Kicking off the Grammys was an impressive ensemble for the live performance of Camila Cabello’s “Havana” featuring an excellent dollhouse scenic design. The colors fittingly called to mind Miami Vice-era lighting. The performance itself was decent, but the choreography and scenic are absolutely what put it over the top. Young Thug of course stole the performance with an appropriately over the top outfit that was tied together by sparkly shoes and a sequined jacket.
The additions of Ricky Martin and J Balvin rounded out the multicultural performance. Though J Balvin’s vocals were somewhat flat, the opening performance kicked the show off on the right foot.
Alicia Keyes brought a strong energy to the awards show and was an excellent choice of host given recent complaints over women not being properly represented by last year’s Grammys. However, her special guests, Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Michelle Obama and J-Lo, are what really got the show going.
Shawn Mendes gave an excellent vocal performance of “In My Blood” that he began by playing on a smoking piano. After a moment he got up and introduced Miley Cyrus, who joined him onstage to help duet on the song.
After the song, New England Patriots and recent Super Bowl champs Julian Edelman and Devin McCourty came up to present the award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. It was deservedly won by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow” and was followed by a teary-eyed speech from Lady Gaga who called for compassion for those with mental illness.
Nina Dobrev came onstage to introduce the incredibly talented Kacey Musgraves who performed “Rainbow.” Her performance was very minimal for a Grammys performance, featuring only her and a piano player seated at a golden piano. Her voice was the main star of the show and the rendition she turned in was tasteful and touching, featuring minimal showbiz trickery, allowing her to be the star of her own show.
Janelle Monae was next onstage with a far less minimal, but no less impressive, performance of her stunning “Make Me Feel.” The rendition was appropriately Prince-inspired while still retaining Monae’s signature android flair. Understandably, given the song, it was the most sexually-charged performance of the night, but nothing about it felt inappropriate, even when she introduced dancers in vagina dresses during a medley of her album. Clearly, the performance was carefully engineered to boost the mood after a mellow performance by Musgraves, and it more than did its job.
After the commercial Alicia Keyes launched into a story about how she wanted to win Song of the Year back in 2004 for “If I Ain’t Got You” and introduced John Mayer to help present the Song of the Year award, which was won by Childish Gambino for his smash hit “This is America.” He was not present to receive the award.
Post Malone and The Red Hot Chili Peppers joined forces for a smoke-filled performance following an awkward silent walk to another stage. The medley was centered on his massive world charting hit “Rockstar” which he performed before the camera turned to the Chili Peppers during a performance of “Dark Necessities.” All performers involved seemed to be having the time of their lives, which helped take the spotlight off of how strange a collaboration this was.
Anna Kendrick introduced the incomparable Dolly Parton who was treated to a royal ensemble of artists she helped to influence, including Katy Perry, Kacey Musgraves, Little Big Town, Miley Cyrus and Maren Morris–which she would eventually join in on, bringing to life a moment that truly only could happen at the Grammys. Her multi-song performance with some of her musical children was one of the biggest highlights of the show.
J-Lo discussed the Grammy achievement award for Clarence Vant before introducing H.E.R., who turned in a well-vocalized but fairly straightforward performance. Her sparkling outfit and transparent guitar were certainly eye-catching, and she was assisting by a parade of musicians who joined her onstage as the show carried forward.
Cardi B’s performance was extravagant even by Grammy standards, but it felt fitting of her as a performer. The number of onstage dancers was almost overwhelming, but Cardi’s magnetic stage presence kept the attention focused solely on her as she continued her tour, establishing herself as the queen of rap.
Best Country Album was won by Kacey Musgraves (who spent the night killing it with her amazing outfits), which was hardly a surprise but seeing her finally win felt incredibly cathartic. Following a commercial break, Alicia Keyes proved her skill while playing two pianos at the same time and simultaneously giving a speech about her love of music. This led into a stellar rendition of “Killing Me Softly” and “Unforgettable,” which launched a medley of songs she “wished she had written.” Regardless of how the awards would shake out, Keyes was proving to be an absolute show-stealer and the best host in years.
The camera quickly moved over to a solid but much more low-key performance by Dan and Shay. They played their hit song “Tequila” to a relatively subdued audience who was doubtlessly still reeling from the stunning medley from Keyes. Curiously they were chosen to award Drake the Grammy for Best Rap Song (“God’s Plan”). Though considering Pusha T wasn’t nominated for any of his songs it felt a bit flat, but the cutting off of Drake’s mic was a comical moment.
A birthday celebration for Diana Ross followed the commercial break, and Keyes introduced Ross’s nine-year old-grandson to bring her to the stage for the performance of a lifetime. In keeping with many of the other legendary acts, the primary focus of her performance was her voice, and at 75 she, much like Dolly Parton earlier in the night, still has the magic.
A stellar performance of Oscar Best Song frontrunner “Shallow” by Lady Gaga rocked the audience next. She sang both her part and Bradley Cooper’s part all while wearing a positively blinding sequined jumpsuit. It should go without saying, but even a room full of stars couldn’t contain themselves through the power ballad.
Jeffrey Redding received the little-known award for Music Educator of the Year from Keyes before she brought up Swizz Beats who introduced Travis Scott, Mike Dean, James Blake and an incredible array of musicians. The performance began in a way that was shockingly subdued before it exploded in traditional Travis Scott style. A rush of dancers mobbed the stage and some climbed atop the cage he was performing in, making it feel much more like a wild concert rather than a Grammy performance.
Smokey Robinson, J-Lo and Ne-Yo joined together for a celebration of Motown, which turned out to be an excellent showcase of each performers’ skill and presence behind the mic. South Korean sensation BTS presented the award for best R&B album, which was won by H.E.R. She gave a flummoxed speech but clearly, it was only the nerves of being such a young and upcoming artist and this year’s Grammy Awards was clearly a coming out party for her, though they did play her off before she was finished to her satisfaction.
The next performance was “The Joke” by Brandi Carlisle. It was a pretty by-the-numbers performance featuring only her and her band, though there was a nicely crafted lyric video playing behind her. This easily could’ve been a forgettable performance, and while it wasn’t one of the most memorable, Carlisle’s voice was full of passion through the duration of the song.
Singing “Where’s the Love” was Chloe x Halle, who most notably performed the Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl earlier this year. While their voices were excellent, the performance didn’t manage to stick around in your mind for far too long after, especially with the end of the show quickly bearing down. After the song, they presented Best Rap Album to Cardi B which was a predictable but important point in the night.
St. Vincent and Dua Lipa curiously teamed up to perform “Massseduction” and “One Kiss.” The performance was surprisingly excellent given the odd nature, and the black and white piano themed outfits were eye-catching and exciting. Of course, the most impressive element was St.Vincent’s stunning guitar playing.
To present Best New Artist, Alessia Cara and Bob Newhart took the stage. Dua Lipa ended up taking home the award, which was well-deserved even in such a crowded and impressive field. A sweet performance by Fantasia and Andra Day capped off the Grammy’s remembrance video.
Record of the Year went to “This is America” in a surprising turn of events, though a welcome one. In an awards show often remembered for who doesn’t win, it seemed to finally get one right.
This left only Album of the Year, a category that has long been the bane of the Grammys, particularly in the past few years where excellent hip-hop has been a relegated to a runner up spot. This year would carry that forward, but this time it felt less like a snub and more rewarding as Kacey Musgraves ended up taking the trophy home for her stellar Golden Hour. It felt as though the Grammys got it right for once, giving a night of ups and downs (but mostly ups) an exceptional ending.
Photo Credit: Boston Lynn Schulz