Sunday’s Grammy Awards telecast was nearly four hours long, so no judgment if you skipped some (or all) of the show.
The bullet points: Country star Kacey Musgraves won album of the year, the biggest prize of the night, for “Golden Hour.” She tied with Childish Gambino for four awards, the most of any artist. Alicia Keys was the host, and she skillfully moved the show along while also, at one point, playing two pianos simultaneously.
There were 18 performances; but here are 10 things to know from the evening:
1. Childish Gambino skipped the show.
One of the night’s biggest winners was Childish Gambino (known in his many other artistic endeavors as Donald Glover), but the multitalented auteur was nowhere to be found, leading to a couple awkward moments – such as when his song “This Is America” became the first hip-hop track to win song of the year and record of the year, and he wasn’t there to take home either.
He wasn’t the only star to skip the ceremony this year. Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande all watched on television, if they watched the ceremony at all. Gambino’s absence is particularly unsurprising. He reportedly turned down the opportunity to perform at the awards, though it’s not clear why. Perhaps his experience from last year was to blame: He sang onstage during that telecast – when he was up for the two biggest Grammy awards – and won neither.
2. Drake takes aim at the Grammys, and the Grammys cut Drake off.
Though Drake has been tirelessly promoting “Scorpion” since the double LP dropped this summer, he was among the artists who reportedly turned down the opportunity to perform during the awards show. So it was fairly surprising to see him in attendance to accept his trophy after he won best rap song for “God’s Plan.” Why he decided to show up seemed clearer when he gave his speech, a withering critique of the Grammys, which has been criticized for doing a poor job of honoring hip-hop outside genre-specific categories.
“I want to take this opportunity while I’m up here to just talk to all the kids that are watching this that are aspiring to do music, all my peers that make music from their heart, that do things pure and tell the truth. I want to let you know we play in an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport. So it’s not the NBA where at the end of the year you’re holding a trophy because you made the right decisions and won the games,” Drake said. “This is a business where sometimes it’s up to a bunch of people that might not understand, you know, what a mixed-race kid from Canada has to say or a fly Spanish girl from New York or anybody else.”
“The point is, you’ve already won if you have people who are singing your songs word for word, if you’re a hero in your hometown. Look, look if there is people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending.” he added. We don’t know what was coming next, though, because his mic was abruptly cut off as he was midsentence … which, in a nice bit of irony, helped hammer home his point.
3. A surprise Michelle Obama cameo.
So … what was the former first lady doing at the Grammy Awards? While there was no explanation given, it’s worth noting that her former chief of staff, Tina Tchen, runs the Recording Academy’s diversity and inclusion task force. Either way, the audience was thrilled when she took the stage for a segment with Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Jada Pinkett Smith and Alicia Keys.
After the other three talked about their appreciation for music, Obama started to speak, but the crowd’s applause drowned her out. “All right, we got a show to do!” she laughed, and then segued into her own tribute, which of course included a reference to Beyonce: “From the Motown records I wore out on the South Side to the ‘Who Runs the World’ songs that fueled me through this last decade, music has always helped me tell my story … whether we like country or rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves. Our dignity, our sorrows, our hopes and joys. It allows us to hear one another, to invite each other in. Music shows us that all of it matters, every story within every voice, every note within every song.”
4. Lady Gaga’s speech about mental health.
Lady Gaga had a great night with a headbanging performance of “Shallow,” the signature ballad from “A Star Is Born” – not to mention three awards: pop solo performance for “Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Goin’?)” and visual media song and pop duo-group performance for “Shallow.” She accepted the latter prize on the telecast and gave a shout-out to her duo partner, Bradley Cooper, who was attending the BAFTAs in London.
She also got serious in her speech as she talked about how “A Star Is Born” addresses mental health (Specifically, Cooper’s character, who is an addict.)
“A lot of artists deal with that, and we gotta take care of each other. So if you see somebody that’s hurting, don’t look away,” she said. “And if you’re hurting, even though it might be hard, try to find that bravery within yourself to dive deep and go tell somebody, and take them up in your head with you.”
