Even as she and other female artists dominated this year’s ceremony, Beyoncé’s presence highlighted the criticism that has been levied against the Recording Academy in recent years. She notably did not perform — essentially a requisite for album of the year nominees — reminding jaded Grammy viewers of 2017 when her acclaimed “Lemonade” album was snubbed in the top categories. To date, Beyoncé has not won album or record of the year, which went to Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish, respectively, on Sunday night.
Host Trevor Noah had the right combination of energy and earnestness
No, Trevor Noah has nothing to do with music, but he is the host of “The Daily Show,” owned by the same parent company as CBS … so, synergy! And he had just the right amount of energy for the job. At the start, Noah explained the logistics of the show: Nominees would sit, socially distanced, in an outdoor tent at a building across from the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles (“There’s more tension in that tent than a family reunion at Buckingham Palace”) and then go inside to perform. All would adhere to coronavirus pandemic safety protocols, of course.
Noah showed up repeatedly through the broadcast — once to joke about all the nice things that people on Twitter were surely saying about him, and another time to freak out over Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s performance of “WAP.” But he also remained earnest: “Tonight, we’re hoping that this is all what 2021 can be: full of joy, new beginnings and coming together,” he said. “Never forgetting what happened in 2020, but full of hope for what is to come.”
Taylor Swift also made Grammy history
Taylor Swift has made no secret of her desire to win a Grammy award for album of the year as many times as possible, and on Sunday, she accomplished her goal yet again: “Folklore,” the highest-selling album of 2020, which she recorded over several months in quarantine, took home the trophy in the highly coveted category. She’s only the fourth artist to win album of the year three times, and the first woman to do so. (The others are Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra and Paul Simon.)
Swift, clearly ecstatic, thanked her collaborators, the Recording Academy, and her longtime boyfriend, actor Joe Alwyn. Less obviously, she shouted out her close friends Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively — or, as she called the married actors, “the second and third people that I play every new song that I write.”
Lil Baby delivered the star turn of the night
The night was chugging along with an array of fun but mostly just “good” performances. Then came Lil Baby.
The cinematic performance and scope of his song, “The Bigger Picture,” stole the show and delivered the type of tantalizing, star-brightening performance that is worth muddling through three-plus hours of these kinds of shows.
It wouldn’t necessarily be right to call “The Bigger Picture” a protest anthem, but Washington Post music critic Chris Richards wrote that the song addressed the racial justice protests of the summer of 2020 “without trying to untangle it.”
More than showing off the song’s dazzling power (made literal by the closing fireworks), the performance offered Lil Baby a chance to turn over the microphone for a path forward. Atlanta compatriot Killer Mike, of Run the Jewels, offered a verse from “Walking in the Snow” that encourages turning focus away from Twitter rants and on to shared struggles (“All of us serve the same masters, all of us nothin’ but slaves / Never forget in the story of Jesus, the hero was killed by the state”). Social justice leader Tamika D. Mallory was given time in the middle of the performance to say some words of her own: “President Biden, we demand justice, equity, policy and everything else that freedom encompasses. And to accomplish this, we don’t need allies, we need accomplices.”
Fashion made a mark, from masks to cottagecore
Yes, we’re likely near the end of masks being the award show fashion accessory du jour. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a smidgen of time to appreciate impeccable color and pattern coordination from the face down.
Beyond the masks, the night’s fashion performances started off high with Harry Styles sporting a full leather suit, sans shirt, and a frilly boa scarf — which was then swapped later in the night with a different hue of fuzz. Many artists sported their floral finest, but one of the most striking was Swift’s continued foray into cottagecore with a dress that showed some (probably unintentional) love to the art-house horror film “Midsommar.” And beyond her touching speeches and dynamic medley performance, Megan Thee Stallion’s multiple award wins meant a chance to have her stunning orange dress’s long train shepherded onstage.
Megan Thee Stallion gave an emotional speech praising Beyoncé
It might be a cliche at these kinds of shows to act starry-eyed as you rack up award after award, especially when star-level artistry requires so much bravado. But it was hard not to have your heartstrings tugged by Megan Thee Stallion as she sat for seconds, awestruck, after collecting the honors for best new artist and best rap song.
It was when accepting the latter for “Savage (Remix),” her song featuring Beyoncé, that for a touching moment, she got to be just like the rest of us: a fan. After some obligatory nods to God and her fellow nominees, she got to gushing about her fellow Houston native.
“I definitely want to say thank you to Beyoncé,” Megan said, pausing to take in the singer standing next to her. “If you know me, you have to know that ever since I was little, I was like, ‘You know what, one day I’m going to grow up and I am going to be like the rap Beyoncé.’ That was definitely my goal.”
“I love her work ethic, I love the way she is, I love the way she carries herself,” Megan added. “And my mama would always be like ‘Megan, what would Beyoncé do?’ And I’m always like, you know what, what would Beyoncé do — let me make it a little ratchet.”
