Well, it was a breezy, speedy Grammys this year, wasn’t it? O.K., not quite: by 11:30 P.M., the two biggest awards of the night (record and album of the year) still had not been handed out. But—thanks to some surprising (and well-deserving) winners and some knockout performances—it managed to be a generally pretty watchable and enjoyable evening. The awards show managed to provide an unusual number of spontaneous-feeling and even thrilling moments—even if there were some production-related snafus and no-shows that lent an odd sense of dysfunction to the ceremony.
Let’s start with . . . the good!
Cardi B: In one of the moments where it was hard to imagine anyone looking at their phone or anywhere but the screen, Cardi B won best rap album, for Invasion of Privacy, and she seemed truly floored, bringing on-again (?) partner Offset up with her to the stage. Cardi cemented her status as one of the most engaging personalities in music right now, ad-libbing (“Maybe I need to start smoking weed”) in her trademark fashion and clearly speaking freely and from the heart. She really should have her own variety show (though that is essentially what her Instagram Stories are, we suppose).
Alicia Keys: Cardi would certainly be an excellent host of an awards show at some point, now that we think of it, but Keys acquitted herself pretty well Sunday. She is by no means a traditional awards-show host—she’s not a comedian, and she hasn’t she ever seemed particularly interested in doing this sort of thing. But she was more than game and kept the energy up throughout the night, and in a funny way, it was actually somewhat refreshing to watch a host who was not playing for laughs.
Unexpectedly great collaborations: There were a lot of them! From the Avengers-style reveal of Jada Pinkett Smith, Lady Gaga, J. Lo, and Michelle Obama, with Keys, at the show’s beginning, to the winning pairings of duos like Shawn Mendes and Miley Cyrus and Dua Lipa and St. Vincent, the Grammys, as they have in years past, showed a good instinct for matching performers in a way that brought out the best of all parties. The Dolly Parton tribute—featuring Katy Perry, Cyrus, Maren Morris, Little Big Town, and eventual album-of-the-year winner Kacey Musgraves—was another standout moment, with each performer given a chance to shine.
A surprising group of winners: Unlike, say, the Oscars, where it often seems very clear going in who we’ll be seeing on the stage, there was real suspense this year. And, in general, the wealth was fairly spread out. Childish Gambino won two of the major four statuettes, with Musgraves and Lipa taking the other two. But Cardi B, H.E.R., Drake, and Gaga all were able to accept key awards during the ceremony. After last year’s ceremony faced criticism for the lack of women nominated in major categories (which led to Recording Academy President Neil Portnow’s poorly conceived comment about women needing “to step up”), it was encouraging to see so many talented women accepting trophies (Lipa made a specific call-out to Portnow’s comments when she won, noting, “I guess this year we really stepped up . . .”).
The fashion: Cardi wore an excellent, high-drama vintage Mugler look from 1995. Gaga came in a shimmery Celine dress, which was a complete left turn from the very “movie star” ensembles she has been trotting out during the Star Is Born awards season. It’s hard to even describe how striking and different Janelle Monáe’s outfit was—but man, it was refreshing. Let’s hope for more of this sort of daring and inventive spirit for the Oscars.
And now for the . . . not as good.
Winners getting cut off: This is an issue at many an awards show, but the fact that Cardi B, Lipa, Musgraves, and Drake (more on him in a second) all got cut off in their speeches, while other packages and tributes seemed to go on at length, was quite frustrating, especially since many of these speeches promised to go in entertaining directions. There has already been much eyebrow-raising over Drake getting cut off, in particular, given his past beef with the ceremony.
No-shows: It was reported in advance that Drake, Childish Gambino, and Kendrick Lamar would not be performing at the ceremony this year, and might not even be attending. It turned out that Drake did, in fact, show up to collect his trophy for best rap song—emerging from backstage to pick up the hardware. His speech emphasized the little importance he feels should be placed on awards, and, as he was about to make a transition in the speech (“But . . .”), he was cut off. (It seems very clear we are going to be getting some sort of Instagram post or even new track from the rapper soon to expound on his feelings here.) Meanwhile, Gambino’s absence was felt quite strongly, particularly when his song “This Is America” won record of the year, the first rap song to ever do so. Ariana Grande’s absence was also notable, as she won best pop vocal album (which almost definitely would have been televised had she been there) and also just released one of the most popular albums in the country. Grande even went as far as to Instagram the outfit she would have worn to the show. Ken, let’s be sure to not make the same mistake next year.
Production snafus: There were a bunch of weird cuts and technical glitches throughout the night, a common complaint in scrolling through Twitter, with a slew of moments where the camera seemed to wander in jarring fashion during performances, or where a mic was left running when Keys was coming in or out of a break. For a show that ultimately lives or dies on the strength of its performances and their production value, this is not great.
The Motown tribute: No fault of J. Lo, who—as ever—truly gave it her all (that dancing in the final bit!), but why she was chosen as the person to best channel the Motown spirit remains a . . . mystery.