The 62nd Grammy Awards had to contend with a lot of baggage when it aired on January 26. Ten days before the show, the Recording Academy removed its chief, Deborah Dungan, over allegations of misconduct. Dungan countered the Academy’s firing by suing them for negligence and abuse of power. “It’s been a hell of a week,” said host Alicia Keys in her opening monologue.
Keys was also tasked with lifting up spirits after the surprising and tragic death of NBA star, Kobe Bryant, who died with his daughter and several other passengers in a helicopter crash earlier that day. “We’re literally standing here, heartbroken, in a house that Kobe Bryant built,” said Keys to a somber crowd inside the Staples Center where Bryant played for twenty seasons with the Lakers. “We never imagined in a million years we’d have to start a show like this.” Keys was then joined by Boyz II Men for an emotional tribute to Bryant, singing “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”
After a somber introduction, Lizzo—who had eight nominations—opened the show with an exuberant medley of “Cuz I Love You” and “Truth Hurts.” Joined by a troupe of ballet dancers and a small orchestra, Lizzo commanded the stage, proudly showing off her raw vocals and dance skills. The highlight of her set was when she demonstrated her instrumental dexterity by ripping out a sparkling flute that descended from mid-air and blowing on it—an entertaining display of her unspoken talents. Lizzo would go on to win Best Pop Solo Performance, Best Traditional R&B Performance, and Best Urban Contemporary Album.
As the show continued, it became obvious that the Recording Academy focused more on celebrating young artists and their ascent throughout the past year. Lil Nas X, whose “Old Town Road” spent nineteen weeks at number one in 2019, giddied up on the stage with K-Pop supergroup BTS, child yodeler Masey Ramsey, and banjo-strummer Diplo. Billy Ray Cyrus who appeared on one of the never-ending remixes also joined Lil Nas X for the performance. It was an unexpected but on-brand performance for the rapper who won two of the six Grammys he was nominated for.
Another rapper, Tyler, the Creator, turned the Grammy stage into his own apocalypse with a burning house, zombie-walking dancing, and mosh-pitting. R&B staples Charlie Wilson and the aforementioned Boyz II Men joined Tyler for “Earfquake” before transitioning to “New Magic Wand.” The theatrics were reminiscent of Eminem’s satirical MTV Video Music Awards performances and felt a little displaced at the Grammys.
Shortly after the performance, Tyler won his first Grammy for Best Rap Album for IGOR. “I don’t know if he’s here, but I really want to thank Pharrell Williams,” he said in his acceptance speech. “That man has allowed me to be comfortable with myself and has opened up doors that you guys cannot imagine […] so thank you, P.” (Tyler was less appreciative in the press room, slamming the Grammys for categorizing his music as urban).
The biggest winner of the night by far was Billie Eilish who swept four of the five major awards: Best New Artist, Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Record of the Year, Best Song of the Year, and Album of the Year. Eilish became the youngest artist to win four Grammy awards since Christopher Cross in 1981. The wins capped off a breakthrough year for the eighteen-year-old whose alt-pop album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go received critical and commercial acclaim for exploring themes of drug addiction, mental health, climate change, and heartbreak.
Eilish appeared to be overwhelmed with her wins, having been caught by the cameras mouthing, “please don’t be me” before the winner of Album of the Year was announced. Eilish admitted that Ariana Grande who performed a medley of hits earlier in the show should’ve won the award. “Can I just say I think Ariana deserves this?” she said before signing off with an awkward “thanks, bye!” on stage.
Other memorable performances included DJ Khaled, who paid tribute to the late Nipsey Hussle, and Demi Lovato, who made a triumphant return to the stage after her overdose two years ago.
Although the telecast was mostly dominated by young artists, groups like Run DMC reunited with Aerosmith to sing their hits “Living On The Edge” and “Walk This Way.” Usher did his best Prince impression with “Little Red Corvette” while Cyndi Lauper ended the show with “I Sing The Body Electric” with Common and a slew of other artists.
Overall, the Grammys did a serviceable job of showcasing all the new talent in music while trying its best not to alienate long time viewers. However, it’s obvious that the Grammys are losing its star power with many big-name musicians like Taylor Swift and Drake skipping the ceremony because of the aforementioned controversies (Swift was rumoured to be a surprise performer but pulled out at the last minute).
It remains to be seen what the Grammys can do to repair its image and relevancy to music audiences, but one thing’s for sure: millennials are the future of music.