No matter how invested you might be in the nominees, one thing’s for certain year after year: Music’s Biggest Night is pretty much guaranteed to be a bit of a disappointment.
From awkward performances to some truly unforgivable snubs, the Grammy Awards have become less like a celebration and more like an annual car accident you just can’t look away from. Critics and musicians alike have gone on-record to say that, no matter what, the Grammys are pretty much guaranteed to suck in some capacity. The added requirement to make this year’s show socially distanced seemed like a recipe for disaster… Except, it ended up being surprisingly tolerable.
It’s true: the 63rd annual Grammy Awards, which took place in Los Angeles Sunday, were the most enjoyable Grammys in recent history. Despite — or, perhaps, because of — an extremely limited number of attendees, this award show felt a little less navel-gazey than usual and more like a genuine recognition of talent. While there’s always critiques to be made of any large-scale award show, this year’s Grammys prompted a record low number of complaints.
First thing’s first — the performances at the Grammys this year were, for the most part, really well-done. The show opened with a killer trio of artists, beginning with first-time winner Harry Styles, whose leather suit and feather boa truly elevated his rendition of “Watermelon Sugar.” Next, Billie Eilish sang the hell out of Record of the Year “everything i wanted,” while Haim stomped and hollered through “The Steps.” Even with the unusual setup, the performances felt refreshingly intimate.
While Trevor Noah couldn’t shake the corny, overly-stimulated, late-night talk show host energy throughout the night, he was charming enough to keep the energy light in the odd circumstances. The award-giving took place on a rooftop with a small stage; while the small tables and string lights resembled a fancy luncheon, the smaller setting gave way for some cute moments. (See: noted exes Styles and Taylor Swift catching up). It felt a bit like being a fly on the wall at an elite party.
While some of the night’s performances were a bit of a slog — who gave documented racist John Mayer permission to play in Maren Morris’ band? — we saw some impressive setups. DaBaby brought in a gospel choir to elevate “Rock Star” to new heights, while Dua Lipa made an extremely basic dance routine look as hot as possible.
And in addition to her flawlessly Midsommar-esque getup, Taylor Swift also blessed us with an ethereal folklore medley alongside Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, surrounded by a stage setting that resembled a dream AirBnb situation. The set design was truly top-tier.
Dua Lipa – Levitating ft. DaBaby / Don’t Start Now (Live at the GRAMMYs 2021) www.youtube.com
Of course, no 2021 Grammys wrap-up would be complete without mentioning Megan thee Stallion and Cardi B, who just about outdid themselves against all odds. After Megan gave an old Hollywood twist to Best Rap Song “Savage [Remix],” Cardi emerged for a futuristic rendition of “Up,” which then blended seamlessly into the moment we were all waiting for: “WAP” at its WAP-iest. With a giant bed and stripper heel as their props, Megan and Cardi’s stage presence and chemistry were palpable.
Really though, the Grammys were Megan’s night, and rightfully so. After a year of unfathomable trauma, she took home the awards for Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song, and Best New Artist, the latter making her the first female rapper to do so since Ms. Lauryn Hill in 1999. We saw her humility, charm, and fervent talent throughout the night, making those awards feel all the more well-deserved.
Cardi B – Up / WAP feat. Megan Thee Stallion (Live from the 63rd GRAMMYs ®️ 2021) www.youtube.com
Unfortunately, however, the Grammys have struggled with racial bias since their inception, and no amount of performatively on-the-nose statements about Black Lives Matter can absolve them of the neglect they’ve exhibited at the expense of non-white artists. But, this year’s awards show left us with a crumb of hope about the direction of the Grammys in the future: After receiving the Best R&B Performance for her single “BLACK PARADE,” Beyoncé is now the most decorated female artist in Grammy history, with 28 trophies to her name (we’re still waiting for her to win Album of the Year for once, though).
Black women truly led the evening, from Megan and Cardi bringing the house down to tear jerking performances by Brittany Howard and Mickey Guyton. Despite the Grammys’ the ill-advised decisions to put John Mayer onstage and award Billie Eilish with Record of the Year over Megan, Black female artists gave us tons to write home about last night.
The Grammys will always be screwed up in one way or another. But after the year we’ve had — and maybe I just miss live music too much — this year’s show provided a welcome glimpse of entertainment.