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Grammys 2019: Women in the spotlight, hip hop makes history and tributes galore

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Female artists dominated at the Grammy awards Sunday night, with the spotlight of « music’s biggest night » firmly focused on powerhouse performances by women.   

The Recording Academy — which has been trying to address criticism around the lack of diversity at its annual celebration of music — has made some strides when it comes to nominating more diverse musicians. That was on display Sunday, as the Grammys registered several historic wins for rap artists and saw female acts triumphing with two of the night’s top trophies (album of the year, best new artist), as well as in categories including rap album, country album, R&B album and pop vocal album.

Producers of this year’s Grammy telecast chose to, for the most part, turn the show over to female artists, highlighting the talent of host Alicia Keys and honouring musical icons like Dolly Parton, Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin.

Then there was the noticeable boost in top-nominated female acts (including Kacey Musgraves, Janelle Monae, Cardi B, H.E.R., Dua Lipa and Brandi Carlile) performing — and commanding attention with their time onstage.

« I just wanted to say how honoured I am to be nominated alongside so many incredible female artists this year, because I guess this year we really stepped up, » Dua Lipa quipped upon winning best new artist, a clear retort to outgoing academy head Neil Portnow’s infamous comments backstage at last year’s telecast.

That said, the show wasn’t without mishap. Here’s a round-up of some memorable moments from the night.


Musical matchmaking

Grammy telecast producer Ken Ehrlich is simply addicted to star-studded matchups and duets. Sometimes it truly works, as with Camila Cabello’s high-energy opening performance of Havana, featuring J. Balvin, Ricky Martin, Young Thug and Arturo Sandoval.

The star-studded Parton tribute had even BTS bopping. Late in the show, St. Vincent and Dua Lipa offered a seductive performance of Masseduction.

But slamming together musical notables of different genres and generations or simply signing big names to perform yet another tribute doesn’t always pay off (more on J. Lo later).

Obama in the house

To help kick things off, Keys shared her time onstage with some major names, inviting « sisters » Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jennifer Lopez and — seemingly garnering one of the night’s biggest and longest ovations — Michelle Obama.

« Music has always helped me tell my story, » Obama said. « Whether we like country or rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves. It allows us to hear one another. »

Drake’s real talk

In one of the night’s surprise appearances, Grammy-and-Juno-snubbing hip hop star Drake was actually in the house to accept the Grammy when God’s Plan won the trophy for best rap song.

« If there’s people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain and snow, spending their hard-earned money to come to your shows, you don’t need this right here, I promise you, you already won, » Drake told fellow artists from the stage after his win.

But just when we thought perhaps his beef with award shows had ended, producers bluntly cut off his real-talk speech, sending the show to commercial at what they subsequently called a « natural pause » (with Drake apparently declining the offer to come back and finish his thought).

Well Grammys, that’s likely the last time you’ll see Champagne Papi at your show.

Historic hip hop wins

Cardi B, seen performing Money during the ceremony, is the first solo female winner of the best rap album Grammy. (Matt Sayles/Invision/Associated Press)

And speaking of no-shows, Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover) made history with his blistering track This is America winning both song of the year and record of the year.

It’s the first time in Grammy history a rap song has won either category. It was an embarrassing moment for Grammy organizers that such a major winner didn’t feel compelled to attend. (The song also won best rap/sung performance and best music video)

Another historic win came when rapper Cardi B became the first solo female rapper ever to win best rap album (for Invasion of Privacy).

Motown by way of Sin City

Jennifer Lopez performed with Smokey Robinson in a tribute to Motown. The choice was controversial before the show even happened, and even more so after her performance. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

A decision that was maligned by many from the moment it was revealed was the Grammys’ decision to have Jennifer Lopez lead a tribute to Motown. A major complaint was that the tribute to the label that brought the world artists like Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Glady Knight and Stevie Wonder, should come from a black artist.

And then there was the performance question.

Though widely acknowledged for her phenomenal dancing, J.Lo has never been considered an incredibly strong vocalist, so building a multi-song tribute around her (even with the assistance of Motown legend Smokey Robinson, Grammy host Keys and R&B singer-songwriter Ne-Yo) felt inexplicable to many in the audience.

It’s not surprising that the set, which seemed to channel her Las Vegas residency, earned a significant backlash on social media — especially when a tribute to Aretha Franklin later in the show appeared to get truncated to just one of the Queen of Soul’s songs.

Host with the most

Host Alicia Keys was a major part of the show, putting on her own performances as she carried viewers through the star-studded night. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

When you land a 15-time Grammy-winner as host, you want to make the most of it — and Grammy producers definitely showcased Keys as much as they could.

She shared personal stories, offered upbeat optimism about the music industry and, delivered a terrific two-piano bit that showed that lengthy musical medleys don’t have to be stuffed with cameos to actually be enjoyable.

Coming together on the red carpet

And lest you think major moments only happen onstage, Canadian nominees Young Spirit brought the roar of the red carpet to a momentary halt and drew everyone’s attention with a Cree round dance.

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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