Harry Styles opened the show. Trevor Noah served as host. And only three of the two dozen performers were older than 40.
The 63rd annual Grammy Awards on Sunday strove to serve as a course correction for #GrammysSoWhite, #GrammysSoOld and #PandemicAwardShowsSoMeh.
Who won? With four trophies, Beyoncé has now collected more Grammys — 28 — than any other woman. Or any singer. Taylor Swift became the first woman to win album of the year for a third time. And Billie Eilish captured back to back records of the year.
But winning mattered less at this year's show. What did matter is that, amid a pandemic, the Grammys pulled off a consistently entertaining, performance-heavy, non-Zoom-impaired marathon featuring today's hottest hitmakers.
The Grammys weren't as tone deaf as last year's CMAs, as gimmicky as the VMAs or as meaningless as the AMAs. Music's biggest night, as the Grammys like to call itself, almost lived up to its moniker. (Just don't ask the Weeknd, Justin Bieber, Zayn Malik and others who protested the nominations.)
Instead of being staged in the massive Staples Center arena, the Grammys moved next door to the Los Angeles Convention Center, with performances indoors and a big tent outside to present the trophies.
That meant, after Best New Artist winner Megan Thee Stallion took off her brilliant orange mask, sauntered to the small stage with the help of a man holding her brilliant orange train and started her speech, suddenly it was "vrrrooom" — a noisy vehicle in the street stopped Meg in midsentence, giving a new meaning to Zoom challenges.
The usually fierce rapper found it difficult to find words in her emotional speech, but Noah proved to be the slick antidote. Dressed in a black tuxedo, the "Daily Show" host and comic was a little too ingratiating at times. Like James Corden on "The Late Late Show,"' Noah gushed over nearly every performer.
Was that in the script? Or did he ad-lib under instructions from new Grammys producer Ben Winston, who works on Corden's show?
Noah raved about Bad Bunny's performance of "Dakiti," then said, "It makes me feel like I'm back in the club. But I'm not getting kicked out this time." Groan.
After 40 years of the Grammys being produced by Ken Ehrlich, Winston came up with some smart innovations. Notably, he added mini-profiles (with taped interviews) of nominees for record of the year. That was prudent because most of these artists, such as DaBaby, Doja Cat and Dua Lipa, are well known to Gen Z but not to a broad audience. It gave them a chance to show their personalities.
Winston faced a challenge when it came to reaction shots. During award presentations, all competitors were masked so we couldn't see facial reactions from winners — or feigned smiles from non-winners.
At least when Styles, Eilish and Haim appeared in the opening segment, the cameras sometimes cut to show other acts grooving to whoever was performing. Later on, Post Malone's (unmasked) goofy grin during Cardi B's performance was priceless. And watching a (masked) Swift bounce up and down when Beyoncé set a Grammy record was enthusiasm that couldn't be hidden.
Some performances were live (including lip sync) and some taped. Lipa proved that her nu-disco music is great for dancing as she and her masked dancers did elaborate ensemble choreography to a medley of "Levitating" and "Don't Start Now."
Swift's medley of "Cardigan," "August" and "Willow" had a suitable cabin/cabin fever vibe, accompanied by producer/musicians Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff. To no one's surprise, Cardi B took viewers into da club, as in strip club, for a ribald "WAP" with Megan Thee Stallion.
The 13-minute in-memoriam segment reminded all these modern music-makers that classic songs by the likes of Little Richard, Kenny Rogers, John Prine and Gerry Marsden feature melody and dynamics.
Of course, the country songs had elements of classic craft: the unstoppably passionate Mickey Guyton with the elegant and heartbreaking country ballad "Black Like Me" (a highlight); Miranda Lambert with the twangy "Bluebird" and Maren Morris (with John Mayer on guitar) on the homey "The Bones."
And leave it to retro-loving Bruno Mars to bring a little old-school showmanship with a one-two punch of his Little Richard medley and his new group Silk Sonic (with Grammy winner Anderson. Paak), dressed in burnt orange, spread-collar polyester splendor as they made their debut with the luscious, 1970s-evoking soul ballad "Leave the Door Open."
Megan the Stallion took three trophies, sharing with Beyoncé the prize for best rap performance — the first women to win in that category. Eilish, Fiona Apple, Maria Schneider and Kaytranada were double winners, as were the late John Prine and Chick Corea.
While stars such as Lizzo and Ringo Starr presented some awards, others were announced by staffers at famous music venues including the Station Inn in Nashville and Harlem's Apollo Theater.
When Swift accepted her album of the year trophy for "Folklore" (tieing three-time winners Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra and Paul Simon), she didn't have her usual gape-mouthed I-can't-believe-this expression. She calmly thanked her boyfriend and various long-distance collaborators — specifically Eau Claire's Justin Vernon of Bon Iver ("I'm so excited to meet you someday").
Eilish, 19, who swept the Big Four categories (album, song, record and best new artist) a year ago, said she didn't think she deserved record of the year for "Everything I Wanted," a haunting, downtempo meditation on mental health and finding support. In a moment that recalled the 2017 Grammys, when Adele said her album of the year prize should have gone to Beyoncé for "Lemonade," Eilish said her trophy should have gone to Megan Thee Stallion for "Savage."
"You had a year that was untoppable," Eilish said as Meg fought back tears.
Song of the year went to H.E.R.'s "I Can't Breathe," about racial reckoning.
"I've never been so proud to be an artist," said the 23-year-old Californian, who recorded the tune by herself in her bedroom at her mother's home. "We wrote this song over FaceTime, and I didn't imagine that my fear and my pain would turn into impact, and it would possibly turn into change. That's why I write music. That's why I do this."
She was one of the few artists to offer social commentary on a night that capped a tumultuous year.
"Remember," she concluded, we are the change that we wish to see. That fight that we had in us in the summer of 2020. Keep that same energy."