Billie Eilish used her speech to praise Megan Thee Stallion
Billie Eilish is clearly a Recording Academy favorite, having swept the top categories last year, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when she collected the Grammy for record of the year. Her speech, though, focused less on her victory and more on the artist she thought deserved the prize: Megan Thee Stallion.
“This is really embarrassing for me,” Eilish said. “Megan, girl — I was gonna write a speech about how you deserve this but then I was like, ‘There’s no way they’re going to choose me.’ ”
Eilish continued: “You deserve this. You had a year that I think is un-toppable. You are a queen. I want to cry thinking about how much I love you. You’re so beautiful, you’re so talented. You deserve everything in the world. I think about you constantly. I root for you always. You deserve it honestly, genuinely — this goes to her. Can we just cheer for Megan Thee Stallion, please?”
Eilish’s show of support for her fellow artist, however earnest, called to mind the criticism the Recording Academy has faced for its treatment of artists of color who have repeatedly been snubbed in major categories, often losing to artists with less impressive chart performances or album sales.
There’s a tradition, too, of White artists dedicating their Grammy wins to artists of color — although some efforts have been more ham-handed than others. Following his 2014 win for rap album of the year, Macklemore was slammed for texting Kendrick Lamar that Lamar “was robbed” and “should have” won the category (and then publicly sharing said text).
In 2017, when Adele’s “25” triumphed over Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” in the album of the year category, the British singer said she couldn’t “possibly accept this award” and proclaimed, somewhat clumsily, that “my artist of my life is Beyoncé.” The controversy reached a fever pitch that year because, as Richards wrote, Beyoncé’s album “wasn’t just a superstar’s sharpest, riskiest, most politically charged work; it was also the third-highest-selling album of 2016.”
Selena’s ‘tribute’ was lacking
Many Grammys viewers were excited to learn that the Recording Academy would honor the late Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez with a Lifetime Achievement Award this year. But the honor was barely reflected in Sunday night’s telecast, which included a blink-and-you-missed-it slate with the Tejano legend’s photo.
Tepid statements addressed questions of diversity and inclusion
As with seemingly every other major award show, this year’s Grammy Awards entered the night battling back claims of lack of diversity, underrepresentation and byzantine rules and qualifications. The response from the Recording Academy was tepid at best.
The most major statement of the night came from Harvey Mason Jr., the Recording Academy’s interim president and chief executive. Instead of addressing any specific misgivings, Mason deflected the criticism — the most recent (and notable) of which came from the Weeknd, who was not nominated this year and said he will boycott the Grammys in the future.
“Tonight, I’m here to ask the entire music community to join in: Work with us, not against us, as we build a new Recording Academy that we can all be proud of,” Mason said in a pretaped segment. “One that will continue to do the work and serve everyone in the industry.”
The only other statement of the night was barely noticeable, as some viewers saw it flash in an instant before a commercial break. It read: “The Recording Academy and CBS condemn and denounce all forms of racism, sexism, violence, anti-Semitism and hate. Let’s continue to use Music to bring people together, leading with love, healing and a sense of unity across all lines of difference.”
Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B performed ‘WAP’ for the first time
Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B teamed up to deliver one of the most energetic performances of the night with “WAP,” the empowering and seductive chart-topper about … well, we can’t exactly spell it out.
But let’s just say the performance — part of a pair of medleys from the rappers — lived up to its source material as Cardi and Megan twerked and danced their way around the stage, which featured a very large bed and a gigantic (and sturdy!) platform stiletto that doubled as a stripper pole. It also featured many, many bleeped words.
The ‘In Memoriam’ was surprisingly moving
The “In Memoriam” segment is generally just a sad song on a piano with a video montage, but the show went above and beyond with a select medley: Bruno Mars sang Little Richard’s “Tall Sally” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly”; Lionel Richie paid tribute to Kenny Rogers with “Lady”; and Brandi Carlile performed John Prine’s “I Remember Everything.” In honor of Eddie Van Halen, producers zoomed in on an electric guitar sitting by itself in the spotlight onstage.
At the end, Brittany Howard — accompanied by Coldplay’s Chris Martin on piano — sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the musical “Carousel,” which has been used recently as a song of hope during the coronavirus pandemic.
There was a (mostly) surprisingly positive reaction to the Grammys in general
Typically, the Grammys fills the broadcast with the most random pairings of musicians you can imagine to create special Grammy “moments.” While they’re sometimes fun, they can also be excruciating and awkward. Turns out that you don’t really need to have Stevie Wonder perform with the Jonas Brothers! The show can be just as compelling when the artists sing their own songs. Although the Grammys as a whole have plenty of other issues, social media was filled with praise for this year’s broadcast, which is something of a rarity.
Some viewers still cringing from the mess that was the Golden Globes were relieved that the Grammys ran smoothly, even with only a handful of nominees in attendance and one stage for all the performances. The telecast was also filled with prerecorded segments that helped fill the gaps between setups. Even though some nominees were remote, at least it didn’t remind anyone of an awkward work Zoom call.
Source: Pop Culture