“Music’s Biggest Night” goes intimate

Written By Zachary Wittman, Music Columnist

The Grammys are arguably the most exciting night of the year in music, with this year being no different. Due to restrictions as a result of the ongoing pandemic, the awards ceremony was stripped back, allowing only nominees and performers to attend. As a result, the air was bristling with nervous energy from everyone. There was no middle ground as everyone was pitted against each other. To make things even more tense, many of the nominees had never attended or performed at the Grammys. However, the night seemed to go off without a hitch.

Still, there were some questionable decisions made by the academy. The fact that the overwhelming majority of the awards were presented pre-show disappointed many fans, as huge artists like Fiona Apple, The Strokes and Thundercat took home awards, but weren’t visible at the main event. Some categories, such as Best Rap Album, not being represented at the main event rubbed many fans online the wrong way. The highly contentious name change of the Best Urban Contemporary Album to Best Progressive R&B Album also flew under the radar, as it was announced pre-show. Despite this, they chose to have local venue owners around the country announce some of the awards, so it was great to see the people who fuel live entertainment recognized.

The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah acted as the MC for the night. The lack of a large audience made a few of the quips fall flat, but he handled his role as well as he could. Of course, it wouldn’t be an awards ceremony without uncomfortable jokes, but more on that later. As the show opened, viewers were greeted with a slew of performers. Harry Styles opened the show with a sleek and funky arrangement of “Watermelon Sugar.” Clad in leather and donning a green feather boa, he danced around with a swagger that he channeled into every aspect of his performance. Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas then brought things down to a slower pace with a murky rendition of her tune “Everything I Wanted.” Haim tore down the house with “The Steps,” with Danielle Haim giving a raw and powerful vocal performance.

The first category to be announced live that night was Best New Artist. Lizzo presented the award, but not before accidentally cursing on air. Although she laughed it off and apologized, her slip up reminded everyone that these award shows can be fun and loose. Megan Thee Stallion took home the award as she held back tears in her disbelief. Seeing someone in a massive bowtie dress show so much humility reminds us that these performers are human. What a year Megan has had, and she greatly deserved the recognition.

Black Pumas took the stage for their song “Colors,” and again showed how humble many of the nominees are in their after-performance talk with Trevor Noah. Vocalist Eric Burton stated that even if his group didn’t win, he would be “once a king, always a king” for just making it this far. Unfortunately, they didn’t bring home the gold this time. DaBaby and Roddy Ricch teamed up for a bombastic “Rockstar,” which drew much jest on Twitter for the elderly choir used in the performance. Bad Bunny and Jhay Cortez danced around a giant eye stage for “Dakiti” directly after.

Dua Lipa proved to the world what a force she has become in the pop world by performing a medley of hits from her album “Future Nostalgia,” including a choreographed dance along to the title track. DaBaby joined in for “Levitating” before Dua turned heads with a high-energy performance of “Don’t Start Now.” The song was up for three awards, including both Record and Song of the Year, but did not rake in any of them.

Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak made their debut as Silk Sonic, taking the listeners back to slow jams of the 70s with the soulful “Leave The Door Open.” Seeing .Paak on stage was a delight, as he certainly deserves more recognition. He took home an award pre-ceremony for his song “Lockdown,” which won Best Melodic Rap Performance.

The Best Country album was awarded to Miranda Lambert for “Wildcard.” In a rather humorous juxtaposition, Taylor Swift performed a medley of tracks from her albums “Folklore”  and “Evermore.” While she is far from her country roots, her recent rerecordings of her old material beg the question if she will be eligible for future country awards for past releases. Swift’s stage design harkened back to her fairytale days of old and made for a rather gorgeous performance. In another brilliant setup, Harry Styles would go on to win Best Pop Performance for “Watermelon Sugar” directly after Swift’s set. Despite the small and intimate audience, Taylor was the first to stand and clap for him.

The ceremony took a break from the awards to remember the loss of life in the industry over the last 365 or so days. Slides of artists from Bill Withers to Chick Corea and many more played in the background. It was strange that every artist had a picture of themselves while Eddie Van Halen was just represented by his guitar. It was also a relief to see MF DOOM and Sophie mentioned, as many on social media were worried the academy would gloss over those two acts in particular. Silk Sonic took the stage to perform a medley of Little Richard songs, showing off  Paak’s drumming skills and  Mars’ raw vocal talent. Lionel Richie paid tribute to his late friend Kenny Rogers with “Lady.” Brandi Carlile gave a sendoff to John Prine with “I Remember Everything.” Brittany Howard and Chris Martin took the stage to tribute Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers with a soaring “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” that acted as a tribute to all those who have lost their lives in the last year, not just Marsden. Howard’s vocal performance might have been one of the greatest to ever grace the stage at the Grammys.

