Even beyond the question of whether Chris Brown should have been welcomed back to the Grammy stage so soon at all—a decision only made more awkward by this weekend’s sad events—it must be said that Brown has been better.
He’s even been better in the past year, singing one of the same two songs he sang tonight: last year's MTV Video Music Awards performance by Brown of “Beautiful People” (then part of a four-song medley) featured wire-assisted flying and cleaner dance moves. In his Grammys performance of that song, preceded by new single “Turn Up the Music,” Brown and his small dance crew were atop a pyramid of lit-up steps seemingly inspired by Deadmau5. While visually captivating, the set only seemed to defeat Brown, whose athletic dance moves benefit from wider berth than the stairway could provide. His trademark knees-akimbo moves were confident and plentiful, but they weren’t new. Anything he tried that was more complex than that seemed hemmed in—including a performance-closing backflip off the side of the pyramid, where he all but disappeared off the screen and barely stuck the landing.
As for the vocals, I counted only two instances where Brown could credibly be singing: the start of “Turn Up the Music,” where he was flat; and the opening notes of “Beautiful People,” where he was on-point but breathing heavily. Everything else was fairly obviously lip-synced—not remarkable for an athletic performer like Brown, and especially unremarkable in the era of the Madonna Superbowl performance, but a bit cheap for the Grammys, which prizes live performance.
Only a couple of spectators, including Kelly Rowland, stood at the end for Brown--probably apropos no matter how well he performed. Even if the perf could be lifted out of 2012 and dropped into 2008, before our opinions of Brown changed, it wouldn’t have qualified for a standing-O.