Grammys 2021: Beyoncé, Megan Thee Stallion, Billie Eilish Win Big
The night notably saw all four major awards (Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best New Artist) go to women — just three years after ex-Recording Academy president Neil Portnow drew fierce criticism for saying women needed to “step up” if they wanted to be acknowledged at the Grammys. Album of the Year went to Folklore, with Taylor Swift becoming the first woman to win the prize three times (she previously won for Fearless in 2010 and 1989 in 2016). H.E.R. picked up Song of the Year for “I Can’t Breathe,” while Billie Eilish won Record of the Year for “Everything I Wanted” after winning the same prize last year for “Bad Guy.”
Megan Thee Stallion, meanwhile, had a monumental night, becoming the first female rapper to win Best New Artist since Lauryn Hill in 1999. The Houston rapper also took home Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for her “Savage” remix with Beyoncé. Megan then capped off her big evening with one of the best performances of the night, channeling an old Hollywood feel — complete with tap dancers — for her renditions of “Body” and “Savage,” before linking up with Cardi B to perform their smash “WAP” live for the first time.
Beyoncé also had a historic night, becoming the winningest female artist in Grammy history, after she picked up four awards — including Best R&B Performance for “Black Parade” — to bring her overall total to 28. That also placed her just three behind the most-awarded person in Grammys history, conductor Georg Solti, who has 31. Topping it all off, Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s daughter, Blue Ivy, won her first Grammy, sharing the Best Music Video trophy with her mother and WizKiD.
As for the other awards shown during the Grammys broadcast, Harry Styles won his first Grammy, Best Pop Solo Performance, for “Watermelon Sugar,” as did Bad Bunny, who won Best Latin Pop or Urban Album for YHLQMDLG. Dua Lipa, meanwhile, won Best Pop Vocal Album for Future Nostalgia.
The Covid-19 pandemic, of course, made for a noticeably different Grammys, with the audience comprising only the night’s major nominees gathering at socially-distanced tables at an outdoor space near the Staples Center in Los Angeles. But to a certain extent, the show was rather familiar: Even under normal circumstances, the Grammys typically dedicate no more than 30 minutes to actual awards-giving, while the other three hours of the show are crammed with as many performances as possible.
So it was this year, though the show did have a more streamlined feel: There were no classic “Grammy moments” — those sometimes intriguing, but often tediously manufactured collaborations — placing the focus solely on this year’s nominees, while the lack of a huge in-person audience also made the performances feel more intimate.
The show opened with a snappy monologue from Trevor Noah, followed by performances from Styles, Eilish and Finneas, and Haim, all gathered in the same room. This charmingly cavernous space served as the main staging ground for the night, providing a unique space where artists essentially ended up performing for each other. After delivering an eye-popping performance of “Dákiti” with Jhay Cortez, Bad Bunny sat side-stage and sang silently along as Dua Lipa ran through a dazzling medley of songs from Future Nostalgia.
While the show featured a mix of live and pre-recorded performances, the whole production had a seamless feel. Performers pulled out all the stops, whether it was Swift, Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner performing Folklore songs in an elaborate forest set, or DaBaby donning diamond-encrusted gloves, enlisting a violinist and conducting backup singers dressed like Supreme Court justices while tearing through “Rockstar” with Roddy Ricch. In one of the night’s most powerful moments, Lil Baby staged a harrowing rebuke of police violence as he performed his protest song, “The Bigger Picture,” with an assist from Killer Mike and activist Tamika Mallory.
Mickey Guyton, who made history as the first black female solo artist to earn a Grammy nod in a country category (Best Country Solo Performance, though she lost to Vince Gill), delivered a stellar rendition of “Black Like Me” to kick off a run of country performances. Miranda Lambert followed with “Bluebird,” while Maren Morris closed things out with “Bones,” featuring John Mayer on guitar.
Later, Post Malone presided over a hyper-stylized seance during “Hollywood’s Bleeding,” Doja Cat shot into the future with a rendition of her breakout hit “Say So,” and BTS beamed in from a rooftop in Seoul, South Korea for their rendition of “Dynamite.” Roddy Ricch gave the night’s final performance, debuting a new song “Heartless” before ripping through his breakout smash, “The Box.”
The in memoriam section featured Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s Silk Sonic honoring Little Richard with “Long Tall Sally” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.” Lionel Ritchie then sang “Lady” for his good friend Kenny Rogers and Brandi Carlile performed the last song John Prine ever recorded, “I Remember Everything.” Brittany Howard and Chris Martin closed out the segment with a devastating rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a song originally from the musical Carousel but made famous by Gerry and the Pacemakers, whose frontman Gerry Marsden died in January.
While the performances dominated the night, the short documentaries that ran throughout the night highlighting the various Record of the Year nominees were less engaging (an awards show filler trick that seemed cribbed from the Oscars or Golden Globes). But the Recording Academy did do well to raise awareness for independent venues devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic by enlisting venue owners and employees from New York’s Apollo Theater, Nashville’s Station Inn and Los Angeles venues the Troubadour and The Hotel Café to hand out various awards.
As always, the majority of the actual Grammy Awards were handed out before the broadcast. After 14 nominations, Nas finally won his first Grammy, taking home Best Rap Album for King’s Disease. The Strokes, after being nominated for their first Grammy this year, won their first Grammy as well, Best Rock Album for The New Abnormal.
Other first-time winners included Nigerian star Burna Boy (Best Global Music Album for Twice as Tall), Tiffany Haddish (Best Comedy Album for Black Mitzvah) and the Highwomen (Best Country Song for “Crowded Table”). Singer-songwriter pair Gillian Welch and David Rawlings also picked up their first Grammys, Best Folk Album for All the Good Times, while celebrated producer Kaytranada won his first two trophies: Best Dance/Electronic Album for Bubba and Best Dance Recording for “10%” with Kali Uchis.
Other notable winners included Fiona Apple, who picked up Best Alternative Album for Fetch the Bolt Cutters and Best Rock Performance for “Shameika,” and Thundercat, who won Best Progressive R&B Album for It Is What It Is. Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande shared Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for “Rain on Me,” John Legend won Best R&B Album for Bigger Love, and Miranda Lambert won Best Country Album for Wildcard.
Several major artists received posthumous awards this year as well. John Prine was awarded Best American Roots Song and Performance for “I Remember Everything”; reggae legend Toots Hibbert received Best Reggae Album for Toots and the Maytals’ Got to Be Tough, and jazz great Chick Corea won Best Improvised Jazz Solo for “All Blues” and Best Jazz Instrumental Album for his collaboration with Christian McBride and Brian Blade, Trilogy 2.