Last year, the Grammy Awards took some well-deserved heat for their treatment of women, inspiring a trend-worthy hashtag in #GrammysSoMale in response to a broadcast where only one major award was given to a woman – Alessia Cara’s Best New Artist win.
And it only got worse when Recording Academy president Neil Portnow foolishly responded to the backlash by telling Variety that women “need to step up” if they want to win more Grammys.
Could the man have even come up with a more tone-deaf reaction to being accused of misogyny?
Fortunately, this year’s Grammys did a much better job than Portnow at damage control, stepping up with a show that celebrated women and diversity alike, as hosted by Alicia Keys, who also played “The Entertainer” on two grand pianos at once.
Camila Cabello got the broadcast off to an exhilarating start with “Havana,” singing and dancing her way through the evening’s most impressive stage design with guest appearances by Cuban-American jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, an ageless and endearing Ricky Martin, Young Thug and J. Balvin, who brought the whole thing to an overheated climax with “Mi Gente.”
Michelle Obama and Lady Gaga
In her opening remarks, Keys asked the crowd, “Please, can I bring some of my sisters out here tonight?” by way of introducing Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jennifer Lopez and, earning the strongest reaction of them all, Michelle Obama.
Michelle Obama made a surprise appearance at the Grammys 2019 to support host Alicia Keys.
The first line of the First Lady’s comments, about how she’d grown up on Motown records, was drowned out by applause.
But Gaga’s speech hit hardest.
“They said I was weird,” she recalls. “That my look, my choices, my sound, that it wouldn’t work. But music told me not to listen to them. Music took my ears, took my hands, my voice and my soul and it led me to all of you and to my Little Monsters, who I love so much.”
She later returned in a glittering jumpsuit to lead her bandmates in a raucous rendition of “Shallow” from “A Star is Born” without her cinematic singer partner Bradley Cooper, who was at BAFTAs.
Saluting Dolly, Aretha, Diana, Motown
There were star-studded tributes to Dolly Parton and the late Aretha Franklin.
Jennifer Lopez paid tribute to Motown Records with the help of Smokey Robinson and Ne-Yo.
Motown’s own Diana Ross paid tribute to herself. Because she can. And it was great, Ross mentioning that we should celebrate her 75th birthday twice despite the fact that it’s in late March.
Miley Cyrus was seemingly everywhere, bringing real vocal fire to bear on Shawn Mendes’ “In My Blood” before trading lines with her godmother on Parton’s own “Jolene” as part of a tribute that also featured Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris, Little Big Town and Katy Perry, whose scenery-chewing approach to “Here You Come Again” was easily outclassed by Musgraves.
Was Janelle Monae top performance?
Janelle Monae turned in perhaps the best performance of the broadcast, flanked by latex-rocking dancers as she dusted off the Prince-inspired funk of “Make Me Feel.”
You know who was almost as great as Monae, though? St. Vincent, who shared the spotlight and apparently a stylist with Dua Lipa on a medley of her own “Masseduction” and Lipa’s “One Kiss,” which featured a brief but brilliant solo by St. Vincent.
Big wins for women, Gaga to Cardi B
Shortly after performing, a clearly emotional Lipa picked up Best New Artist and seized the moment to clap back at Portnow with masterful shade when she said of her fellow female nominees, “I guess this year we really stepped up.”
It was brilliant.
Lady Gaga won the broadcast’s first award, best pop duo/group performance for “Shallow,” an award she shares with Cooper.
Nearly four hours later, Kacey Musgraves picked up Album of the Year for “Golden Hour,” the final Grammy of the night. She also turned in one of Sunday’s best performances, singing “Rainbow” accompanied by a lone piano player.
Cardi B won Best Rap Album and exuded nothing but charisma of the Cardi B variety while performing “Money” and accepting her award. Visibly shaken and emotional, she started her says she was nervous, then quickly added, to hilarious effect, “Maybe I need to start smoking weed.”
It wasn’t all women, of course.
Childish Gambino makes history
Two of the night’s top honors – Song and Record of the Year – went to Childish Gambino for “This is America,” and deservedly so. The song and its accompanying video were a sobering reflection on gun violence, race and the general state of our divided union. It’s the first hip-hop song to win Song of the Year in Grammy history.
Drake made a surprise appearance to pick up a Grammy when “God’s Plan” won Best Rap Song. Sadly, his acceptance speech was cut short for commercials just as he was telling young musicians you don’t need a Grammy to tell you your music has value in this “opinion-based sport.”
Maybe Monday, Portnow can explain that the superstar’s speech was cut show because these young musicians need to learn that winning Grammys is the only way you’ll ever know if you’ve stepped up or not.
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