64th Grammy Awards: Jon Batiste, SZA, Jack Antonoff, more winners talk joy, community

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From Doja Cat’s ill-timed bathroom break to Olivia Rodrigo and BTS’ V writing fanfiction on air, the 64th Grammy Awards were expectedly frenzied from start to finish.

Hosted by Trevor Noah for the second year in a row, the evening in Las Vegas celebrated not only music, but also the togetherness and jubilee it brings. Artists of color swept the top four awards — Jon Batiste, Silk Sonic, and Rodrigo — with Batiste becoming the first Black Album of the Year winner since 2008.

In a virtual press conference with The Daily Californian, deputy arts editor and senior staff reporter Taila Lee spoke to the night’s winners.

 

St. Vincent

Eliciting poetry from empty shelves, crashed Corvettes and calls for 911, Annie Clark knows how to melt dystopia into her music.

Professionally known as St. Vincent, Clark took home this year’s Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album for her seventh studio album. Daddy’s Home marks Clark’s most inviting, personal work yet, inspired by her father’s release from prison.

The simmering, serpentine record brings to mind an image of Clark clicking a lighter on and off in a dark room. Yet amid its ghostly synths and screams, there’s a distinct softness and even sultriness in Clark’s mezz0-soprano.

“It’s way more of a watery, cozy kind of sounding record,” she described. “I wanted it to be a kind of record that a listener could feel like they were just sitting down in an old beat up leather armchair with a glass of bourbon in their hand, and just luxuriate into the album.”

The night signified Clark’s second win in the category, as she also won in 2015 for St. Vincent, making her the first woman to win the category in 24 years since Sinéad O’Connor.

“There’s been just a whole multitude of amazing women nominated for Best Alternative Album, whether it’s Fiona Apple, Björk, Japanese Breakfast, Arlo Parks,” Clark said. “I’m glad about them.”

 

Jack Antonoff

“I’m a little bit like, what the f—’s going on?” Jack Antonoff asked, curt and wide-eyed.

The indrawn, bespectacled producer’s humility seemed at odds with the Grammy for Producer of the Year (Non-Classical) in his hand.

Though Antonoff appeared dazed at his victory, his artistry in the last year has been sharper than ever — from Lorde’s balmy Solar Power to Clairo’s humble Sling to Taylor Swift’s wistful Evermore.

It’s a wonder that Antonoff’s ubiquity translates to modesty. The producer spoke to how his close friendships in the industry have helped him comprehend his creative process.

“The more people you can surround yourself with who do what you do, the more sense you can make of it,” Antonoff said. “I kind of carry everyone with me, almost like we’re all together, like on a bus somewhere.”

Antonoff sits at the steering wheel, trusting his gut feeling as his eyes scan the road. His collaborations foster a special chemistry, an indescribable magic.

“You’re looking for, like, a one plus one equals a million when you’re collaborating,” Antonoff explained. “Two great people can get together and do something all wrong. So what I’m looking for is this feeling in my gut … you get scared when you have that feeling, but it’s worth chasing.”

 

Baby Keem

For Hykeem Jamaal Carter Jr., it was fate that the rescheduled ceremony for the 64th Grammy Awards was moved from Los Angeles to his hometown of Las Vegas.

Carter, known professionally as Baby Keem, won his first Grammy Award on Sunday for Best Rap Performance for “Family Ties” featuring Kendrick Lamar. While the victory is sweet, a hometown victory is even sweeter.

“It feels like some sort of magic,” Carter said. “It doesn’t even feel real, just holding this award in the city that I grew up in. It’s so important for the city, like this means a lot, so I’m gonna take this very serious and build on it.”

Hailing fittingly from the City of Lights, the rapper already burns brightly at just age 21. He credited his family with shaping the artist he is today, mentioning his eagerness to speak with them after his big win.

“I just couldn’t imagine this five years ago, and I know it’s surreal for them just as much as me, probably even more,” Carter said.

 

Chris Stapleton

With his long beard, wide hat and open heart, Chris Stapleton is back on the road for tour, but he made a stop in Las Vegas last weekend.

Picking up three Grammy Awards for Best Country Solo Performance (for “You Should Probably Leave”), Best Country Song (for “Cold”) and Best Country Album (for Starting Over), the busy but easygoing musician made time to perform “Cold” at the ceremony.

Stapleton shared that he wrote the song with his bandmates, its gritty candor cropping up organically during a jam session.

“The guys were backstage jamming what became the groove for that song, and I came in. I was like, ‘Hey, you guys keep playing that,’ ” Stapleton recalled. “We didn’t sit down and map it out that way. That just came to be, and those are the best moments sometimes for songs.”

With gentle gratitude, Stapleton noted how much he and his band had deeply missed performing live. (For when he’s off the road and back in the studio, the country artist named Harry Styles as a musician he admires and would like to collaborate with.)

“We certainly gained an appreciation for what we lost, which was, we can interact with people every night and hear people singing songs back to you, see smiles on their faces,” Stapleton said. “For 504 days I think we didn’t play a show. So we were certainly counting the days and hours until we got to do it again.”

