If you tuned in for the Grammy nominations announcement telecast Wednesday night, you could be forgiven for thinking you'd tuned into a country awards show. Was CBS accidentally broadcasting the ACAs (set to air next Monday on Fox) five nights early?
Of course, this was the first year that what you might call the Grammys' "pre-show" was broadcast from Music City USA instead of Los Angeles. And when you're in Nashville, make Nashville-ade, right? On a lot of multi-genre awards shows, the producers try to bury country performers in the middle of the telecast, so as not to scare off phobic urban viewers right away. But this seemed like CBS' attempt to get in on some of the country ratings action they used to enjoy before losing rights to the CMAs to a competing network.
Dierks Bentley and Kimberly Perry (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)So not only did we see Taylor Swift co-hosting (if not, alas, performing), but the show got off to a quick country start with a quick, well-imagined Johnny Cash tribute co-starring the Band Perry and Dierks Bentley. A win all around: Not everyone on every blue coast necessarily shares the heartland's near-universal adoration of TBP and Bentley, but what music lover of any genre stripe is going to change the channel on "Jackson"?
Toothsome Luke Bryan cemented the country connection further into the show, and, thankfully, spared America the dancing girls that have accompanied him on country-awards performances in the past. With "I Don't Want This Night to End," Bryan gets extra credit for setting the song in a truck—de rigueur for half the male country hits of the past two years—but going risky by at least not having the word "truck" in the title or chorus. There were smoke blasts, and there was confetti, though the Grammy producers evidently decided to save any actual pyro for the big show Feb. 10.
Performers from Nashville can generally actually sing, which did allow for the wrinkle of crooning presenters. Little Big Town harmonized on a snippet of the Beatles' "Yesterday" for some reason whose relevance would surely become apparent if only we rewound the DVR. (Okay, it had something to do with the Fabs having won best new artist back in the day.) But who could mind it?
Even more impressively, Hunter Hayes sang bits of the nominees for best pop vocal. It's been taken as given that pop-country cutee Hayes will become a crossover star if he ever gets enough TV time. With this brief but vivid appearance, on top of his best new artist nomination, his moment to win over the One Direction crowd may have come.
The most airtime, meanwhile, was devoted to Maroon 5, who first did a medley of three songs and later came out to end the show with "Payphone." That's four songs for a group that only garnered two nominations. We wonder if Adam Levine would have been so eager to book a slot on the telecast if he'd known Maroon 5 would be shut out of the top three categories... What are we saying? Of course he would've.
Ne-Yo also performed, but was saddled with choreography and a set that just couldn't live up to the production value standards set by a lot of R&B and hip-hop performers on other recent shows.
Fun. and Janelle Monae (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)fun. fared better by deliberately stripping it down in a duet with Janelle Monae of their blockbuster "We Are Young," rearranging the anthem for piano, guitar, and string section. Looking like a cross between Harry Connick Jr. and Chris Colfer, Nate Ruess looked and sounded just fragile enough on the high notes—though he ultimately prevailed—that "We Are Young" briefly translated as "We Are Vulnerable." Which is an entirely reasonable take on the tune, actually.
Co-hosts Swift and LL Cool J got most of the comedy out of the way at the outset when the rapper asked the country-pop queen to "do the human beatbox" to accompany him on his "favorite country song"… which naturally turned out to be "Mean." There was probably an even bigger joke to be milked in LL Cool J, of all people, worrying about being bullied.
It would have been nice to see T-Swizzle, as he called her, performing a song from Red, as probably 97 percent of the viewing audience expected. Either she thinks this is too also-ran of an awards show to waste a big production number on, or she's smart enough to know that viewers can only handle so many Red numbers between the AMAs and the actual Grammys, even if this one was ostensibly "her" show. You can be certain, anyway, that she and the telecasts' producers will be getting back together Feb. 10. And that night they'll probably shell out for flames.