If all the magazine covers, TV appearances and commercials didn’t indicate it, the Grammy Awards confirmed Sunday that Lizzo is the biggest music star to come out of the Twin Cities since Prince.
On an unexpectedly emotional night in Los Angeles following the death of Lakers basketball icon Kobe Bryant, Grammy producers called on Lizzo to open the televised ceremonies in Staples Center, the house that Kobe built.
“Tonight is for Kobe,” Lizzo intoned quietly and respectfully and then, wearing a sparkling black gown, belted with pain in her voice, “I’m crying cuz I love you,” the title refrain of her Grammy-decorated album, which led to a leading eight nominations and three trophies.
But Billie Eilish was the big winner Sunday, with her team claiming seven prizes. She swept all four major categories — best new artist and song, record and album of the year — for only the second time (Christopher Cross did so in 1980). And at 18, she’s the youngest to take best-album honors (Taylor Swift was 20 when she triumphed for “Fearless”).
With its mesmerizing goth-tinged bedroom pop and whispery vocals, Eilish’s “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go” was the second biggest selling album of 2019, behind Swift’s “Lover.”
Incredulous, Eilish said she thought Ariana Grande deserved best album. “I grew up watching the Grammys,” Eilish said. “I never thought this would happen in my life.”
“We just make music in the bedroom together,” said her brother Finneas O’Connell, her co-writer and producer, and a Grammy winner of producer of the year. “This is to all the kids making music in bedrooms together. You’re gonna get yours someday.”
At the very beginning of the show, however, it felt like Lizzo’s night.
After tearing through her gospel screamer, “Cuz I Love You,” the former Minnesotan changed into a flashy leotard and slid into her No. 1 hit “Truth Hurts,” complete with flute solo and an emphatic, Lizzoesque ending: “Welcome to the Grammys, bitch!” It was easily the best performance of the 3¾-hour marathon.
Minutes later, Lizzo displayed another emotion when she collected her first award on camera (she had won two in the preshow ceremony).
Visibly startled — and not in a Taylor Swift kind of way — she fought back tears and dropped f-bombs to accept the prize for best pop solo performance for “Truth Hurts.”
“This is unexpected,” she said. “All week I’ve been lost in my problems and stressed out. Then in an instant all of that can go away. Today all my little problems that I thought were as big as the world are gone.”
She talked about the power of music, liberating people and creating connectivity. “Let’s continue to reach out and hold each other down and lift each other up,” she concluded.
Prince was never so vocal when he collected seven Grammys in his long career. But he never grabbed more than three in one night. He gave Lizzo a boost when she lived in the Twin Cities from 2010 to ’16, featuring her on his 2014 album “Plectrum Electrum.”
Women and people of color were prominent among Sunday’s performers (including Ariana Grande, Rosalia, Demi Lovato, Lil Nas X, Tyler the Creator, Eilish and Camila Cabello) and presenters (including actors Billy Porter and Cynthia Erivo and filmmakers Ava DuVernay and Greta Gerwig, who was overlooked by the Oscars). That was due in part to Deborah Dugan, who was placed on administrative leave 11 days ago, just months after becoming the Recording Academy’s first woman CEO. She has filed complaints about conflicts of interest, sexual harassment, financial improprieties and voting and nominating issues with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Meanwhile, a woman won a Grammy as a producer or engineer for the first time: Tracy Young for remixing Madonna’s “I Rise.”
“We’ve shattered the glass ceiling in a male-dominated industry,” Young said in the pretelecast, when most prizes were given. “I proudly accept this on behalf of all female producers who have been overlooked.”
The Grammys ceremonies are really about live performances, and there were some memorable ones:
• Lil Nas X’s various versions of “Old Town Road” delivered with Billy Ray Cyrus, K-pop group BTS, DJ Diplo, yodeling kid Mason Ramsey and rap hero Nas.
• Camila Cabello’s tender ballad about her father, “First Man,” delivered with her dad crying in the front row, holding hands with her near song’s end.
• Country stalwart Tanya Tucker’s leathery voice, accompanied by Brandi Carlile’s piano, was pitch perfect for the reflection-on-life “Bring My Flowers Now,” co-written by Carlile.
• Hyper-creative hip-hop star Tyler, the Creator fired up the Grammys with his medley accompanied by Boyz II Men and old school soul man Charlie Wilson.
• Usher’s three-tune tribute to Prince was disappointingly unimaginative. He’s much more convincing channeling Michael Jackson.
•Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler sounded pitchy on “Living on the Edge,” but he was saved on “Walk This Way,” thanks to Run D.M.C. and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry.
• Rosalia delivered her futuristic flamenco all in Spanish.
• The late Nipsey Hussle, a double Grammy recipient, was saluted with a medley, including “A Letter to Nipsey,” featuring Meek Mill, John Legend, Kirk Franklin and Roddy Rich.
• New Orleans stalwarts Trombone Shorty and Preservation Hall Jazz Band did a fitting horn-heavy second-line tribute to accompany the in-memoriam segment, which mentioned Pulitzer-winning Minnesota composer Dominick Argento.
• Backed by the Roots, triple Grammy winner Gary Clark Jr. surged on “This Land,” highlighted by his bracing guitar solo.
• Longtime Grammy darling Bonnie Raitt offered a poignant “Angel from Montgomery” to acknowledge its writer, John Prine, getting a lifetime achievement Grammy.
• Legendary songwriter and singer Smokey Robinson and Little Big Town, the country quartet, did a nifty reading of his composition “My Girl,” the Temptations’ classic, before announcing Eilish’s “Bad Guy” as song of the year. What a fortuitous girl/guy juxtaposition.
Making Grammy history
After nearly 50 years in the business, Tucker snared her first Grammys — for her first album in 20 years and the song “Bring My Flowers Now.”
After scoring Grammys in country and bluegrass, Dolly Parton landed her first in contemporary Christian for “God Only Knows,” with For King & Country.
Jazz pianist Chick Corea picked up his 23rd trophy (for Latin jazz album), meaning that he now has collected Grammys in six consecutive decades.
Forty years after earning her first Grammy, for the disco recording for the classic “I Will Survive,” Gloria Gaynor claimed her second, for the best roots gospel album, “Testimony.”
Koffee, 19, became the first female solo artist to take best reggae album.
Among the multiple winners were Lady Gaga for “A Star Is Born” works, blues-rocker Gary Clark Jr., country-rapper Lil Nas X, the late rapper Nipsey Hussle, electronic dance act the Chemical Brothers, R&B music maker Anderson. Paak, arranger Jacob Collier, gospel star Kirk Franklin and contemporary Christian group For King & Country.