It’s possible to imagine a Grammys ceremony starting with a sensuous performance by Harry Styles even before the pandemic. But the second the 2021 Grammys camera panned over to Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes hefting a red bass guitar, it was very obvious that the next few hours would be very different from most things we’ve seen before under the banner of music’s biggest night.
For the first time in years, the Grammys produced a show that was entrancing and fun independent of the awarding of trophies. Despite taking place outdoors, the night was sumptuously produced. It was best exemplified by how effectively it transmitted the smooth, alluring energy of BTS, who performed near the end of the night, but the production excellence was apparent in the less labor-intensive moments, like the country spotlight that placed Mickey Guyton and Miranda Lambert in the round, or Taylor Swift’s jaunt into an ornate forest space.
Ultimately, it was Megan Thee Stallion’s moment to show off the charisma that turned her into a cultural supernova on the back of some incredible verses and a few world-shaking memes. She won the award for Best New Artist and could not have deserved it more, so her subsequent awards for R&B Performance and Rap Performance meant she had a few different opportunities to discuss her emotional and philosophical motivations to rap, including a few shoutouts to her struggling hometown of Houston. Megan’s performance, however, was pure Vegas, with feathers and diamonds catsuits galore during her exuberant rendition of “Savage.” By the time Cardi B joined her to perform “W.A.P.,” the stage had been transformed into a vaporwave augmented reality featuring a bed, a high heel, and 20-foot tall Cardi heads.
Even when Billie Eilish won Record of the Year win for “Everything I Wanted,” she acknowledged that she wished Megan had taken the award for “Savage.” Still, the biggest winner of the night was possibly Beyoncé, who became the most awarded woman in the show’s history by netting her 28th award. On Sunday, she won Best R&B Performance and Best Music Video for “Black Parade” and Best Rap Song for “Savage, ” her collaboration with Megan.
There were still at least a few shockers. Though Taylor Swift has won album of the year twice before—for Fearless in 2009 and 1989 in 2015—her win for July’s surprise album Folklore was far from assured. Perennial Grammy favorite H.E.R. was up against three top 10 hits, Post Malone’s “Circles,” Swift’s “Cardigan,” and Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now,” but the singer took home Song of the Year for “I Can’t Breathe,” a heartrending ode to the social justice protests of last year.
Sunday night’s edition of the Grammys, the 63rd annual, was originally supposed to take place on January 31, right when Los Angeles was experiencing a terrifying crush of coronavirus cases, but it was canceled once it seemed downright foolhardy. By delaying the show, the Recording Academy ensured that most music up for awards dated from the practically foreign year of 2019. Yet the show proceeded with more immediacy than a standard awards night, even if it was still baggy in length.
To make up for not having a proper crowd, the Grammys shot footage of the on-deck performers watching their peers. Eilish was the first to be shown, and her obvious admiration for Styles made the endeavor feel natural. By the time Styles was watching Haim (the mutual friends of Styles’s sage Stevie Nicks) it was a comfortable and almost even forgettable take on the pre-covid award show habit of mining reaction shots. While Megan and Cardi were performing, Post Malone was respectfully nodding in the corner, a better audience proxy that any host could hope to be. After a set change—and Megan and Beyoncé’s award for “Savage”—Post came back to perform the title track from Hollywood’s Bleeding, his 2019 album which was up for Album of the Year.
Though there were certainly instances of the unlikely artist crossovers we’ve come to call a “Grammy moment,” they didn’t feel gimmicky. John Mayer was an appropriate fill-in for Hozier’s role on Maren Morris’s crossover hit “The Bones.” After a year of emotional devastation among the music industry, Lionel Richie honoring his friend and collaborator Kenny Rogers by singing “Lady” and “The Gambler,” and Brandi Carlile tenderly covering John Prine’s “I Remember Everything” felt not only earned, but necessary.
It’s fitting that Megan Thee Stallion would sum up the emotional stakes. “Without God, no one would be here, and congrats to everyone nominated because these are all amazing songs,” she said when accepting the award for “Savage,” next to a silent and smiling Beyoncé. “Music really helped us get through the pandemic.”
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