I didn’t watch the Grammy Awards Sunday night, but I enjoyed a few clips on YouTube, including 80-year-old Joni Mitchell performing on the show for the first time, singing her 1966 classic, “Both Sides Now.” I also liked Tracy Chapman making a rare public appearance to duet with Luke Combs on her 1988 hit, “Fast Car,” which he covered last year and turned into a chart-topper all over again.
I was also interested in seeing Billy Joel perform his first new song in 17 years, “Turn The Lights Back On.” I’m a lifelong fan of his, so I was happy to see him doing something new, even if it didn’t blow me away. However, the broadcast of his segment annoyed the hell out of me for a reason I’ve ranted about before on this site: bright lights pointing towards the audience.
If you watch the first video below, you can’t help but notice the blinding flood lights facing outward from underneath his piano. They’re so powerful they make the rest of the band look like silhouettes. I imagine some of the violinists excitedly told their friends they’d be on the Grammys, but can’t prove it because they’re so awash in light as to be unidentifiable.
I blame Grammys broadcast director Hamish Hamilton and lighting designer Noah Mitz for the horrible visuals. From the very first moments of the song, there’s a white hot spotlight reflected sharply off the top of Joel’s piano. I’m no photography expert, but that used to be called a lens flare, which was frowned upon. Considering the title of the tune, Hamilton and Mitz probably thought it was clever to have so many lights on, but doing so created eye strain, impacting my appreciation of the performance.
If you stop the video at the 1:10 mark, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Even if you put your hand over the blaring bulbs under the piano, you still can’t make out much of what’s happening on stage. I wonder how these two staging geniuses would feel if you went to a meeting with them and shined flashlights in their field of vision the entire time.
— Craig R. Brittain (@RealBrittain) February 5, 2024
The poor lighting design was also a problem when Billy returned to close the Grammys telecast with “You May Be Right.” As you’ll see in the snippet below, the spotlights crisscrossing the arena intersected the camera angles several times, creating yet more lens flares.
Like many other rock stars, Billy wore sunglasses as he played and sang — but I didn’t think I’d need to put on mine to watch it. On behalf of eyeballs everywhere, I wish the people in charge of live music would stop worrying about illuminating the crowd from the stage and stick to doing the opposite.
— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) February 5, 2024