After a lonely year devoid of live music, last Sunday’s 63rd Grammy Awards ceremony flourished as a much-needed celebration of the artists who helped transform our living rooms into dance floors. Hosted by comedian Trevor Noah outside the Los Angeles Convention Center on March 14, the ceremony offered a plethora of entertaining, innovative performances from 2020’s brightest stars.
Recent awards shows have struggled with adapting to the COVID era, marked by innumerable technical difficulties and unimaginative coronavirus witticisms. This year’s Grammys ceremony, however, was a surprisingly splendid exception: Even under the pressure of efficiently broadcasting 22 musical performances, the four-hour show ran smoothly. Noah, who kept predictable coronavirus and political quips to a minimum, led the event with lighthearted charm.
The show boasted a star-studded lineup, and within the first 15 minutes of the broadcast, nominees Harry Styles, Billie Eilish and HAIM had already performed impressively. Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B went on to stun with their debut television performance of record breaker “WAP,” and DaBaby and Roddy Ricch teamed up for a dramatic rendition of “Rockstar.” Later, Silk Sonic, Lionel Richie, Brandi Carlile, Chris Martin and Brittany Howard covered a variety of beloved songs for the night’s moving “In Memoriam” segment. Mickey Guyton followed with an enchanting performance of her nominated country song “Black Like Me” before Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and John Mayer took the stage.
The night’s pop performances were especially outstanding. Cloaked in glittery fuschia and royal purple, Dua Lipa transformed the stage into her very own disco revolution with brilliant performances of “Levitating” featuring DaBaby and “Don’t Start Now.” Taylor Swift sparkled on her shimmering cottagecore set with Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff, and BTS’s spectacular performance of “Dynamite” broadcasted from Seoul finished the night off strong.
With so many performances queued, the rollout of award announcements felt rather slow, but Lizzo eventually announced the first award of the night and crowned Megan Thee Stallion as best new artist. Megan later took home two more Grammys for her “Savage” remix with Beyoncé, making the duo the first female artists to win best rap performance.
Although the awards ceremony honored songs that rose to fame during quarantine like “Savage,” the event also acknowledged the pandemic’s damaging impacts on the music industry — namely, its brutal toll on music venues. The show highlighted historic venues across America throughout the night, spotlighting Nashville’s Station Inn, Los Angeles’ Hotel Café and New York’s Apollo Theater.
Venue owners also had the honor of announcing several Grammy winners. The Troubadour’s Rachelle Erratchu announced one of the night’s most astonishing wins: For best pop solo performance, Styles took home his first ever Grammy for “Watermelon Sugar.” This win, however charming, indicated disappointing futures for nominated chart-toppers Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” and Doja Cat’s “Say So,” two of 2020’s most memorable singles that earned no Grammys. Both songs were also nominated for song of the year, but the Grammy went to H.E.R.’s striking “I Can’t Breathe.” Although Doja unfortunately didn’t take home any awards, Lipa’s Future Nostalgia scored a Grammy for best pop vocal album.
Perhaps the most startling victory was the night’s final award: Record of the year went to Eilish’s haunting track “Everything I Wanted.” Despite Eilish’s legendary sweep at last year’s ceremony, her victory still came as a shock to many, especially with “Savage” and “Don’t Start Now” as frontrunners among other tough competitors.
Eilish modestly dedicated her Grammy to Megan in an apologetic acceptance speech, and her win drew comparisons to Adele heartily acknowledging Beyoncé’s nominated Lemonade during her 2017 album of the year acceptance speech. The moment seemingly underlined an emerging pattern: white artists receiving awards that they felt should have been given to Black artists. This instance also reminded viewers of the Grammys’ history of failing to include artists of color, which was especially prominent this year following The Weeknd’s zero nominations and subsequent Grammys boycott.
While the Recording Academy is still making strides to represent people of color and women, some of this year’s Grammy Awards nominations and wins did break several significant barriers. Beyoncé now holds the highest number of Grammys awarded to a singer, breaking the record after receiving her 27th and 28th Grammys for best R&B performance and best rap performance. Swift’s Folklore joined Fearless and 1989 as album of the year winners, making Swift the first woman to win the category three times. As for noteworthy nominations, Guyton became the first Black female country singer to be nominated for best country solo performance, and only female or female-fronted acts were nominated for best rock performance for the first time in Grammy history.
As the Recording Academy continues to diversify their organization, Sunday’s memorable ceremony will serve as a fresh reminder that music perseveres through difficult times — and hopefully, it’s also a glimpse of what live music will look like in the near future.