 

Jazmine Sullivan

“I’ve been wanting to win a Grammy since I was a kid, and after losing so many times, I feel like I kind of gave up,” Jazmine Sullivan said. She held two Grammy Awards, one in each hand. “I was like, ‘Maybe it’s not for me, you know, I could just make music.’ ”

After 12 Grammy nominations but no wins since 2009, Sullivan’s dream finally came true on Sunday after she won Best R&B Performance (for “Pick Up Your Feelings”) and Best R&B Album (for Heaux Tales).

“The project became so much more than just my own,” Sullivan said about Heaux Tales. “(It) became a really safe place for Black women.”

The artist described her record as cathartic, epitomizing art’s ability to create safe spaces for people of color. Sullivan mentioned how she uses Instagram to deepen the connective tissue, speaking to her fans about the relationship between her music and their personal stories.

“They write me back to let me know their stories,” Sullivan said of her fans. “We just commune as Black women and it’s so lovely. This project has just done so much for us to come together and share our stories and not be ashamed about the things that we went through, and live and laugh and enjoy each other and learn from each other.”

Though 13 years was perhaps a little too long of a wait, it made Sullivan’s victory even more satisfying.

“It feels like a blessing,” Sullivan said. “I feel like this was the right time.”

 

SZA

The day before winning her first Grammy Award, SZA fell out of bed and broke her ankle. While she might have been on crutches during her acceptance speech for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, her charisma needs no aid.

“She’s a star,” Solána Imani Rowe, more commonly known as SZA, said immediately when asked about her collaborator Doja Cat. “It’s something about the way that she just freestyles genuine things from her brain. And it’s freaking crazy to meet somebody who works similarly, but I think she’s so masterful at what she does.”

Sensual and spry, Doja and SZA’s “Kiss Me More” is blushing, candy-colored ecstasy. While Rowe didn’t reveal if her upcoming record has any collaborations, she announced backstage that she recently completed her highly-anticipated second album in Hawaii.

“It’s my most unisex project, if that makes sense,” Rowe said, with a delighted giggle. “Definitely for everybody, in a different way.”

While she’s looking to the future with her sophomore record, Rowe also expressed wistfulness, noting that she wished her late grandmother could have seen her win her first Grammy.

“That’s just all I’ve really been thinking about,” SZA said. “I wish my granny was here, and I’m just grateful that she could see me from above.”

 

H.E.R.

Gabriella Wilson always wears mirrored shades. It’s somewhat of an ironic fashion statement, considering her stage name H.E.R. is an acronym for “Having Everything Revealed.” Although Wilson’s musical persona may be veiled in mystique, the reflections in her omnipresent glasses evince her music’s universal relatability.

Taking home the Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Fight For You,” Wilson cited her parents as her biggest supporters throughout her career.

“They didn’t have it all. I remember putting on benefit concerts so that we could go to New York if I had a performance or something,” Wilson recalled. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t even be here today.”

Now, Wilson’s slow-burn, sultry R&B cements her place on stage beside the legends she looked up to when she was younger. Performing during the award ceremony, Wilson joined legend Lenny Kravitz, drummer Travis Barker and R&B duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for performances of “Damage,” “We Made It” and Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way?”.

“I watched Lenny growing up, play with Prince. I’d literally studied all his videos of his performances, and he’s one of the reasons why I wanted to play guitar. So to have this full circle moment and perform with him, I was at a loss for words,” Wilson said. “Honestly I’m still on a high, my adrenaline is going.”

While Wilson thrives on adrenaline, she also knows it’s important to take time and parse for answers.

“It’s about how you feel, and you know what feels right for you,” Wilson said. “Now, leading with my heart more so than logic, if that makes sense. That’s what I would tell my younger self: Always lead with passion.”

 

Jon Batiste

To Jon Batiste, the world’s greatest natural resource is the human soul.

“There’s so much of our greatest natural resource that goes to waste because of people trying to be like somebody else,” the musician said. “That’s one of the beautiful things about art and creativity — is people being themself.”

Batiste stood as the night’s unequivocal big winner, taking home not just the coveted Grammy for Album of the Year (for We Are) but also four other awards for Best Music Video (for “Freedom”), Best American Roots Performance (for “Cry”), Best American Roots Song (for “Cry”) and Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media (for Disney-Pixar’s “Soul”).

Jubilant and genial, the artist spoke about his craft the way one might speak about a loved one. His decorated record We Are floats as a genreless vessel of spirituality and ardor, and its avid passion elucidates Batiste’s aim to live fully and freely in the present.

“Life has ups and downs, and sometimes the ups and the downs occur at the same time,” Batiste said. “And when you have that happening, it really lets you know, by shaking your consciousness and saying, ‘Be present. Be here.’ ”

Earlier in the night, Batiste hit the stage to joyfully perform “Freedom” with a full band, and he expressed his happiness to see his father, sisters and nephews in the crowd. The performance burst with colorful euphoria and love, embodying Batiste’s goal as an artist.

“That was my focus, to really give healing and give just some joy — some good ol’ Black joy — to the world,” Batiste said warmly.

Taila Lee is a deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @tailalee.