Grammy Awards: Women Rule a Night Without a Clear Frontrunner

Democracy is clearly back.

Taylor Swift Billie Eilish Megan Thee Stallion Grammy Winners Recap
Courtesy of the Recording Academy

“Music’s Biggest Night,” as the Grammy Awards are known, went off without a hitch on Sunday night (March 14). Hosted by Trevor Noah, and produced by a new team led by “The Late Late Show With James Corden” executive producer Ben Winston, there was an expectation of a more innovative approach and look to an awards show, and the Grammys did not disappoint. Featuring an indoor in-the-round set-up, not unlike Jools Holland’s in the U.K., artists were able to watch each other as they performed — which, considering the lack of live music for the last year, was a rare luxury afforded to the few and mighty. In addition, elaborate pre-taped performances allowed for the spectacle one would want from a music show.

There was plenty of pizzaz and plenty of prizes to go around as many winning artists walked home with one major-ish award each — Beyonce, H.E.R. and Billie Eilish nabbed two a piece and Meghan Thee Stallion had three. Democracy is clearly back. But it also left a sense that there wasn’t a clear frontrunner in the contest this year — perhaps a result of how people’s music consumption has changed during a pandemic.

Noah tried his hardest to keep spirits high, and proved a more than capable host for an American awards show — and one that ran nearly four hours.

The show kicked off with Harry Styles, in leather and feathered boa, delivering a sultry, lounge-appropriate rendition of his Grammy-nominated song, “Watermelon Sugar.” He was followed by Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas performing “Everything I Wanted,” which is up for record and song of the year. HAIM then proceeded to bring down the VIP-only house with “The Steps” off their album of the year contender “Women in Music Pt. III.”

Indeed, it was all about the women in music from the start, with Megan Thee Stallion taking home the first award of the night for best new artist. Pushing back tears, MTS said, “Every artist that was nominated for this award is so amazing. It’s been a hell of a year but we made it.”

Segments interspersed throughout included mini-biographies of the marquee nominees, with Black Pumas up first. Contextualizing the lesser-known artists wasn’t always the broadcast’s top priority so it was a welcome warm-up to their soulful performance of “Colors.” With DaBaby, who next performed his massive hit song “ROCKSTAR” accompanied by a violinist and gospel choir, viewers were able to learn about the low-key Atlanta rapper’s background and commitment to his daughter. Adorned in Chanel, DaBaby was joined by Roddy Ricch, who appears on the track, which also claims the honor of 2020’s most streamed song across all formats.

Proving the global nature of today’s popular musicians, Bad Bunny and Jhay Cortez took to a futuristic-looking stage setup for “DÁKITI.” Most performances were pre-taped. Certainly Dua Lipa’s one-two punch of “Levitating” and “Don’t Start Now” featured the sort of complex choreography that would benefit from multiple takes but, as ever, the London-bred disco queen made it all look effortless.

A performance by the newly launched Silk Sonic, comprised of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, made its television debut with “Leave The Door Open,” their retro-soul smash complete with 1970s garb and dance moves.

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The Recording Academy

While award presentations during the broadcast were few, each made its own impact beyond the kudosfest as producers put the spotlight on vital venues whose business has been on pause for more than a year. Best country album was presented by JT Gray of Nashville’s Station Inn, and awarded to Miranda Lambert for her album, “Wildcard.”

Speaking to reporters following her win, Lambert heaped praise on her fellow nominees. “These are all really strong records,” she said. “All of them I am friends with and have known for a long time. I just met Ingrid [Andress] and I respect what she does. … So to me, it felt like whoever won, it was for Nashville.”

The award for best pop vocal album was presented by Rachelle Erratchu of Los Angeles’ Troubadour (pictured below), which has hosted several performances by the category’s winner, Harry Styles. “I feel very grateful to be here and honored to be among all of you,” said Styles during his acceptance speech, a portion of which was bleeped out but consisted of something along the lines of “all the nominees are fucking amazing.”

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The Recording Academy

In between, Taylor Swift performed a medley of songs from her stellar “Folklore” — ” Cardigan,” “August” and “Willow” — accompanied by producers Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dressner.

Powerful performances followed, including “Black Like Me” by Mickey Guyton, “Bluebird” by Miranda Lambert and “The Bones” by Maren Morris, accompanied by John Mayer on guitar. But it was the in memoriam segment, which featured Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak performing “Long Tall Sally” and “Good Golly” in honor of Little Richard; Lionel Richie performing “Lady” as a tribute to Kenny Rogers; Brandi Carlile paying homage to John Prine with “I Remember Everything”; and Brittany Howard and Chris Martin dueting on Gerry Marsden’s You’ll Never Walk Alone,” that drove home in the unfathomable loss that the music business has experienced, with nearly 1,000 deaths, many due to the COVID pandemic.

