The 62nd Annual Grammy Awards took place on January 26th at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, home of the lakers and former NBA star Kobe Bryant. performers at the Staples Center took the stage below the retired jerseys of Kobe Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash earlier in the day. But the night also included triumphs for first-time Grammy winners like Lizzo, who kicked off the show with a jubilant performance, and Billie Eilish, who swept the big four categories for the first time since Christopher Cross in 1981.
Billie Eilish reigned supreme at the Grammys on Sunday night, winning five awards including best new artist, album of the year and song of the year for Bad Guy – a high point for Generation Z on a night otherwise defined by solemnity for those who have passed too soon.
Here are the best and worst moments of the night.
With everything that went wrong at the previous Oscars and Ricky Gervais bashing the A-listers like always at the Golden Globes, the Grammys could have been a recipe for disaster for the host.
Hosting awards show is a risky and thankless business and the Grammys are perhaps the hardest gig of them all. Given the behind-the-scenes chaos that has engulfed the Recording Academy, so many things could have gone wrong for host Alicia Keys.
An overeager exuberance could have felt alienating to the portion of the music business calling for more diversity and accountability, while skepticism could have weighed down the entire night (see: this year’s Golden Globes). And that’s all before the news of Kobe Bryant’s death broke on Sunday afternoon, sending the Staples Center into a stunned sense of collective mourning.
But Keys rose to the occasion, handling an extremely awkward situation with flexibility and poise. Her impromptu acapella performance of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” with Boyz II Men was a cathartic moment, and a perfect way to handle a tribute that could have dissolved into insincere treacle.
The shadow of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others mere hours before the show, loomed large over a ceremony held at the Staples Center in which he played for the Los Angeles Lakers for over 20 years. “We’re all feeling crazy sadness right now,” said returning host Alicia Keys to a room in which Bryant’s retired jersey numbers shone brightly overhead. “We’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built.”
Keys was equally comfortable commanding the stage as she was doing crowd work; she nailed a conversational performance of her new song, “Underdog.” And she also slipped in some subtle critiques of the Academy, saying: “We refuse the old systems. We want to be respected and safe in our diversity. We want to be shifting to realness and inclusivity.” As a return host, Keys is flexing her power to push institutional change—while also quickly becoming to the Grammys what Billy Crystal was to the Oscars.
Worst: The in-memoriam segment
While Keys and Boyz II Men handled Bryant’s death with grace, the rest of the show could hardly have done worse in paying tributes to fallen legends. There wasn’t a strong explanation for Usher’s paint-by-the-numbers karaoke tribute to Prince, who died three years ago, other than to promote CBS’ upcoming special to him. That time might have better been spent on a tribute to the Cars’ Ric Ocasek—but the Grammys even spelled his name wrong in the In Memoriam video. To make matters worse, they left the singer-songwriter David Berman of the Silver Jews out of the segment entirely.
Best: Tyler the Creator’s fiery performance
Grammy performances often skew staid, with rising stars asked to sandpaper over their rough edges and modulate their aesthetic toward that of a much older one-time collaborator. But Tyler the Creator refused to do so, forcing the telecast to go along with his much more alienating and iconoclastic vision.
Instead of moving onto Boyz II Men’s throwback turf, Tyler let them sing the rich harmonies on “Earthquake” and then put them on top of a terrifying, burning set of houses while he gasped and wheezed through “New Magic Wand,” one of the best songs on his album Igor. His spastic dancing, the glitching camera work, his gravelly sweet-sour singing, and the terrifying set, perhaps a nod to the devastating fires in both Los Angeles and Australia—all reinforced the idea that he’s not just one of the world’s best rappers and producers but one of his generation’s sharpest auteurs.
He also gave two memorable speeches following his win for Best Rap Album—one onstage, in which he admonished the crowd for clapping too much and confidently steamrolled over the incidental music—and one backstage, in which he expressed frustration about the Grammys’ ghettoization of hip-hop. “Half of me feels like the rap nomination was a backhanded compliment—like oh, my little cousin wants to play the game, let’s give him the unplugged controller so he can shut up and feel good about it,” he said. It was a pointed and all-too-accurate rejoinder.