Grammy Awards featured a tumultuous lead-up, few upsets

by Jack Hargrove | 1/30/20 2:00am


In its 62nd edition, the Grammy Awards ceremony managed to do exactly what it has become known for in recent years: stir up minor controversy despite being completely predictable. 

The week leading up to the Grammys was a complete mess; Deborah Dugan, the recently appointed president of the Recording Academy who was chosen to deliver much-needed reform to the awards, was placed on administrative leave after she allegedly tried to enact deep reform. After her removal, she claimed that the Grammys were full of corruption and vote-fixing, and Taylor Swift canceled her performance at the show in response. 

In addition, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter unexpectedly died in a helicopter crash the morning of the Grammys. This cast a dark shadow over the entire ceremony, which took place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Lakers’ home stadium. Despite all of this, the show went on with many of 2019’s most celebrated artists putting on great performances as well as a few surprise winners.

For the second year in a row, Alicia Keys hosted, and she did a respectable job. She was clearly saddened by the death of Bryant, and in tribute, Boyz II Men joined her onstage for a rendition of their song “It’s so Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.” Another highlight of Keys’ hosting was her performance of a song with her own original lyrics to the tune of “Someone You Loved” by Lewis Capaldi about various nominees.

Over the course of the night, there were 22 separate performances, most by people nominated for at least one award. The sheer number of performances has, at this point, become astounding; over the course of the three-hour-and-40-minute event, there were only nine awards presented. The rest of the time was filled with performances. This aspect of the ceremony sets the Grammys apart from the other major awards shows, as there is a much heavier focus on the nominees instead of who wins the awards in the Grammys. 

While it is a treat to watch so many of music’s best artists perform one after the other, it is a little disappointing that more focus is not put on the awards. This is especially egregious, because there are 84 total categories — and only about 10 percent are shown­ on screen. But before getting into the performances, an overview of the winners is necessary.

The biggest winner on the night was Billie Eilish, who took home five Grammys, including all four of the major categories. She is the second artist ever to sweep the four major categories, which consist of Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year and Best New Artist, all in one year. The only other artist to ever do this was Christopher Cross in 1981, who quickly faded into obscurity afterward. Despite how massive of an achievement this is, it was obvious how uncomfortable Eilish was with her victories. In her speech for Album of the Year, she said that she believed that Ariana Grande should have won the award, and before being announced as the winner for Record Of The Year, Eilish was seen mouthing “Please don’t be me.” Sudden fame can be difficult for anyone to deal with, especially for someone as young as Eilish, who is only 18.

Lizzo won three of the eight awards she was nominated for, including Best Urban Contemporary Album, Best Pop Solo Performance and Best Traditional R&B Performance. Lil Nas X won two of his six nominations, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Music Video, both for “Old Town Road.” The Chemical Brothers won both Dance/Electronic awards and Vampire Weekend came away with the victory for Best Alternative Music Album. Rosalía won the award for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album and Dave Chappelle won the award for Best Comedy album despite not being present to accept the award.

Tyler, the Creator won his first-ever Grammy in his 13-year career, with a victory in the Best Rap Album field for his album “IGOR.” He accepted the award onstage with his mother, echoing the line “My goal in life is a Grammy, hopefully Mom’ll attend the ceremony” from his 2009 song “Bastard.” While this should have been a happy moment for him, he revealed that it was actually bittersweet after the show. In an interview, he stated, “On one side, I’m very grateful that what I made could just be acknowledged in a world like this. But also, it sucks that whenever we — and I mean guys that look like me — do anything that’s genre-bending, they always put it in a ‘rap’ or ‘urban’ category, which, I don’t like that ‘urban’ word. It’s just a politically correct way to say the N-word to me. So when I hear that, I’m just like ‘Why can’t we just be in pop?’... half of me feels like the rap nomination was a backhanded compliment.” These comments underscore a recurring problem with the Grammys, where it seems that white artists perform in a separate category than everyone else. As a result, the awards for music deemed “rap,” “urban” or “R&B” feel like consolation prizes to the winners.

In addition to all of the awards, there were plenty of performances spread throughout the night. The first performance, and also one of the best, was Lizzo’s. Opening with “Tonight is for Kobe,” Lizzo sang her songs “Cuz I Love You” and “Truth Hurts” while being backed by an entire orchestra. The best part of her performance was when a flute was lowered from the ceiling and she performed a fantastic flute solo. 

Later in the show, Ariana Grande delivered a great medley of her songs “imagine,” “7 rings” and “thank u, next,” all from her latest album. Eilish gave one of the most mellow performances of the night, singing her quiet ballad “When the Party’s Over” while her brother and producer Finneas played the piano. In a very moving performance, Demi Lovato sang publicly for the first time since her near-fatal heroin overdose in July 2018. She gave an emotional rendition of “Anyone,” a song she recorded only four days before her overdose and that detailed her substance abuse problems. Perhaps the strangest, yet most entertaining, performance of the night was by Lil Nas X, who sang his massive hit “Old Town Road” on a rotating stage accompanied by Billy Ray Cyrus, BTS, Mason Ramsey, Diplo and Nas.

The two best performances of the night were given by Rosalía and Tyler, the Creator. Tyler began his performance by singing his hit “EARFQUAKE” with Boyz II Men and Charlie Wilson before transitioning into the much heavier “NEW MAGIC WAND” in front of a backdrop of suburban houses. While giving an intense and incredible rendition of the latter song, he was surrounded by dozens of impersonators, all wearing the same white wig as him. At the end of the performance, the houses all caught fire and Tyler dropped backward off the set. Rosalía’s performance was much less eventful, yet was just as stunning to watch. In front of a chorus of people clapping into microphones, Rosalía gave an awe-inspiring performance of her singles “Juro Que” and “Malamente.” The music was complemented by her incredible flamenco dancing.

While there were many fantastic performances at the show, there were also a few that were rather disappointing. Near the beginning of the show, married couple Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton gave a very uninspired rendition of Shelton’s song “Nobody But You.” The worst performance of the night was probably Aerosmith, who sang “Living on the Edge” and then “Walk this Way,” accompanied by hip-hop pioneers Run-D.M.C. The performance was a mess from beginning to end, with off-key vocals, botched solos and scatterbrained choreography. It almost felt like they had failed to practice even one time. The tribute to Prince could also have been much better. Usher was chosen to sing Prince’s songs “Little Red Corvette,” “When Doves Cry” and “Kiss” — and was joined onstage by FKA twigs and Sheila E. This choice was extremely questionable, as Usher sounds nothing like Prince did — highlighted when he really struggled to hit the high notes. More questionable, however, was the choice to have FKA twigs dance alongside Usher for the entire performance without singing even once.

The last performance of the night was a tribute to music education and longtime executive producer of the Grammys Kenneth Ehrlich, in which a collection of musicians sang “I Sing The Body Electric.” This overly long and boring performance felt very self-congratulatory and was wholly unnecessary. Overall, this year’s Grammys proved to be a compelling event to watch despite its long run time and various missteps.