The Grammys stepped up on Sunday night.
A year after the Recording Academy’s CEO said women need to “step up” when he was criticized for not having enough female winners on camera, the 61st annual Grammys showed plenty of love for women.
Start with Alicia Keys, the first female host since Queen Latifah in 2005. And at the outset, Keys welcomed four women who run the world — Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Jada Pinkett Smith and Michelle Obama — to say inspiring words.
The first hour was front-loaded with female performers — Camila Cabello, Kacey Musgraves, Janelle Monáe and Dolly Parton, accompanied by Katy Perry, Maren Morris, the coed Little Big Town and Miley Cyrus, Parton’s goddaughter.
And the last hour of the 3¾-hour ceremonies belonged to Musgraves, whose “Golden Hour” was named album of the year. Not popular with commercial radio, it was the kind of record that was too country for pop and too pop for country. But just right with the 12,000 voters of the Recording Academy as well as music critics who touted it as the top album of 2018.
“It was unbelievable to even be in a category with such gigantic albums, brilliant works of art,” Mugraves said, referring to those by Drake, Post Malone, Brandi Carlile, Cardi B and others. “Winning doesn’t make mine any better than anyone else’s in the category. They’re all so good.”
Even if it felt like Ladies’ Night at the Grammys, hip-hop, music’s best-selling genre, flexed its muscles.
When Drake captured best rap song for “God’s Plan,” he emerged from backstage, not the audience where all the nominees were sitting. He pointed out that music is “an opinion-based sport, not a fact-based sport.” He told fellow music-makers that you’re a winner if you have people singing your songs word for word in concert and if people spend their hard-earned money to fill up your concerts. And, before Drake could finish, he was cut off by the TV producers.
Quadruple winner Childish Gambino, the hip-hop persona of actor Donald Glover, didn’t show up to collect his trophy for record and song of the year for “This Is America,” which is about being black in America. The song also captured two other prizes including best video.
Not everyone is fond of the Grammys. Other no-shows included pop superstar Ariana Grande, who won an award, as well as hip-hop heroes Kanye West and Jay-Z.
Dolly wasn’t the only queen honored at the Grammys. Motown goddess Diana Ross celebrated her career with “The Best Years of My Life” and her inspirational classic “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” as she paraded through the audience touching many hands and emotions.
Brandi Carlile, who led women with six nominations, accepted three trophies in the pre-telecast, including the award for best Americana album. She was so terrified (her word) that she read a prepared speech from a folded sheet of paper. “Americana is an island of misfit toys and I am such a misfit,” she said. She talked about coming out as a lesbian at 15 and not being welcomed at high-school dances. But she was welcomed by the music community. “Thank you for being my island.”
Among the other multiple winners were Musgraves, pop supernova Gaga, hip-hop superstar Kendrick Lamar, R&B singer H.E.R., Christian/pop singer Lauren Daigle, jazzman John Daversa and pop-turned-gospel singer Tori Kelly.
For those Grammy historians keeping score, legendary producer Quincy Jones picked up his 29th Grammy, second most ever to the late classical conductor Sir Georg Solti, who collected 31. Beyoncé earned her 23rd.
There were some touching moments in the pre-telecast during acceptance speeches, including standing ovations for bluesman Buddy Guy and wheelchair-ridden jazz icon Wayne Shorter, and the late rock star Chris Cornell’s two children, ages 14 and 13, reading an acceptance speech from their cellphones, with their mom standing a few feet behind them.
Beyond the trophies, here are the winners and losers of Sunday’s program.
Fem-tastic. Perhaps sounding the theme of the night, Monáe stole the marathon show about a half-hour into it. Bathed in purple lights, she performed the futurist funk “Make Me Feel” with nods to Prince, Robert Palmer and Michael Jackson, but from her feminist perspective. Backed by a bevy of female musicians and dancers, she was exciting, empowering and fem-tastic.
Dolly would. The eternally effervescent Parton was unstoppable in a medley of her hits plus her new song “Red Shoes.” She not only lit up the TV but also clearly inspired all those younger talents singing with her.
The right Keys. Keys proved to be an agile host, stylish without look-at-me outfits, warm without being fawning. She took a terrific turn on two pianos, singing songs she wished she’d written including “Killing Me Softly,” “Unforgettable” and “That Thing.”
Not shallow at all. A proud misfit since becoming a star, Gaga said she was proud to be part of a movie, “A Star Is Born,” that addresses mental health issues. “A lot of artists deal with it,” she said while accepting best pop performance by a group for “Shallow,” with Bradley Cooper, from that film. “We gotta take care of each other. If you see somebody that’s hurting, don’t look away. If you’re hurting, try to find the bravery within yourself to tell somebody.”
Just like the movie. In an instance of life imitates art, Gaga performed “Shallow” on the Grammys with overwhelming intensity, just as she did in the fictional “A Star Is Born.” But this time Cooper didn’t join her. He was at the British film awards in England.
We like it. Almost unrecognizable at first, Cardi B was stylin,’ channeling a modern-day Josephine Baker with short, marcelled hair, peacock feathers and a mirror-covered piano on a set that looked like a giant upholstered nightclub booth.
No filter. Cardi B was overcome when she received the trophy for best rap album. After saying she couldn’t breathe, she declared, “The nerves are so bad maybe I need to start smoking weed.”
No joke. Carlile summoned deep-seated pain while performing “The Joke,” a song about finding your self-confidence after years of being put down.
Made for each other. Teaming up on a medley of three songs, Grammy recipients St. Vincent and Dua Lipa, the best new artist winner, oozed chemistry well beyond their complementary outfits and looks.
Honesty pays. In accepting for best contemporary blues album in the pre-telecast, Fantastic Negrito thanked the Recording Academy for recognizing a “complete freak and weirdo” and “Community Bank because I have bad credit and they loaned me some money” to record the project.
Post toasted. Uncharismatic hip-hop-influenced singer Post Malone hardly seemed like a rock star singing his hits “Stay” and “Rockstar.” When he was joined by Red Hot Chili Peppers, the group’s singer, pitchy Anthony Kiedis, made viewers wonder why this funk-rock band landed in the Rock Hall of Fame.
Que pasa? The opening performance of “Havana” was so busy with countless dancers and musicians that its star, Cabello, was invisible too much of the time.
A Lo point. The tribute to the 60th anniversary of Motown turned into a J. Lo Las Vegas floor show. Costume changes, epic choreography, vapid flash. Motown was about songs. And Smokey Robinson, who wrote and sang some of Motown’s greatest, got lost in Lopez’s glitzy hyperactivity.
A false note. At the end of her classy two-song medley, Ross declared “Happy birthday to me.” Twice. She turns 75 next month. Always a diva.
Good Jobs. In the opera category, Minneapolis-based conductor Michael Christie triumphed for best opera recording, leading Santa Fe Opera’s “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” by composer Mason Bates. Christie did not attend the ceremonies to pick up his first Grammy. Recently named music director of California’s New West Symphony, he served as music director for Minnesota Opera for six years, exiting under unexplained circumstances at the end of the 2017-18 season.
Live from nowhere. Punch Brothers banjoist Noam Pikelny took the role of wry guy with his comments when accepting for best folk album in the pre-telecast. “This award is truly (pause) overdue,” he said, pointing out that the progressive bluegrass band had been recording for 10 years. Only three of the band’s five members showed up at the Grammys. Pikelny said bandleader Chris Thile, host of public radio’s St. Paul-produced “Live From Here,” didn’t attend “because he’d prefer to lose to [fellow nominee] Joan Baez from afar. Good work, buddy.”