While the main pre-show distraction centered on snubs and the lack of diversity at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards, the tone changed with a plethora of memorable and historic moments from this year’s pandemic-adjusted show.
“There’s more tension in that tent than at a family reunion at Buckingham Palace,” said host Trevor Noah, of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” as he described the physically distanced, outdoor seating area at the Los Angeles Convention Center, substituting for the Staples Center. The venue featured a few round tables for the artists performing. The guest count was nowhere near the usual attendance.
Megan Thee Stallion and Beyonce made history Sunday night. The former became the first woman to win Best Rap Song with “Savage” (which, coincidentally, also featured the latter). Megan Thee Stallion also won awards for Best New Artist and Best Rap Performance.
Beyonce broke the record for the most-ever Grammy wins by a female artist, surpassing Allison Krauss’ 27 awards.
“Are you serious?! This is HISTORY!” Trevor Noah yelled after Beyonce accepted her record-breaking award with a teary-eyed speech.
Taylor Swift also became the first female artist to win Best Album three times, with folklore.
“We’ll never forget that you did this for us,” she said, addressing the Recording Academy.
Swift performed a trio of songs alongside collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, including “willow” and “cardigan.” They appeared in an A-frame wooded cabin as Swift took to a black acoustic guitar. The performance took place not in Los Angeles but in Reading, Penn.
Harry Styles kicked off the night with his hit “Watermelon Sugar,” accompanied by a jazzy ensemble wearing matching leather suits. Styles wore a gold-colored feather scarf. The track would later help Styles win Best Pop Solo Performance, the award presented by a night manager from the iconic West Hollywood theater The Troubadour.
A sultry, strong performance of “Everything I Wanted” by Billie Eilish and producer brother Finneas took the spotlight. Eilish had six nominations. Later in the program, she addressed her anxiety that led her to turn to music as an outlet.
“There was a period of time where I didn’t want to go to sleep because I was freaked out by my dreams,” Eilish said.
HAIM dominated the stage with high-energy chemistry and smashing guitar riffs as they passed the mic between each of their powerhouse rock-style vocals. It was the first Grammy appearance for the trio of sisters, who received a nomination for Album of the Year.
The first honor of the main Grammy Awards ceremony went to Megan Thee Stallion, making the Houston rapper the fifth rap act to win Best New Artist.
Afterward, the show transitioned the focus to Black Pumas, who gave a passionate and jazzy performance of “Colors,” nominated for Record of the Year. Lead singer Eric Burton reminisced with Noah about how he started his career playing for passersby on the Santa Monica Pier.
Dua Lipa stole the show along with Da Baby as the duo performed their hit single “Levitating.” Dua Lipa showed up in a massive pink robe before quickly transitioning to a sparkling pink bikini-like outfit as she and her dance ensemble took control of the stage with high-energy choreographed moves for “Don’t Start Now.” Lipa had six nominations.
Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak joined together for a debut live performance of their new group Silk Sonic, bringing a jazzy, wedding-song vibe. They appeared again later to pay tribute to the late Little Richard, before Lionel Richie followed with a heartfelt tribute to the late Kenny Rogers.
“I miss you Kenny, I miss you man,” Richie said at the end of his song.
Brandi Carlisle followed in a tribute to John Prine, before a duet by Chris Martin and Brittany Howard closed with a powerful “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Noah reminded the audience that more than 1,000 people in the music industry died since the beginning of the pandemic.
Song of the Year went to H.E.R.’s “I Can’t Breathe,” a tribute to George Floyd in the wake of his death at the hands of a police officer.
“That fight that we had in us in 2020; keep that same energy,” Vallejo’s Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson said while accepting the award.
Meanwhile Lil Baby had a moving and dramatic performance of “The Bigger Picture,” which featured cameos by Killer Mike and activist Tamika Mallory, as well as a voiceover by James Baldwin. The movie-like staging depicted realistic police violence.
Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion brought the heat in their performance of “WAP” and “Up.” The two stars came together on an oversized bed to close out the song. Noah seemed to barely catch his breath to continue the program.
Miranda Lambert’s Wildcard won Best Country Album. Following her powerhouse performance, Lambert recalled her “honky tonk days” with country star Maren Morris, before Morris took the mic for “The Bones,” where she and John Mayer shared the stage.
A video by Harvey Mason, Jr., interim president and CEO of the Recording Academy, was dedicated to musicians and music industry workers and called for a “fight for greater diversity” within the industry.
Finally, K-pop boy band BTS gave a “Dynamite” of a performance, the set bursting with color and light with an added surprise. While it at first appeared BTS was performing in the same space as several artists earlier int he evening, they eventually made their way outside and climbed some stairwells to reveal a Seoul skyline.
Prior to the main televised ceremony, Beyonce picked up two awards during the daytime ceremony, including Best Rap Performance for “Savage” with Megan Thee Stallion. Her 9-year-old daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, took home her first Grammy (for Best Music Video) for the R&B-influenced “Brown Skin Girl.” The victory made Ivy Carter the second-youngest Grammy recipient in history.
San Francisco Symphony and Music Director Laureate Michael Tilson Thomas helped represent the Bay Area with the award for Best Classical Compendium, for a recording of Thomas’ own compositions From the Diary of Anne Frank & Meditations on Rilke, in the category of Best Classical Compendium. Featuring Isabel Leonard, Sasha Cooke and Ryan McKinny as soloists, the recording gave the San Francisco Symphony its 16th Grammy.
Meanwhile, Oakland’s Ledisi won the award for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Anything For You.”
H.E.R., Robert Glasper and Meshell Ndegeocello’s “Better Than I Imagined” won for best R&B song.
And Fantastic Negrito won the award for Best Contemporary Blues Album with Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?
“I want to give a moment of silence to the half-million people who have perished in this country,” he said in his acceptance speech. He also thanked Tank of Tank and the Bangas and E-40, among many others.
Reporter Mike DeWald and editor Roman Gokhman contributed to this report. Follow writer Amelia Parreira at Twitter.com/AmeliaParreira.