The 2013 Grammy Awards have come and gone, although like most things involving glitz and glamour, not without its share of controversy. Last week, CBS' Standards and Practices committee sent out a wardrobe advisory stating that red carpet attendees should dim down the boobs and bums this year (yoo-hoo Katy Perry... did you not get that memo, even though 'they' -- I mean 'you' -- looked amazing!). Regardless of the S&P's "Debbie Downer" alert, this year's broadcast was still seen by more than 28 million music lovers, landing just one notch behind last year's behemoth audience of 40 million following the shocking news of Whitney Houston's death just one day before show time.
As a National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences member, I was fascinated to see which artists would ultimately get to take home the gold gramophone. Would they be my choices? Believe it or not, voting can be a virtual, "Who the f*** is that?" conundrum! With pages of nominated artists and songs to choose from, the task can be daunting and sometimes you come across a name that simply doesn't ring a bell. When that happens, it is my moral and ethical obligation to go to the provided website and listen to the nominated track (or sometimes the entire album) so that I can provide my selection for the Grammy, based on a fair assessment of all the nominations! Yes, I'll admit, Frank Ocean was one of those nominees I had to investigate.
In the weeks following the nomination process, and as fate would have it (or was it fate?), I would learn a bit more about Frank Ocean via a couple of headlining moments that ranged from rainbows to clouds. First I learned, through Frank's own public admission, that the first love of his life was a man. I'm pretty sure this was a bold and courageous move, since R&B isn't exactly the genre of music one would expect this kind of a revelation to come from.
Nonetheless, I did respect him for putting himself out there to inspire anyone who even questions the validity of love, whether it's for the same sex or not. Bravo to Frank Ocean! Then, I almost immediately learned that his first love was not Chris Brown (who allegedly bullied Ocean over a parking lot dispute at Westlake Recording Studios.) I love Westlake Recording Studios. I've recorded several tracks there myself, and I know their parking lots very well. They usually leave your name on a sign in the designated spot, so I'm unclear as to how that ordeal could have gone down unless Brown was feeling the heat of Ocean's critically acclaimed debut album channel ORANGE.
Whatever that truth was, for me, the truth in any recording artist can be found in their ability to sing live. That is the vulnerable area where artistry has nowhere to hide and you either ARE or you ARE NOT.
Well into the Grammy telecast, Kelly Clarkson had already shown everyone at the Staples Center how a real singer sings with her simple, yet riveting tribute to Patti Page. Bruno Mars brought his A game to the stage, as did a few other old and new artists. Carrie Underwood always delivers a great vocal, so I wasn't surprised by her chops either. I was, however, distracted by watching her stand there like a movie screen at a 1950's drive-in. Not sure who had the genius idea to project various patterns on to Underwood's dress, but let's hope something like that never happens again. Still though, it was nothing that would make me reach for a tomato!
Now it was Frank Ocean's turn to shine. His segment was coming up and I was genuinely looking forward to watching him sing live. Frank had already received a couple of Grammy Awardss earlier that night, so I was preparing myself to be wowed ... and then he was introduced. Standing behind a piano that gave the viewer the illusion that he was running while playing the keyboard (wait a minute... not another faux movie screen!) Frank Ocean took to the mic and began to sing (if that's what you want to call it). After the first 20 seconds I found myself wondering when he was going to stop the debacle I was witnessing and just say something like, "Just kidding!" But it never happened. It kept getting worse and worse.
Rarely staying on pitch, and fumbling around melody lines that were reckless and seemingly abandoned altogether, Ocean sang a song called "Forrest Gump." I could feel myself morphing into Chris Brown. Now I'm thinking, maybe Frank Ocean sang Chris Brown "Forrest Gump" in the parking lot at Westlake? Seriously... this was the so-called "acclaimed" Grammy-winning artist Frank Ocean? It never got any better, and to add salt to an already gushing wound, after it ended the camera panned to an audience that showed a few people giving Frank Ocean a standing ovation! Did they not just see what I just saw?
I immediately took to the Internet and read some of the reviews already pouring in (obviously from diehard fans). Words likes "amazing" and "brilliant" were being mentioned. Should I call 911 -- maybe I was having a stroke? I decided to write a few words about this Grammy moment on my Facebook page and one person told me that I just didn't get it, that Frank Ocean is a fantastic artist, and he's just different. Clearly I didn't get it! What I began to think about was that maybe he had gotten "performance jitters." We all get them. Grammy night is not a good night to get performance jitters, but it can, and does happen. If it was just an off night, my heart goes out to him because surely he must be devastated if he's had a chance to see it. If it was meant to come off the way that it did, then Lord have Mercy on the music industry (especially those people who found Frank Ocean's performance brilliant).
Regardless of how good or bad he was, I have to assume that Frank Ocean gave us the best that he had on the night of the 2013 Grammy Awards. I'm sure his momentum will keep him around for awhile, and therefore it will allow him many more opportunities to prove himself as a talented young artist. Hopefully at some point I'll be able to get the memory of "Forrest Gump" out of my head and have it replaced with a Frank Ocean performance that is worthy of a two-time Grammy Award winner. We shall see.
The best part of the 2013 Grammy Awards, for my money, was the announcement that next year N.A.R.A.S will select 10 "Favorite Music Teacher" finalists from across the nation (including one winner each year) to be recognized for their remarkable impact. The winner will be flown to Los Angeles where they will accept their Award and attend the GRAMMY's, plus they'll pick up a $10,000 honorarium. All of the finalists will receive a $1,000 honorarium as well. This news was so fantastic to me because I believe that most of us have had a teacher who has given us that extra confidence to BE or DO something more with our lives... that special educator who has helped us reach further than our own grasp, bringing us closer to our greatest personal potential, and making sure that we triumph over any adversity we may encounter. My hope is that Frank Ocean had one of those teachers.
If you have a teacher you'd like to nominate, please go to www.grammyintheschools.com to find out more about it.