Mickey Guyton became the first Black woman to be nominated in Best Country Solo Performance and showed how much she deserved it in her performance of “Black Like Me,” despite her not winning. Miranda Lambert played “Bluebird,” while Maren Morris was joined by John Mayer for “The Bones.” Try not as he might; Mayer stole the show with his guitar skills. It’s not exactly clear why he was there as he wasn’t up for any awards, but it was cool to see him come out of the woodwork.

In a rather surprising turn of events, H.E.R. took home Song of the Year for “I Can’t Breathe.” Her acceptance speech was surprisingly toned down, given the song’s subject matter, but she made sure to remind the audience that our country is still not done changing.

Megan Thee Stallion shook things up with a choreographed dance to “Body” and then gave us a jazzy big band-infused performance of “Savage,” topped with a tap solo courtesy of two dancers. While Megan channeled Fred Astaire, Cardi B channeled a retro-futuristic aesthetic for her performance of “Up.” The two came together to perform a heavily edited version of their provocative smash hit “WAP” for the first time ever. It was a rather unintentionally hilarious performance due to the clean edit, with Cardi having to censor harmless words like “throat” and “bucket.” They didn’t censor “mop,” which makes it all the funnier. As said earlier, it wouldn’t be an awards show without some uncomfortable moments. Trevor Noah appeared on the giant bed the duo performed on after the song to make an extremely awkward remark about his “dream” to be in bed with Cardi B. Everyone on stage seemed very uncomfortable at the moment, and thankfully it cut to commercial.

Megan took home Best Rap Song for “Savage,” and Post Malone performed “Hollywood’s Bleeding” soon after. Dua Lipa took home Best Pop Vocal Album for “Future Nostalgia,” her only award for the night if you don’t count her producer bagging Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. Lil Baby gave viewers an incredible performance of “The Bigger Picture,” complete with protest reenactments. Activist Tamika Mallory joined him on stage to give a speech directed at our President, and Killer Mike rounded it out with a great guest appearance. The whole performance brought to mind Kendrick Lamar’s performance of “The Blacker The Berry” and “Alright” at the 2016 Grammys. Unfortunately, Lil Baby’s political anthem was snubbed in both of its nominated categories.

Beyoncé broke a record with her award for Best R&B Performance, becoming the most awarded woman in the show’s history with 28 wins. She tied Quincy Jones for second place in overall wins as well. She was up for and won the most awards of the night, with nine nominations and four wins. Doja Cat performed an electrifying “Say So” remix but didn’t win anything, despite having three nominations her inaugural year. Taylor Swift also made history with her Album of the Year win for “Folklore.” She became the first woman to be a three-time recipient of this award, with the other three winners being Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.

BTS beamed in to perform remotely from South Korea with a wonderful performance of “Dynamite.” The choreography in this performance was nothing less than excellent and honestly should’ve opened the show. Roddy Ricch was the last performer, debuting a new song, “Heartless,” as well as his hit “The Box.” Ricch suffered from being placed last, as this was not a show-closing performance.

The Music Educator Award was awarded to Dr. Jeffrey Murdock to celebrate the educators who have kept children engaged in art during the pandemic. In the biggest surprise of the night, Ringo Starr wandered on stage to announce Record of the Year. Billie Eilish took it home for “Everything I Wanted.” Eilish headed for the stage, dropped the endlessly quotable line “hey Ringo, what’s up,” and dedicated her award to Megan Thee Stallion. Eilish seemed visibly distressed about winning this Grammy, and that is evident when you look at how she handled winning last year. Sometimes an artist can suffer from their success at the Grammys. Beck received death threats online when he won over Beyoncé in 2015, so many fear Eilish will face similar backlash. While these fears have a long while to ferment before anyone can tell if they will come to fruition, the night seemed filled with love and respect. The ceremony ended with Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” played over the loudspeakers, and it brought a tear to one’s eye to once again remember the talent we have lost. However, we have gained an incredible amount of talent in that time, and this year’s Grammy ceremony feels like a prelude to something greater.