Grammy Prince tribute plays it safe, which he never was

(Courtesy: CBS)

The Reel 360 Team was delirious with anticipation for the Grammy Tribute to Prince Rogers Nelson, who left us four years ago yesterday. We were ready for a little Dance Music Sex and Romance from the star-studded night, but instead we got a little safe sex. Actually no sex at all. And here’s the thing – the wunderkind from Minneapolis was sexy, prolific and inspired. Prince was anything but safe. That is what we got last night.

“To me, Prince is music. To love Prince is to love music,” Let’s Go Crazy: The GRAMMY Tribute To Prince host Maya Rudolph said as the GRAMMY special aired on Tuesday, April 21. “He said so much, so well, for so long, and then was gone too soon.”

Truth, Maya. Truth.

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Recorded in late January in honor of the seven-time GRAMMY winner and cultural icon, the Recording Academy and some very special celebrity friends including Foo FightersBeckCommonEarth, Wind & FireH.E.R.Mavis StaplesSt. VincentJohn LegendMiguelColdplay‘s Chris Martin, celebrated his life and musical treasure trove on a stage shaped like his trademark glyph.

The tribute started off with of course, Let’s Go Crazy from Gary Clark, Jr. and H.E.R. It was okay. Nothing special. The musical arrangement was dare I say, pedestrian?

H.E.R. and Gary Clark Jr., opened with Prince’s iconic classic Let’s Go Crazy

Next up was Miguel, rocking a Prince-inspired ruffled shirt, lace gloves and boots, with I would Die For You. The song began as a slow-burn grind and then turned into Miguel singing falsetto, strutting and splitting across the stage. If Prince had never existed this may have been an exciting performance. But it paled in comparison, even with the night’s musical director Sheila E, providing an extended (and sometimes self-centered feeling) drum solo.

Miguel, singing I Would Die For You

Batting third was John Legend. And look John Legend is always great, but he’s not Prince. Sorry, Legend fans. He’s just not and his interpretation of Nothing Compares 2 U, while very good, was not great. Legend performed the iconic track while wearing a grey suit coat and grey pants but with no shirt under his jacket.

John Legend sings Nothing Compares 2 U


Just when we started losing hope for the tribute, things began to pivot. First with musician St. Vincent. Decked out in white boots and purple panties, she killed with her version of one of my favorite Prince songs, Controversy. Because she is a guitar goddess, she was able to pull off a rendition of the song that felt like she was actually channeling Prince.

St. Vincent kills on Controversy

H.E.R. returned to the stage, this time behind the piano, singing one of the most underrated songs off of the Purple Rain soundtrack, The Beautiful Ones. While she sang like she was channeling Prince from Heaven, dancer Misty Copeland performed an interpretive dance to the track. Toward the end of the song, she let the piano and brought the house down with her soulful rendition alongside Copeland. 

ALSO READ: Our top ten favorite songs from that sexy MF Prince

Alicia Keys, who hosted the Grammy’s introduced a medley of Prince sonbgs by Usher, clad in a glittering jacket a white silk shirt and black pants. Why CBS felt the need to replay this from the Grammys is kind of beyond me. However, Usher was good, especially on Kiss.

Introduced as ‘perhaps Prince’s greatest creation’ (and they are) was the legendary Minneapolis group Morris Day & The Time, who took the stage.

Morris Day, Jerome Benton with his mirror, Jam, Lewis and The Time brought the energy back up with a medley of some of The Time’s biggest bops written by Prince: Jungle Love, Cool and The Bird. They all still dance like it’s 1984 and Ice Cream Castle just dropped. Gotta love they can still slide across the stage.

They’re just cool

Grammy-winning rapper/actor/activist Common followed with a modern update on the 1987 album’s socially charged title track, Sign O’ The Times. While Sign of the Times is an incredible piece and we enjoyed Sheila E and Common’s interpretation, especially the Chicago rapper’s rhymes, it felt like every time Sheila E. was on stage she was trying too hard to reignite her own career.

Next, Grammy-winning alt-rock staple Beck sang the Prince classic, Raspberry Beret. And it was incredible.

Clark Jr. returned to the stage for a special duet with Sheila E., of another Sign ‘O the Times deep cut, The Cross.

Comedian/actor/musician Fred Armisen then took the stage to introduce Sheila E., who’d already changed into another bold look. She then led a medley of America, Free and The Glamorous Life, tracks she recorded with the icon himself.

Armisen returned to introduce one his “best friends,” Maya Rudolph (who often played Beyonce to Armisen’s Prince in their SNL sketches), who’d also changed into another look for her performance with her Prince cover band, Princess, who sang Delirious with The Revolution, Prince’s powerhouse backing band.

The Revolution stuck around to rock out with the one and only Staples for a incredibly moving rendition of “Purple Rain.” Finally, they lead a packed stage for a very star-studded, lively take of “Baby I’m a Star,” bringing out all the amazing performers who channeled Prince’s royal energy during the show.

Seeing the Revolution back on stage was worth the price of the two hours. Wendy Melvoin still has it as she riffed on Purple Rain while Mavis Staples (one of Prince’s faves) sang her heart out.

Wendy Melvoin of the Revolution takes us back to the Purple days

The night ended with a somewhat sloppy rendition of Baby I’m a Star. Yes, you are Prince. Others just don’t burn as brightly when they share the same stage.