5. All of that singing.
Let’s be real: The Grammys telecast is mostly just one big concert, and there were some pretty amazing performances. Dolly Parton is such a hard worker that she headlined her own career retrospective medley that featured goddaughter Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves and Little Big Town, and closed out with a rousing “9 to 5,” which brought the crowd to its feet.
On the other end of the spectrum, Diana Ross paid tribute to herself, by herself, with a 75th public birthday performance that came six weeks before her actual birthday (only she can do this). Alicia Keys took a break from hosting to play two pianos at once while covering eight songs. J. Lo, for some reason, took the lead on the Motown tribute. Travis Scott scaled a fence. Janelle Monae brought out the vagina pants. And Ricky Martin went to “Havana” with Camila Cabello.
6. Dua Lipa called out the Grammy president right before a Grammy president tribute.
In accepting the award for best new artist, British pop star Dua Lipa said it was an honor “to be nominated alongside so many incredible female artists this year, because this year I guess we really stepped up?” – a direct shading of Recording Academy president Neil Portnow.
Last year, when asked backstage about the lack of women performing and winning at televised awards, Portnow said it has to begin with “women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers and want to be part of the industry on the executive level … (They need) to step up because I think they would be welcome.” The backlash was immediate, with the hashtag #GrammysSoMale.
Well, Dua Lipa’s speech Sunday came right before a prerecorded montage in which famous musicians spent several minutes singing the praises of Portnow – oof, talk about timing – before Portnow himself stepped onstage to talk about improving diversity and gender equity.
7. 21 Savage’s absence was barely mentioned.
Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, the 26-year-old rapper better known as 21 Savage, was taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week for overstaying his visa. Savage, who was born in the United Kingdom and brought to the United States as a child, is being held in a Georgia detention center and, as a result, couldn’t attend the Grammys – even though he was nominated for two awards for “Rockstar,” the Post Malone song on which he’s featured.
The music community came to Savage’s defense on social media in the past week, but there was barely a peep about the rapper Sunday. Post Malone even performed their song without mentioning Savage. (Later, his publicists sent out a PR blast showing that he was wearing a shirt bearing the rapper’s name under his jacket, but it wasn’t visible during the telecast.)
In fact, the only person who mentioned Savage all night was Ludwig Goransson, a co-producer of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” who accepted the award on Gambino’s behalf. “21 Savage, he should be here tonight,” Goransson said, as music cut him off.
8. Mac Miller’s absence was felt
Mac Miller’s mother reportedly went to the Grammys on behalf of the late rapper, who died in September at the age of 26 from a mix of fentanyl, cocaine and alcohol. Miller had been nominated posthumously for best rap album for “Swimming,” which was his first Grammy nod.
Cardi B ended up winning, and said in an Instagram video backstage, “I read an article that Mac Miller’s family said if he don’t win, they want me to win, so I’m sharing this Grammy with you.”
9. Cardi B makes Grammy history
The Bronx rapper became the first solo artist to win best rap album (Lauryn Hill was the first woman, who won in 1997 along with the rest of the Fugees). Cardi B thanked her daughter and said, “When I found out I was pregnant, my album was not complete. I had, like, three songs I was for sure having. And then you know how it was: We was like, ‘We have to get this album done so I could shoot these videos while I’m still not showing.’ And it was very long nights.”
The win came after Cardi showed up on the red carpet with an entourage to help with her 1995 couture Thierry Mugler flower dress and after her performance of “Money,” which included a fierce piano intro, plush couches, backup dancers doing a bunch of timed spread eagles and a lingering question: Was she lip-syncing?
10. A random cameo from New England.
Excuse me, New England Patriots stars Devin McCourty and Julian Edelman, what are you doing at the Grammys? Didn’t you get enough attention last week?
The answer: Yes, yes, they did, but CBS, which hosted the Grammys, also broadcast the Super Bowl, so this was a nifty way for the network to get some cross-promotion. Unfortunately, given that the Grammys were in Los Angeles – and the Patriots beat the L.A. Rams last week – there were some jeers from the West Coast crowd.
“Well, we made it, man. L.A., thank you for the cheers. Also, thank you for the boos,” McCourty joked, before he and Edelman presented best pop duo/group performance. “I appreciate you supporting your community.”
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