[What Went Wrong? is a regular Monday segment, when we want it to be, in which we examine an artist — an actor, director, musician, etc. — this week, an AWARDS SHOW, and try to pinpoint the exact moment in which their once-promising career went off the rails.]
All right, I recognize that Frank Ocean’s Grammy night was far from a disaster. Let’s look at the good first: he bested his pal Chris Brown for the award for best black pop, er, urban contemporary album in one of those “weird-if-he-doesn’t-win-cause-he’s-already-up-for-best-overall-album” deals. But come on: at this point even Chris Brown would have a few reservations about voting for Chris Brown, right? (Okay, fine, I’m giving him too much credit.) Plus the two seem to be on much better terms these days– observe the way Brown doesn’t move with the rest of the crowd when the winner is announced, almost certainly an homage to Ocean’s single “Novacane.” Ocean’s speech began with a line about projecting the audience as “little adults in tuxedos” in lieu of imagining them naked, which was probably more awkward than just imagining them naked, but he redeemed it by dedicating the award to Rihanna and giving her his phone number in a completely awesome, fuck-you spectacle that never actually happened.
Then Ocean accepted an award presented to him, Jay-Z, and Kanye West for “No Church In The Wild,” a song off an album that came out in the summer of 2011 but these are the Grammy’s so, time, whatever. (See also: Gotye. When Gotye was announced as a nominee for record of the year, I literally went, “Oh yeah! Gotye!!” Then he won and gave an acceptance speech where he basically said, “When I was a child, I loved music. I love all of the music in the world.” As this is almost certainly the last Gotye acceptance speech we’ll ever see, I’m glad he was able to get everything off his chest in one go.) Kanye was unavailable to accept, as he’s currently in Paris working on his sixth album, which may or may not be comprised entirely animal sounds, in a completely awesome spectacle that I’m seriously not making up.
Then the award for Best New Artist came up, in a year that was weirdly loaded with viable candidates and The Lumineers. But it seemed like it was a two-way race between fun. and Ocean, with the award going to the former in a vote that was almost assuredly rigged by Lena Dunham. So the guy who gets to see Dunham naked almost as much as we do, Freddy Mercury and Derrick Zoolander’s demon offspring, and the other fun.-loving folk took to the stage, as all good-will I had built up from last night’s excellent episode of Girls slowly dissipated.
Let’s take a tangent to talk about how bad fun. is. It’s not enough that I have to go back and un-capitalize every auto-corrected letter after every time I type their stupid fucking band name. They’re like if the entire class of Glee grew up, got ironic early-90’s era haircuts, secretly killed the band Snow Patrol, and recorded all of their unreleased material at a slightly sped-up tempo. Throw in a lead singer who makes Adam Lambert look like Ian Curtis, who wails every note as if there’s constantly an axe-murderer standing behind him threatening to gut him if each and every one doesn’t make it to the stratosphere, and you have fucking fun.. Can we petition to bring back The Scissor Sisters? (tangent of a tangent: there should be an unwritten Grammy rule that The Scissor Sisters have to perform “Take Your Mama” every single year, regardless of how many country performances this costs us. It would improve every show by 700%.)
The Grammy’s decided to let Ocean take the last performance of the night, which made sense for so little reasons that it’s a bit mind-boggling. Firstly, we’re going to follow up performances like the sweet Bruno Mars/Sting mash-up (I knew I wasn’t the only one who realized that Mars song is “Message In a Bottle”!), Jack White saying “I’ll perform at you, Grammy’s, but I’m gonna make you my bitch” and Mavis Staples launching into an impromptu cover of The Flaming Lips’ “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” with… a guy sitting behind a keyboard and lamenting over a man who broke his heart? When almost assuredly 90 percent of the audience thinks he’s literally singing about the film Forrest Gump? Complete with visuals that do nothing to dissuade that notion? Cue LL Cool-J: “ummm… goodnight, y’all?” It’s as if a Grammy producer just looked at the Channel Orange tracklist, saw there was a track called “Forrest Gump,” and said “oh yeah, I can make a wacky visual thing with this and make it look like you have legs and shit.”
Then you’re Frank in the awkward spot of having him perform right before the album of the year award is announced, now that you know you no longer have a serious shot of winning it after fun.’s New Artist victory. On top of having, you know, the natural nerves of a 24-year-old who’s singing in front of the entire recording industry for the first time. The whole thing was off, not awful, just a bland hodgepodge of pitchiness and vague visuals. (One thing that totally worked, even though I’m sure it wasn’t the plan: when Frank walked off, the digital legs made him look just like the man from the other place from Twin Peeks.)
And so Frank got to walk slowly, sadly, backstage and listen as he lost album of the year to every pub in Boston, aka Mumford and Sons. Sure, Ocean was never outright favored to win the award, but then again, neither were The Arcade Fire. Still, it was hard to watch as the other nominees applauded, but Frank just stood there staring soulessly towards the stage, it finally hitting him that the record he had put every ounce of himself in, both publicly and privately, had just been bested by the American remake of Flogging Molly. Mumford and Sons would party hard that night, soundtracked by Dave Matthews Bands’ Crash, both because they’re probably into that kind of music and because, in their minds, they had just conquered Brokeback Mountain.
Is this the end for Frank Ocean’s career? Time will only tell, but no.
So, where did it go wrong?: It didn’t, really, so let me point out my absolute favorite moment of the night. Taylor Swift’s opening number, which looked like it was set in one of Stefon’s clubs, was bested by Carrie Underwood’s batshit laser-light show, a mutant love-child of Cinderella and Blade Runner. Immediately afterwards, cut to LL Cool-J, who had this to say: “Okay.”