Pop music critic
It’s hard to argue with Megan Thee Stallion winning best new artist. She’s had a couple of indelible hits, yes, but more crucially, she’s built a whole world around her music and persona. The Megan ecosystem is grand and funny and bawdy and very signature.
Megan Thee Stallion
Wins best new artist.
The television host and comedian Trevor Noah opened the 63rd annual Grammy Awards on Sunday night with a monologue that delicately joked about holding an awards show during a pandemic, nodded to the power of music and offered a hopeful words about the year ahead.
Sunday marked Noah’s debut as the master of ceremonies for the Grammys, a role he has said he was nervous to take on but could not pass up. He is himself a Grammy nominee, having earned a nod for best comedy album just last year.
In announcing his selection as host last November, officials with the Recording Academy and CBS praised Noah’s energy and ability to keep an audience engaged. Noah had suggested he would let the musical performances do much of the work powering the show.
But in his opening remarks, the spotlight was squarely on Noah. He used his time in part to lay out the complicated logistics around how the night’s performances would take place, but also to try to build excitement for the hours ahead.
“This is not a zoom background, this is real,” he said. “Tonight we’re going to celebrate some of the fantastic music that has touched our lives and saved our souls over this unprecedented year.”
Pop music writer
The stagehands know what’s up: I thought Haim’s performance of “The Steps” was definitely a highlight so far. They sounded crisp and confident.
Pop music critic
Lindsay, I’m actually even more charmed by what appear to be the stagehands and other behind-the-scenes folks clapping in the background of this Haim performance. Given the restrictions in place, it reinforces the we’re-all-in-this-togetherness (and, I trust, negative P.C.R. swabs) of the show.
Pop music writer
The cutaways between performers is an interesting way to get around the lack of audience reaction shots, though I wonder if it will get old. Billie Eilish gazing admirably at Harry Styles, and then Harry sending it right back to Billie during her performance, was a sweet moment.
Pop music critic
The Grammys are taking a cue from the British TV stalwart “Later … with Jools Holland,” putting several performers on adjacent stages in the same space, opening with a dry performance of “Watermelon Sugar” by Harry Styles, whose backing band includes the foot-in-every-pond polymath Dev Hynes.
Pop music writer
One thing I’m curious to watch play out tonight is what I’ll call the Beyoncé Paradox: If she wins five awards tonight (something of a long shot, but it’s definitely possible), she will become the most awarded woman in Grammy history, and yet — there’s still an overwhelming sense that she’s been underappreciated by the Grammys. She hasn’t won in one of the “big four” categories since 2010, and of course there was her much-publicized loss to Adele for 2017’s album of the year. She could have a big night — she’s the most nominated artist this year — but I wonder if that will be perceived as too little, too late from the Academy. The fact that she declined to attend doesn’t exactly bode well, either.
It’s been awhile since we’ve actually seen the strutting, preening, over-the-top fashion show that is an awards season red carpet. After all, even before the pandemic hit, there was some rethinking going on, as female performers in particular started demanding not to be simply reduced to what they wore. So when the Grammy powers that be announced they were going to figure out how to bring the whole shebang back — well, it was not entirely clear what that would mean.
At least until the E! hosts provided the answer. “Drama!” shrieked Brad Goreski. “Epic!” said Lilly Singh. “A traffic jam of glam!” said Guiliana Rancic.
Exclamation points aside, they weren’t that far off. The first quasi-live mega-awards red carpet since Covid-19 began was like a fashion primal scream. It was also kind of fun. Who wants restraint when we’ve all been constrained? Doja Cat summed it up when she showed off a Roberto Cavalli gown that involved a leather motorcycle jacket unzipped to the waist and then somehow spliced into a showgirl skirt of neon green and black feathers.
“I like something that’s kind of out there,” she said in her red carpet interview. “I feel like I’ve been kind of toned down before this.”
“Toned-down” was not a word anyone would have used (BTS in hip monochrome Louis Vuitton suiting aside). Phoebe Bridgers came as a bejeweled Thom Browne skeleton, with a full set of bones embroidered on a black gown. Noah Cyrus was a walking tower of whipped cream in exploding ivory Schiaparelli couture. Cynthia Erivo did her best imitation of liquid mercury in Vuitton sequins. Dua Lipa was a crystal Versace butterflyMegan Thee Stallion channeled a gigantic neon orange supernova in a strapless Dolce & Gabbana column with a steroid-fueled bow on the back, complete with train.
“I wanted to look like a Grammy,” she said, of the dress. “I manifested this.”
She wasn’t the only one. Suddenly, costumes that once might have provoked eye rolls and cynicism seemed like a courageous refusal to let the last year win. And the red carpet, which was increasingly dismissed as a mere marketing tool, has a whole new role.
