“Prince was in every way incomparable.”
So says John Legend, speaking of a real, true legend before launching into “Nothing Compares 2 U” during “Let’s Go Crazy: The Grammy Salute to Prince,” which airs on CBS at 9 p.m. Tuesday — four years to the day after Prince Rogers Nelson got his purple wings.
And even in its highest of highs — and there are several — none of the performances in this special can out-Prince Prince. As an artist, but especially as a live performer, he was in a league of his own.
“When it came to performing, I’m sorry, but Prince still has everyone beat,” says host Maya Rudolph in an understatement that is met with knowing applause from the “dearly beloved” in the audience.
The tribute — which was taped at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Jan. 28, two days after the 2020 Grammy Awards — kicks off, appropriately, with “Let’s Go Crazy,” the song that sets off the “Purple Rain” movie and soundtrack from 1984. But this version, featuring H.E.R. and Gary Clark Jr., is fairly tame, although some guitar electrics from the pair help amp up the overall energy.
But Miguel — one of the contemporary artists who best embodies Prince’s spirit — quickly ups the ante with “I Would Die 4 U,” which starts as a bump-and-grind slow jam. Then the “Adorn” singer — decked out in white lace, gloves and all — channels the dirty mindset of the Purple One better than any performer on the bill, right down to his libidinously limber splits.
But if there’s anyone who challenges Miguel for Princely props in “Let’s Go Crazy,” it’s the very next performer: John Legend. Singing “Nothing Compares 2 U,” People magazine’s reigning Sexiest Man Alive looks every bit the part in a purple blazer with nothing but his bare chest under — a nip slip just waiting to happen with those heaving pecs.
Taking the song — best known for Sinead O’Connor’s 1990 version — all the way to church, Legend turns the heartbreaking declaration into a spiritual testimony. You can feel the purple heavens open.
The two early highlights by Legend and Miguel are never beaten, although one surprising duet comes pretty close: It’s the stripped-down version of “Manic Monday,” a 1986 hit for the Bangles that Prince wrote, here delightfully deconstructed by that group’s lead singer, Susanna Hoffs, and Coldplay’s Chris Martin on piano.
And you just know that Prince would have loved Misty Copeland’s dance interpretation of “The Beautiful Ones” alongside H.E.R. on the keys.
But then there are some meh moments that would have probably made Prince roll his big Bambi eyes, including Juanes’ perfunctory “1999” and the Foo Fighters’ decidedly unsexy “Darling Nikki.” With the Foos having previously covered the “Purple Rain” track, Dave Grohl admits, “I don’t know if Prince liked it that much.”
And while it’s good to see Prince protégés Sheila E. — who leads the house band — and the Time take the stage, the Vegas-y Usher tribute from the 2020 Grammys, also featuring Sheila E., is unnecessarily repeated here.
The whole thing is missing a Beyoncé-type moment that would make everyone truly go loco. But even Mrs. Carter, for all her powers, could never take the place of Prince.
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