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Watching The 58th Annual Grammy Awards With A Critical Eye



All right, the 58th Grammy Awards were last night on CBS. The top prize, Record of the Year, went to Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk" featuring Bruno Mars.


BRUNO MARS: This hit, that ice cold, Michelle Pfeifer, that white gold.

GREENE: Bruno Mars thanked the fans for that song's success.


MARS: We wouldn't be up here if it wasn't for the people dancing to this song. Thank you guys so much.

GREENE: Who wasn't dancing? OK, Taylor Swift was one of the 10 producers on her album "1989," and that album won Album of the Year. Swift gave one of the more pointed acceptance speeches of the telecast. And joining us to talk about the show is NPR's Eric Deggans. Good morning, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: I will let you finish. Now I'm going to let you finish, but first...

GREENE: (Laughter) Oh, you're doing your best Kanye impression from when he interrupted Taylor Swift a few years ago, right, Eric? That's good.

DEGGANS: I am. I'm doing my Kanye West impression. Let's talk about Kanye West and Taylor Swift.

GREENE: OK, well, Kanye West, obviously, came up in Taylor Swift's speech. What'd she say?

DEGGANS: Yeah, well, this is interesting. So she wins for Album of the Year, she goes and gives an acceptance speech, and it seems to strike back at Kanye West, who had recently previewed this new song where he claimed credit for making her famous back in 2009 when he interrupted her at the MTV Video Music Awards. So let's listen to what she said last night.


TAYLOR SWIFT: There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame. But if you just focus on the work and you don't let those people sidetrack you, some day, when you get where you're going, you'll look around, and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there.

GREENE: Wow, take that, Kanye.

DEGGANS: Yeah, that's some serious shade, man. But the interesting thing about her win, too, is something - it points out something else that's odd about the Grammy's, which is that so many of these winners involve songs and albums that were released quite a while ago. I mean, "Uptown Funk" was released in November 2014. Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" won Song of the Year. That was released in September 2014. So it's kind of odd to see these artists, these songs winning that we first heard two years ago.

GREENE: And this is like an eligibility thing. I mean, the rule's just make songs that are pretty old eligible this year.

DEGGANS: It is an eligibility thing, and it's the way that Grammy's kind of vote, which always makes the show seem in danger of feeling a little behind the curve.

GREENE: Kendrick Lamar, the rapper, 11 Grammy nominations, close to Michael Jackson's record for 12, this was supposed to be a big night for him, right?

DEGGANS: It was a big night for him. He delivered the highlight performance of the night, an example of a black artist delivering this really powerful message about race and oppression before this sort of national mainstream audience. He did a performance of two songs, "Blacker The Berry" and "Alright." And he was backed by a band that was playing in jail cells. He was in chains. He was in front of a group of black men that were in chains. Coming after what we saw Beyonce do at the Super Bowl where she nodded to the Black Panthers, we have this cultural moment where black artists, at the heart of mainstream entertainment, are leveraging some seriously in-your-face imagery about the struggle of black people in America.

GREENE: That sounds like powerful stuff, other powerful moments from last night?

DEGGANS: Well, I liked the smaller tributes to artists who've passed away. So, Stevie Wonder was really great singing a tribute to Maurice White from Earth, Wind and Fire with the a cappella group Pentatonix. And there was a tribute to B.B. King with Chris Stapleton, Gary Clark, Jr. and Bonnie Raitt. It was understated and really, really well done. Of course, everybody's going to be talk about Lady Gaga's tribute to David Bowie, which was one of the most anticipated, and there was, you know, loads of costume changes and lots of dancers and a tilting keyboard and Nile Rodgers from the "Let's Dance" album on guitar. But what's interesting about that is there was a commercial right after that performance by Intel showing how they did that, how they rehearsed and put together that segment. And it got some people upset online because it seemed to kind of reduce this moving tribute to some marketing ploy for a computer chip.

GREENE: All right, rounding up the Grammy Awards for us last night, that's NPR's Eric Deggans. Thanks, Eric.

DEGGANS: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.

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