When the Grammys lists its “big four” general field categories, the top award is not technically album of the year — which typically closes the show — but one given right before that, to a single, zeitgeist-capturing track: the record of the year.
The award — which, as opposed to songwriting, honors an artist’s performance and the contributions of producers, audio engineers and mixers — has gone in recent ceremonies to inescapable records like “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish, “This Is America” by Childish Gambino and “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars.
This year, Beyoncé appears in the category twice — for her song “Black Parade” and “Savage (Remix)” with Megan Thee Stallion — alongside “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa, “Rockstar” by DaBaby featuring Roddy Ricch, “Say So” by Doja Cat, “Everything I Wanted” by Billie Eilish, “Circles” by Post Malone and “Colors” by Black Pumas.
It’s an eclectic mix, telling a variety of stories about the industry through disparate sounds. To understand the premier category, The New York Times’ pop music team gathered remotely to discuss the nominees in a special “Diary of a Song” spinoff episode. Watch the breakdown above.
And check out the rest of the behind-the-scenes making-of videos — including appearances by Lipa, Taylor Swift, Phoebe Bridgers and Olivia Rodrigo, a Grammys hopeful for next year — at our YouTube channel. Subscribe to never miss an episode.
Pop music critic
Given the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the Grammy preshow options have been predictably chaotic, though I did find it unexpectedly comforting to watch Burna Boy winning the Grammy for best global music album on the Grammy.com livestream while on my TV, Giuliana Rancic tiptoed her way through a remote interview with BTS. These are the Grammys I want to be a part of (as opposed to, depending how the night goes, the actual Grammys). Are you prepared for Music’s Biggest N…on-Fungible Token?
At only 9 years old, Beyoncé’s oldest daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, is already starting to follow in her parents’ footsteps, winning her first Grammy for her role in the music video for “Brown Skin Girl.”
The mother-daughter duo and their collaborators won in the best music video category, where they were up against videos featuring Future, Anderson .Paak, Harry Styles and Woodkid. “Brown Skin Girl” was part of Beyoncé’s “Black Is King,” a musical film and visual album that Jon Pareles, the chief pop critic of The Times, called a “grand statement of African-diaspora unity, pride and creative power.”
“Brown Skin Girl,” a celebratory anthem filled with familiar faces — including Lupita Nyong’o and Kelly Rowland — is replete with imagery of loving relationships between Black women: mothers and daughters, sisters, friends. Blue Ivy appears at the beginning, with a shot of her playing a hand clapping game with her mother. She later appears all dolled up like a debutante, wearing a string of pearls and white gloves.
In the song’s outro, Blue Ivy echoes her mother, singing, “Brown skin girl/Your skin just like pearls.” Also credited for the award is the Nigerian singer-songwriter Wizkid.
The award was given out in the earlier Grammys ceremony that started at 3 p.m. Eastern time. Beyoncé has a big night ahead of her: She has nine nominations in eight categories, the most of any artist. Also included on the winners’ list for best music video is one of the directors, Jenn Nkiru, and the video producers: Astrid Edwards, Aya Kaida, Jean Mougin, Nathan Scherrer and Erinn Williams.
A majority of attention at the Grammys goes to nominees in the biggest categories, but there are scores of interesting musicians throughout the ballot. Here are a few that stand out:
Best Metal Performance
Power Trip, “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe) — Live”
Riley Gale, the frontman and moral compass of the Dallas thrash band Power Trip, died last August. This nod, for a song from the outstanding concert recording “Live in Seattle: 05.28.2018,” is a reflection of not only the band’s stomping potency and Gale’s charisma, but also an implicit acknowledgment that the group’s ascent to the stratosphere was an inevitability. JON CARAMANICA
Best Contemporary Instrumental Album
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, “Axiom”
It’s a Grammy mystery that “Axiom” is nominated for best contemporary instrumental album — usually a category for pop-jazz and acoustic Americana — when it’s clearly jazz, though Adjuah prefers the term “creative improvised music.” (Meanwhile, Adjuah’s trumpet solo in one track, “Guinnevere,” is nominated for best improvised jazz solo.) Recorded at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village in the last days before the club closed for the pandemic, the music has a now-or-never immediacy: declamatory, percussive, intent on tapping communal power. JON PARELES
Best Regional Roots Music Album
Nā Wai Ehā, “Lovely Sunrise”
The Hawaiian entry in this category, which is an umbrella for traditional and regional American styles, comes from Nā Wai Ehā, a robust, deeply skilled band made up of two sets of brothers devoted to time-honored Hawaiian music that also pays homage to the crisp, harmony-rich pop of the 1960s. CARAMANICA
Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album
Lido Pimienta, “Miss Colombia”
Born in Colombia and living in Canada, Lido Pimienta sings about finding her own path as she forges deep musical connections. She fuses Colombian rhythms and traditions with 21st-century possibilities: electronics, rock guitars, horn sections and choirs of her own clear, guileless voice. PARELES
Best Bluegrass Album
Billy Strings, “Home” (Winner!)
