The long list of performers at the 2012 Grammys was as vast, varied and random as putting your entire music collection on shuffle and setting it on stage. The 2012 Grammy performances spanned an exhaustive array of musical genres, making clear that in the year 2012, pop music is more democratic and less limited than ever before. Jazz standards can share the same stage as Dubstep, and artists as young as Taylor Swift or as established as Glen Campbell and Tony Bennett all belong equally at the same ceremony. Here’s a top-to-bottom recap of all of the performers and performances at the 2012 Grammy Awards.
Bruce Springsteen: Backed by Steven Van Zandt, Patti Scialfa and the the E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen opened the Grammys by tearing through “We Take Care Of Our Own,” his new single from his upcoming Wrecking Ball album. It was an on-message salute both to Americans and, more topically, to the music industry and fans mourning Whitney Houston. Paul McCartney and Lady Gaga cheered him on. Also, let me go on record as the 50,045,492th person who notes that Bruce Springsteen does not age. He actually makes me look forward to being, like 50 something. Oh wait. He’s 62? WHAT DOES HE EAT? HOW DOES HE LIVE?
Bruno Mars: Glad to see Bruno Mars is no longer a one-man piano-moving company and instead a consummate old-school band leader with his own onstage theater marquee. He channeled James Brown, Cab Calloway, Chuck Berry and the Four Tops with his golden, shimmering, blowout rendition of “Runaway.”
Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt: Smart, unexpected pairing — the ever-radiant Alicia Keys and country legend Bonnie Raitt pay tribute to the late, great Etta James with a country-blues rendition of “Sunday Kinda Love.”
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Chris Brown: Chris Brown reminded us that the Grammys stage is also capable of becoming a club with his psychedelic medley of “Turn Up The Music” and “Beautiful People” that looked like it was from The Future’s talent show. That boy is limber.
Kelly Clarkson and Jason Aldean: Against a very Buster-Keaton-in-“Safety Last” old-fashioned clock backdrop, Kelly Clarkson and Jason Aldean (who’s nominated for three country Grammys) made me cry (and not for the first nor last time) with their soulful version of “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” OH Kelly Clarkson! Stay in that dress FOREVER. And also, commence with that country album.
Foo Fighters: Thank you for removing my face with your ceaseless rock, Foo Fighters. Their outdoor, satellite performance of “Walk” brought the energy up to a rock-appropriate 11 or so. Oh, and they won FOUR 2012 Grammys.
Rihanna and Coldplay: Easily the most electrifying performance of the 2012 Grammys. A solo Rihanna’s remorseful version of “We Found Love” set to piano absolutely exploded into orgiastic laser-streaked showstopping rave, replete with torches and pelvic thrusts. Chris Martin had to go and RUIN it with an acoustic guitar. JUST KIDDING. The transition from drug carnival to campfire duet on “Princess Of China,” followed by Coldplay‘s Keith Haring-channeling Day-Glo graffiti backdrop for “Paradise,” was probably the perfect anecdote to grandparents and/or overly conservative types trying to recover after witnessing Rihanna grind up her dancers.
The Beach Boys, Maroon 5 and Foster The People: Maroon 5 made a croony, charitable attempt at The Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl,” but Foster The People’s “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” sounded exactly like 1966. Perfect shirts, perfect harmonies. And 20 years since their last performance and 50 years since their first album came out on Capitol Records, The Beach Boys’ vibrations sounded just as good 50 years later. And, of course, then it turned into one of those legendary everyone-on-stage-at-the-same-time power jams. (Also, hats off to Mike Love wearing a self-reflexive Beach Boys hat!)
Paul McCartney: Oh, big band-era brilliance. Sir Paul’s version of “My Valentine” (from his new Kisses On The Bottom album of standards) set to a somber strings section and a reticent solo guitarist, could not be more pensive. Furthermore, Paul McCartney presents himself with such calm earnestness that it’s almost like no one ever told him he’s Paul McCartney. First standing ovation of the night, by the way.
The Civil Wars and Taylor Swift: Best joke of the evening? The Civil Wars‘ “We’d like to thank our opening acts” crack. And I’d like to thank John Paul White and Joy Williams, who went home with two Grammys, for their flawless rendition of their slithery, spooky “Barton Hollow.” I would’ve appreciated the full 3 minutes and 21 seconds, but that’s not always how live awards shows works. Anyway, Civil Wars got a few verses out before introducing Taylor Swift and her full band for a very Appalachian version of “Mean” (which is fine because I love Taylor and Buzzworthy is Team Taylor HQ. We’re about to get even more of The Civil Wars when Taylor’s “Safe And Sound” video from “The Hunger Games” drops tomorrow. Performing a song about a childhood bully at the Grammys where you’re nominated is the definition of classy revenge.
