In the midst of the hype of Grammy Awards, people generally tend to forget what the event is truly about: the music. Loaded with the most celebrated names of the year, the award show glorifies mainstream pop culture and basks in the glory of what stars are saying and doing in order to attract viewers from across the world. Reporters flock to cover the red carpet and analyze how [lovely/terrible] [insert pop songstress]’s choice of attire was for weeks to follow. It is for this reason that the general population tends to neglect the true standards of the Grammys. Moreover, it is for this reason that the MusiCares Gala, which has come to pick up the slack for the Grammy Awards in making music the main focus, goes overlooked.
The MusiCares Gala, held at the Los Angeles Convention Center prior to the Grammy Awards, is a black tie event that honors one extraordinary musician, humanitarian and musical legacy per year. The gala emphasizes music that has an impact, featuring a lineup of major artists from diverse genres, all of whom pay tribute to a legendary artist by performing covers of his or her music. It also serves as a charity dinner and auction and collects money to provide a safety net of critical assistance for struggling musicians.
In the past, the annual MusiCares Gala has honored artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Gloria Estefan. This year, the event deemed 1960s singer-songwriter Carole King its “Person of the Year.”
Much like the Grammys, the gala sought to explore some interesting and unexpected collaborations, kicking off the night with Steven Tyler and LeAnn Rimes’ duet rendition of “Hi-De-Ho,” and later bringing R&B singer Miguel and country singer Macey Musgraves to the stage for an innovative arrangement of “I’ll Do My Crying in the Rain.”
Unlike the Grammys, there were no unnecessary gymnastics, diamond-encrusted bodysuits, high-tech stage sets or prerecorded backing vocals. This aspect was more-so apparent in the performances of artists such as Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and P!nk. Accompanying herself with nothing more than a grand piano, Lady Gaga soulfully belted “You’ve Got a Friend.” The concept of the radical artist playing in such a raw and stripped-down manner was so normal, it could almost be considered strange. P!nk followed in Lady Gaga’s footsteps, singing an alteration of “So Far Away” beside a grand piano, which was classic despite her half-shaved head and platinum-colored mohawk. Although all renditions were beautiful, Alicia Keys and her take on “You Make Me Feel Like a Woman” had to be the highlight of the grand piano performances. The rendition crescendoed from a melodic ballad, during which Key sat, filling the room with energy and earning Keys a standing ovation.
The event included further performances from overwhelmingly talented artists, including Train, Mexican duo Jesse and Joy, Martina McBride, Miranda Lambert, Jennifer Nettles, Amy Grant, Jason Mraz, Zac Brown, Jakob Dylan, King’s daughter Louise Goffin and Sara Bareilles, who later performed a medley with King onstage at the Grammy Awards. The artists all seemed to return again and again to King’s 1971 hit record Tapestry, executing a series of exceptional covers.
To put the cherry on top of the night, King herself took the stage with long-time collaborator James Taylor, singing “Sweet Seasons,” “Hey Girl,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “Jazzman” and a unique interpretation of “Home Again.” With one number left, “I Feel the Earth Move,” King invited all of her fellow performers on stage to sing together.
Not only was the gala successful in achieving its philanthropic goals, but also its musical goals. Between the remarkable lineup, stripped-down performances, legendary tribute and award winner, I would say the gala was successful in shedding light on the music and focusing on speaking to generations. As King reiterated in closing the show, reminding the audience of the event’s primary purpose, she is and will continue to be “first, last and always a songwriter.”