One of the most adventurous guitar players in bluegrass, Billy Strings has been inching toward recognition beyond the walls of the typically cloistered genre. (He recently released a song with country kingpin Luke Combs.) “Home,” his second solo album, is both lustrous and curious, a full-throated arrival of a wicked talent. CARAMANICA
Best Dance/Electronic Album
Arca, “KiCk i”
Baauer, “Planet’s Mad”
In a year of empty dance floors and shuttered clubs, the dance/electronic category looked well beyond typical big-room bangers. “KiCk i” by Arca is a jolting, disorienting, whipsawing album — sometimes confrontational, sometimes whimsical, sometimes yearning, sometimes manic — with guest vocals from Björk and Rosalía along with Arca’s own rapping and singing. “Planet’s Mad” by Baauer, whose 2012 “Harlem Shake” started a video dance craze, is a loud, nutty, overstuffed concept album envisioning the destruction of Earth in an interplanetary collision, hopscotching through assorted international beats on the way to immolation. PARELES
Best Americana Album
Courtney Marie Andrews, “Old Flowers”
Sarah Jarosz, “World on the Ground” (Winner!)
The Americana category includes two pristine, thoughtful, largely acoustic albums suffused with quiet grace. Courtney Marie Andrews’s “Old Flowers” addresses a breakup and its aftermath in sparse, gorgeously sung ballads: heartsick but cleareyed. Sarah Jarosz’s “World on the Ground” envisions a homecoming to small-town Texas to contemplate memories, expectations, disillusion and resilience. PARELES
The Grammys in a pandemic means no dancing crowds, no cutaways to Taylor Swift in the front row, no shouts into the rafters of the Staples Center.
It also robs the music industry of its most epic annual schmooze.
Traditionally, the week leading up to the Grammys is packed with charity events, brunches, showcase performances and boozy parties. Gossip trickles out, chests are puffed and campaigns for the next year are seeded. Important business is conducted. Journalists (cough cough) exploit the atmosphere to corner executives who don’t return their calls.
This year, that is gone. There have still been some virtual events, but without the clinking of cocktail glasses and the Los Angeles sunshine, it’s just not the same.
The cruelest absence is Clive Davis’s annual gala, which he has been hosting since 1976. Besides the year’s big artist nominees, the event, planned for the night before the awards, usually has national V.I.P.’s like Nancy Pelosi and Tim Cook. One year I witnessed gasps as Sylvester Stallone arrived. (He was astonishingly orange.)
Davis, the 88-year-old industry eminence who signed Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys, had intended to hold a virtual version of his show, but postponed it because he has been suffering from Bell’s palsy; Davis reportedly intends to hold a rescheduled event in May. That might still be fun, but I will miss everybody’s ironclad predictions that their client will totally win.
The Weeknd, Drake, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Frank Ocean, Nicki Minaj, Halsey, Zayn Malik, Jay-Z — this could be the Grammys lineup in an alternate universe.
Instead, these artists represent some of the biggest names that have explicitly and publicly criticized the awards in recent years. As a result, some in the music industry fret that the Grammys may have permanently alienated a generation-plus of stars — and especially Black artists — who see the process as opaque and out of touch.
Abel Tesfaye, who performs as the Weeknd, led the anti-Grammys charge this cycle, after he was shut out of nominations despite having released a critical and commercial juggernaut of an album, “After Hours,” and an inescapable hit in “Blinding Lights.”
In a statement to The New York Times, Tesfaye said he no longer wanted to be considered for the awards moving forward, citing the Grammy committees that decide the final nominees in most categories. “Because of the secret committees,” he said, “I will no longer allow my label to submit my music to the Grammys.” (Ocean took a similar stance in 2016, explaining that he did not trust the Grammys to understand “people who come from where I come from.”)
Similar tensions have been simmering for years, with questions about gender and racial diversity that have plagued the industry more widely colliding and coming under special scrutiny surrounding the annual television showcase. The Recording Academy, the nonprofit behind the Grammys, has called its recent diversity efforts, including a push for new members, “transformative.”
On the day before the show, Cardi B, who is scheduled to perform, took a more diplomatic approach than some of her peers, nodding to the controversy in a statement, but striking an optimistic, conciliatory tone. “Maybe by next year they will get it right,” she wrote, before citing as wins the nominations of independent Black artists like Chika, Freddie Gibbs, Kaytranada and Robert Glasper. “Let’s not forget to congratulate these artists,” she said. “This is their moment too.”