Katy Perry: My take on Katy Perry‘s “E.T.” fakeout — she was pulling the plug on her past before unveiling ALL of her brand-new song, “Part Of Me,” from her upcoming Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection album. “Now look at me I’m sparkling” and “You can keep the diamond ring”? Sounds like Katy Perry’s over it and ready to get on with her life as a blue-haired Barbarella. Also, did anyone catch the fact that she BURNED AN ICE MAN EFFIGY? Because she did.
Adele: If Adele ever gets nervous, she has a funny way of NEVER EVER showing it. Could’ve been because by the time she took the stage, she’d already won FOUR Grammys, and before the night ended, she’d win six Grammy Awards total, including Album of The Year. Her Grammy-winning Grammy performance of “Rolling In The Deep,” complete with a gospel choir and Adele’s full “Valley of the Dolls” regalia was more lyrically expressive and, ironically (for a song about devastating heartbreak and despair), more joyful than ever. If her adorable, laughing victory cheer at the end of the song (or the sweet kiss she shared with her boyfriend before winning the Best Pop Solo Performance Grammy earlier that night) was any indication, Adele’s happier than ever.
Glen Campbell tribute with The Band Perry and Blake Shelton: The Band Perry, led by the quirky, quixotic Kimberly Perry, opened the Grammys’ Glen Campbell tribute with a whistling version of “Gentle On My Mind” before Blake Shelton paid tribute to the country legend and Lifetime Achievement Award winner with a celebratory version of “Southern Nights.” Glen Campbell himself then took the stage, in a requisite rhinestone jacket, and triumphantly belted out “Rhinestone Cowboy” without missing a beat.
Tony Bennett and Carrie Underwood: Despite the nearly 60-year gap between them, Tony Bennett and Carrie Underwood‘s rendition of the standard “It Had to be You” was as light, lively and youthful as the version they recorded on Bennett’s Duets II album.
Jennifer Hudson: It was just as heartwrenching to watch a poised, plaintive yet powerful Jennifer Hudson sing Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” as it must’ve been for her to sing it. Herself no stranger to tragedy, Jennifer Hudson‘s teary steadfastness was a triumphant tribute to the late Houston.
Chris Brown, David Guetta, Lil Wayne, Foo Fighters and Deadmau5: EDM is having a BIG, BIG moment. Which doesn’t necessarily explain why Chris Brown was dressed like Run-D.M.C. for “I Can Only Imagine,” (along with Lil Wayne, who was impossible to catch, but, hey, it was crowded), but it was pretty cool to see Deadmau5 remix Foo Fighters’ “Rope,” live in front of a sea of Deadmau5es. As a fan of both but not necessarily both at the same time, I concede that this actually somehow worked.
Nicki Minaj: In keeping with the great pop music trope of bending religious mores (especially where Catholicism is concerned), Nicki Minaj opened her performance of “Roman Holiday” in a mock confession booth and probably making the Catholic League’s head spin with a mock exorcism. Maybe it was the male dancers dressed in church robes or the Franciscan monks, but something tells me she dropped out of Catholic school. Something also tells me this is probably the first time anyone ever levitated during a Grammy performance. Jolly good, Nicki!
Paul McCartney: Closing out the 2012 Grammys was arguably one of the biggest names at the show: Paul McCartney, who resurrected The Beatles’ Abbey Road “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” classics. While “Golden Slumbers” was heavy with the weight of the room’s mourning for Whitney Houston, the Bruce Springsteen/Paul McCartney/Rusty Anderson/Joe Walsh/Dave Grohl guitar jam session on “The End” closed out a night of Grammy performances on a high note.
Photo credits: Lead image: Adele: John Shearer/WireImage; Rihanna: Kevin Winter/Getty Images; Jennifer Hudson: Robyn Beck/Getty Images. Bruce Springsteen: Christopher Polk/WireImage; Bruno Mars, Paul McCartney, Adele, Glen Campbell, Tony Bennett and Carrie Underwood: John Shearer/WireImage; Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson: Jeff Kravitz/ FilmMagic; Chris Brown: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images; Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images; Foo Fighters: Jason Merritt/Getty Images Entertainment; Rihanna, Beach Boys and Adam Levine, Nicki Minaj, Paul McCartney medley: Kevin Winter/Getty Images; Katy Perry: Lester Cohen/WireImage