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The Recording Academy

In stark contrast to that somber moment was the highly anticipated performance by Megan Thee Stallion, whose “Savage” features Beyonce and won a Grammy earlier in the day. Queen Bey was actually in attendance for the Grammys, wearing all black, masked and seated with her husband Jay-Z, so it was a shame that the two could not come together to perform on the stage.

Cardi B more than made up the gawk with her performance of  “Up” followed by the censor-challenging “WAP.” Late enough in the program so that it’s airing after 10 p.m. on the East Coast, the risque performances started with a giant stiletto that featured fluttering dollar bills and a massive purple bed. Both Cardi and MTS, who joined for the second half of the performance, were outfitted in space-age one-pieces and flanked by dancers. A tap dancing moment took the performance over the top, only reinforcing the two artists’ status at the top of the rap game.

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The Recording Academy

Another artist reaching creative and commercial heights, Dua Lipa took home best pop vocal album for “Future Nostalgia,” presented by fellow album of the year contenders Jhene Aiko and Jacob Collier. Of the pandemic smash, Lipa said, “‘Future Nostalgia’ has changed my life in so many ways. I felt really jaded at the end of my last album, like I had to make sad music. Happiness is something that we all deserve and need in our lives.”

Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture” was another program pivot to issues far more important than red carpets and trophies. Released in conjunction with the “Black Lives Matter” marches that took place all over the world, the rapper performed the song joined by “Insecure” star Kendrick Sampson, Women’s March cofounder Tamika Mallory and Atlanta rapper Killer Mike.

Winning for song of the year was H.E.R. for “I Can’t Breathe.” Written by Dernst Emile II, H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas, it too was a musical statement in response to the unrest that followed the death of Goerge Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Speaking to reporters backstage, H.E.R. said of timing of the award: “It really means the world. When we wrote the song it came from a conversation and we honestly were coming from the perspective of our own personal feelings, and then it turned into being part of the movement and being a part of history.I think the song is going to be a stamp in time and people are going to think of this song when they think of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor. All of these people we are still fighting for.”

The rest of the awards rolled out in relatively quick succession but included the biggest names of the night. Picking up best R&B performance was Beyonce, who broke the record for most Grammys won by a female artist when she claimed her 28th for “Black Parade.” Said Beyonce from the stage: “It’s been such a difficult time so I wanted to just uplift and encourage and celebrate all the beautiful Black queens and kings who have been inspiring me and the whole world.”

Also breaking a record was Taylor Swift, winning album of the year for the third time in her career. Thanking her collaborators, and declaring, “I had the best time writing songs with you in quarantine,” the “imaginary world” they created traveled far beyond the COVID-restricted confines of their creative space.

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The Recording Academy

Speaking of Swift, fellow victor Jacob Collier said “Folklore” is one of his favorite albums. “To be honest, that album for me is one that I listened to in one go,” he told virtual reporters backstage. “The mood that it conveys and the feeling within … It’s what is so special about Taylor — who I have been a fan of for years — stripping away the layers and doing something so vulnerable and so intimate and so meaningful. I think she is totally fantastic and that album is wonderful.”

BTS’ “Dynamite” has become one of the most ubiquitous songs of the past year and, in the process, introduced the K-pop group to untold millions all over the world, so it’s no surprise that Winston saved it for one of the last performances of the show. The final bow went to Roddy Ricch, who performed his two hits, “The Box” and “Heartless,” although he was ultimately shut out of the five awards he was nominated for.

Finally, the record of the year award was presented by Ringo Starr to Billie Eilish for “Everything I Wanted,” her second win of the night following an earlier claim of best song used in visual media for the theme song to “No Time to Die.” Standing alongside her brother and producer Finneas, himself a seven-time Grammy winner, Eilish lavished praise on fellow nominee Meghan Thee Stallion, as has become ever more customary at Grammys ceremonies.

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Courtesy of The Recording Academy

Dua Lipa said she was “Really grateful for the recognition” and “over the moon” for her pop vocal award. “There has been a lot of female empowerment and lots of women winning awards tonight, and so it’s been absolutely amazing to be alongside all of that and feel that energy.”

Putting it all into perspective, Styles said in the press room: “I feel incredibly lucky to get to work in music and make music as my job every day and this is incredibly sweet icing on the cake of what I get to do every day. I want to thank my fans for giving me an environment to be free to make music that I want to make. I feel very very lucky tonight.”