Yet it remains an uphill climb: A Black artist has not won album of the year since Herbie Hancock’s tribute to Joni Mitchell in 2008. A rap song won record and song of the year — two of the other so-called “big four” categories — for the first time in 2019, with “This Is America” by Childish Gambino. (Donald Glover, who performs as Childish Gambino, was not present to collect his awards.)
This year, artists like Beyoncé, who has not won a major award since 2010, and Roddy Ricch, a young Los Angeles rapper, are among the top nominees.
But despite her field-leading nine nominations and stated interest from the academy, Beyoncé will not perform at the show, marking the third time in the last four years that the top nominee will not grace the stage, following her husband Jay-Z (who went zero for eight in 2018) and Kendrick Lamar.
It’s pandemic awards-show season, which, thus far, has meant a lot of technological glitches and acceptance speeches given from the couch. But the executive producer of the Grammys on Sunday promises that this one won’t give you “Zoom fatigue.”
The 63rd annual Grammy Awards, hosted by Trevor Noah from “The Daily Show,” begin at 8 p.m. Eastern time, 5 p.m. Pacific. You can tune in on CBS or stream the show on Paramount+, a new streaming platform that recently replaced CBS All Access.
The Grammys preshow, which includes the red carpet stream, starts at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time. There will be the typical giddy interviews with stars and glimpses at the backstage setup. You can watch that on Grammy.com; it will also be streaming on Facebook Live.
An earlier Grammys ceremony started at 3 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific. Hosted by the singer-songwriter Jhené Aiko (a Grammy nominee herself), more than 70 Grammys were awarded at this ceremony, which streamed on Grammy.com and on the Grammys YouTube channel. The preshow ceremony also featured performances by several nominees, including the Nigerian singer-songwriter Burna Boy, the blues musician Jimmy “Duck” Holmes and the German pianist Igor Levit.
Fourteen months after recording a 12-year-low in viewership, the Grammy Awards will try to bounce back Sunday night with the help of powerhouse performances and, potentially, a refreshed approach with a new executive producer: Ben Winston of “The Late Late Show With James Corden,” known for his “Carpool Karaoke” segments.
But like the awards shows that have come before it in this strange pandemic year, the 63rd edition of the Grammys will face a number of logistical challenges as the show’s producers try to balance the need for safety and an entertaining product.
It is still not entirely clear what shape the night will take. Officials have said they planned for a small audience in Los Angeles, and that a mix of live and pretaped performances will take place on five outdoor stages near the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the show’s usual home. Trevor Noah, from “The Daily Show,” is the host. Here’s a quick look at what else to expect:
Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa and Roddy Ricch headlined the nominations when they were disclosed in the fall.
Beyoncé got the most nods overall with nine nominations in eight categories — “Black Parade” is competing against her guest turn on Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage (Remix)” for record of the year. Swift got six nominations, five for her quarantine album “Folklore,” and one for “Beautiful Ghosts,” a song she wrote with Andrew Lloyd Webber for the film version of “Cats.” Lipa has six too, including album, record and song of the year. And Ricch earned six nominations in four categories (he’s up against himself for rap song and rap/sung performance).
Our pop music team broke down and debated one of the so-called “big four” categories, record of the year, in a special “Diary of a Song” episode.
A full list of nominees is here, a condensed version of the highlights is here, and as always, there were snubs, which we wrote about here. (The biggest? The Weeknd, who received no nominations this year, and told The New York Times this week that he would ask his record company not to submit his music for the awards in the future.)
The full list of announced performers includes Bad Bunny, Black Pumas, Cardi B, BTS, Brandi Carlile, DaBaby, Doja Cat, Billie Eilish, Mickey Guyton, Haim, Brittany Howard, Miranda Lambert, Lil Baby, Dua Lipa, Chris Martin, John Mayer, Megan Thee Stallion, Maren Morris, Post Malone, Roddy Ricch, Harry Styles and Taylor Swift. And there’s always the possibility of a surprise artist joining the lineup.
The Recording Academy has said the show will offer a mix of live and taped appearances in a format described as “coming together, while still safely apart.”
In a nod to the severity of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the live music industry, the Grammys will highlight the struggles of independent music venues by having staff members from four live music spots present awards and encourage viewers at home to support their local clubs.
Workers from the Troubadour and the Hotel Café in Los Angeles, the Apollo Theater in New York and Nashville’s Station Inn will appear throughout the evening. Presenters will also include a handful of artists: Jhené Aiko, Jacob Collier, Lizzo and Ringo Starr.
Although safety concerns surrounding the pandemic are providing challenges for the show’s producers — the event will feature both live and taped appearances — the unusual circumstances are also offering the Grammys a chance to experiment, as other high-profile live events have done.
The Golden Globes allowed co-hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to appear simultaneously from separate locations in New York and Los Angeles. And organizers of the Democratic National Convention drew praise last year for broadcasting a virtual roll call that featured appearances from everyday Americans in 57 states and territories.