album,” “Song of the Year” and the coveted “Record of The Year” award.  One could say that Smith ran the Grammy’s— but that’s not much of a surprise to anyone.

While they might not have snagged any awards, Hozier and Annie Lennox joined forces for a mash up of Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” and Lennox’s “I Put a Spell on You.”  Hozier’s soulful voice could have jerked a few tears while Lennox’s power ballad provided a successful comeback for this 80s performer.

Lennox wasn’t the only shocking comeback of the night, though.  Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga took to the stage to perform their hit Cheek To Cheek, which helped them to win the award for “Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.”  It was nice to see Gaga on stage since she has been out of the public eye for the past few months.

Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani collaborated on an electrifying performance of “My Heart Is Open.”  Much like Lennox and Gaga, Stefani was a pleasant surprise as her career had been in limbo for a few years.

For the ladies, Ed Sheeran and John Mayer’s “Thinking out Loud” collaboration was a crowd pleaser.  For the older folks, Sheeran and the Electric Light Orchestra’s rendition of “Mr. Blue Sky” was a highlight.

Overall, there were not many surprises, with the exception of not so well-known vocalist Beck snagging “Album of the Year” and Paramore’s Hailey Williams taking home the award for “Best Rock Song.”

As for the expected winners, the Clean Bandit and Jess Glyne collaboration “Rather Be” took home the Grammy for “Best Dance Recording,” A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera’s group effort “Say Something” took home the award for “Best Pop Duo/ Group Performance,” and Miranda Lambert received the Grammy for “Best Country Album.”

Sunday night brought about lots of laughs, tears and great performances — but we’re still wondering if Sam Smith struggled to carry all of those trophies on his way out.


Probably not.

Katy Perry rocks Super Bowl XLIX

By Liam McGurl, writer

[image courtesy of People Magazine]

Katy Perry’s performance at Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday night had some viewers raving about the “shockingly good” routine while others called it “a complete nightmare.”

Personally, I found it to be exactly what I expected: a visually stunning performance.  In my opinion, Perry’s singing wasn’t extraordinary; however, the visual components of her performance guarded any opportunities for criticism.

Perry’s performance opened with a sea of people holding lanterns in the formation of the Pepsi logo to provide a captivating birds-eye image.  Beginning with the first moments of Perry’s hit song “Roar,” the lanterns turned a vibrant orange and the crowd split.  She made her entrance through the split masses of lanterns standing atop a mechanical gold lion.  I was impressed that Perry was able to maintain her vocal skills while standing almost twenty feet above the field.  Aside from her vocals, I was impressed by Perry’s willingness to push the boundaries and try something the Super Bowl had never seen before.

Taking this first segment as a theatrical performance, I found it to be nothing short of flawless.  While we can all argue over Perry’s raw vocals and whether or not her live performance matched well with the edited track, Perry kept this performance entertaining from the moment “Roar” began.  At the end of this first rendition, Perry let out a loud roar, transitioning into the second song to be performed, “Dark Horse.”

This segment opened with a team of dancers dressed as chess pieces on a huge simulated chessboard. I found the technicality of the choreography impressive and entertaining; each dancer hit their marks with total precision.  As this song came to a close, Perry worked her way towards a nearby stage and joined Lenny Kravitz for a rock-style duet of “I Kissed a Girl.”  In all honesty, after watching this version of the song, I wished it was the original track.

After a number of hair-flips, guitar riffs and fiery explosions, Perry went through a quick costume change and transition into the beach-themed performances of “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls”  featuring dancers dressed as cartoon beach balls, palm trees and sharks. These routines were not as exciting or dramatic as “Roar” or “Dark Horse” as this performance seemed to appeal to younger viewers.

While the performance seemed to be taking a more innocent route, I was shocked to see an abrupt ending to “California Gurls” to welcome early 2000s rapper Missy Elliot onto the stage.  After almost a decade’s hiatus, everyone was in disbelief seeing this rap legend make her way onto the stage.  Dressed in all black, Elliot showed that her dance moves are as sharp as ever, and she’s still a major force in the industry.  Performing some of her most popular hits, “Get Ur Freak On,” “Work It” and “Lose Control,” Elliot surprised and satisfied fans tuning in.

Perry closed out the show with her smash hit “Firework.”  Flying above the stadium on a constructed shooting star, she was surrounded by fireworks, lanterns and sparks, Perry belted out this emotional tune.

Perry’s halftime show kept my attention from the beginning of “Roar” to the conclusion of “Firework.”  Unlike many modern live performances, I was not attracted to this production because of controversy.  Instead, I enjoyed the creativity put into the dancing, costuming and special effects.  Further, I found Perry’s vocal talent to exceed the expectations I had for her.  Overall, I found Perry’s performance to be anything but boring, — just as a halftime show should be.