“Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to take you on a journey back in time to Minneapolis, 1985. The sky is purple, and the First Avenue club is sold out but you have tickets to the hottest show on the planet. Where glam meets funk, rock meets fantasy, leather meets lace. What does that look like, what does that sound like? We’re about to show you.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, I defy you to stay in your seats right now. Make some noise for the Time!”
Thus declared Grammys 2017 host James Corden, introducing the most anticipated awards show tribute of the calendar year. Rather than assemble an “only on the Grammys” style mash-up crew of big-name stars, the show did something much more sensible and heartfelt: with a nudge from Jimmy Jam and Bruno Mars, they invited some of Prince’s own friends and musical peers to kick off a tribute in his honor.
For their Grammys performance, frontman Morris Day reassembled the Original 7en: his mirror-toting Purple Rain sidekick Jerome Benton, superstar producer duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and guitarist Jesse Johnson, plus drummer Jellybean Johnson and keyboardist Monte Moir, who have remained with Day as touring members of the Time.
(“The Original 7en” was a name the original members of the Time assumed back in 2011 when they reformed and wanted to record new music; Prince, who was consulted about the decision at the time, gave them the go-ahead to use the Time name when performing the older material he penned, but requested they come up with a new moniker if they wanted to make new albums.)
They performed short but powerful versions of “Jungle Love” and “The Bird,” two songs co-written by Prince, Day, and Johnson that were released on Ice Cream Castle the same year that all involved skyrocketed to global fame with their appearances in Purple Rain. Rather than give the songs a somber bent (as Adele and an orchestra did for the night’s earlier tribute to George Michael), the Time opted to perform their tribute with unbridled enthusiasm and sheer joy, and they got the whole room on its feet and had everyone from Beyoncé and Jay Z to Corden himself dancing and singing along.
The lights dimmed and a giant, glowing Love Symbol emanated from a screen behind the stage as Prince’s own voice recited the familiar opening stanzas of “Let’s Go Crazy”: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re here to get through this thing called life.”
Bruno Mars emerged in a sparkling purple jacket to tear through the song with gusto, and it was obvious that every detail of his performance was an homage to Prince: he played a replica of Prince’s iconic white Cloud guitar — designed by local guitar maker Dave Rusan, Minneapolis represent! — with a leopard-print strap, styled his hair and eyeliner in tribute, and tore through the song’s guitar parts with technical proficiency and soul. As the song progressed, it was clear that Mars wasn’t just covering Prince, he was doing his best to channel him; as his soloing reached its climax, Mars stroked the neck of the guitar over and over again, finally trading in his squeaky clean image for something more sexually suggestive and connected to the moment.
At the song’s end, Morris Day returned and embraced Mars, who he’s often razzed in both interviews and live performances for directly ripping off the Time’s sound in the song “Uptown Funk.” In this moment, with hearts aligned in tribute of Prince, they appeared to have kissed and made up.
After the show, Bruno posted a photo of the Cloud guitar he played at the Grammys. The original Cloud, made by Rusan, is at Paisley Park; replica copies were created by the guitar company Schecter for Prince in the years following Purple Rain.
— Roberto Blizzard (@VeganYogaDude) February 13, 2017