Allegedly, last night was Music’s Biggest Night. The 61st Annual Grammy Awards were held in Los Angeles; decked out with explosive performances, surprisingly solid results, and tributes galore, the Grammys delivered a formidable telecast despite the lack of major superstars.
Kacey Musgraves’ gorgeous Golden Hour was awarded the top prize (Album of the Year), while Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” took home Song of the Year (songwriter’s award) and Record of the Year (for performers/producers). Finally, in a bit of a surprise, Dua Lipa was named this year’s Best New Artist.
All in all, the awards were great. There were some pleasantly surprising and well-deserved wins. Anderson .Paak’s “Bubblin'” took home Best Rap Performance; Ariana Grande’s Sweetener (review here) won Best Pop Vocal Album; Daniel Caesar & H.E.R. prevailed for Best R&B Performance for “Best Part”; and Best Rock Song went to St. Vincent for “Masseduction.”
The only winner that I really had an issue with Childish Gambino’s sweep for “This Is America.” Although I’m still one of the few people who appreciate the song as a separate entity from the video, quite frankly, “This Is America” is a poor man’s “Formation.” The song is a pretentious attempt at a “deep” and “conscious” record that was clearly geared towards White liberals who want to appear as if they truly care for the Black American experience. “This Is America” was also relevant for exactly a week and a half and it was the worst song in each of its categories to boot. While I appreciated the execution and direction of the music video, conceptually it is incredibly flawed, unsettling, and distasteful. Janelle Monáe’s “Pynk” and The Carters’ “APES**T” were fare more deserving of the Grammy Award for Best Music Video. “This Is America” has solid production but I would have loved a win for Kendrick Lamar & SZA’s “All the Stars” in Record of the Year. In addition, I thought Lady Gaga had Song of the Year locked up for “Shallow”; “This Is America” is not a well-written song in the slightest. Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke” was robbed in this category.
The days leading up to last night’s ceremony were filled with articles and headlines detailing why Ariana Grande, the world’s biggest current pop star, would not be performing or in attendance. Without Ariana, and a slew of the industry’s biggest and best performers (Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, Ariana Grande, Drake, Ed Sheeran, etc.), the Grammy’s performers line-up looked more like a line-up for the VMAs or American Music Awards. Nevertheless, the majority of those who did perform delivered.
Camila Cabello, with help from Ricky Martin and J BALVIN, offered up an endlessly fun opening performance of “Havana” and “Mi Gente.” Miley Cyrus brought down the house twice (!) during the stunning Dolly Parton tribute and her performance of “In My Blood” with Shawn Mendes. Brandi Carlile nailed her showcase of “The Joke.” Cardi killed it (in spite of the lip-syncing) with her gorgeous stage production of “Money.” Yolanda Adams, Fantasia, and Andra Day performed a show-stopping and tear-jerking tribute to Aretha Franklin in the form of “You Make Me Feel Like (A Natural Woman).” Kacey Musgraves gifted us a simple and beautiful performance of “Rainbow” and Travis Scott showed the multitudes of his artistry with performances of “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” and “NO BYSTANDERS.” H.E.R. and Dan + Shay delivered enjoyable vocal showcases with “Hard Place” and “Tequila,” respectively. Finally, Janelle Monáe killed the stage with a meticulous Dirty Computer medley and Chloe x Halle granted us the greatest vocal performance of the night with their Donny Hathaway tribute.
And then, there were the more questionable performances. Post Malone and Red Hot Chili Peppers delivered a sweaty, hot mess of a performance that went on way longer than necessary. Lady Gaga appeared to be fighting with herself during a bizarre performance of “Shallow.” If her intent was to show the difference between Ally and Gaga, it fell flat. J. Lo’s Motown tribute was more of a Vegas showgirl showcase than a tribute; Dua Lipa and St. Vincent tried way too hard to appear “sexy” in their medley of “One Kiss” and “Masseduction.”
In a category of her own, Diana Ross was a pure joy as she performed her own tribute and wished herself a happy birthday…. despite her birthday being March 26.
This may be more of a personal taste thing, but Alicia Keys was not a great host. She was definitely better than James Corden, but nowhere near the level of LL Cool J. She snuck her way into an overdrawn performance and just sounded too preachy and heavy for such a grand celebration.
Also, the Grammys have got to fix their pacing issue. Every year the telecast runs over time. No artist should get their acceptance speech cut off, and we should not have to rush through the three biggest awards (Best New Artist and Record/Album of the Year) of the night in a total of five minutes.
This year’s show was surprisingly great overall, and we honestly only have First Lady Michelle Obama to thank for that.