Women were front and center at the 61st Grammy Awards, which aired Sunday night. The show was hosted by Alicia Keys, and she skillfully moved the show along while also, at one point, playing two pianos simultaneously. And country star Kacey Musgraves won album of the year, the biggest prize of the night, for “Golden Hour.” She tied with Childish Gambino for four awards, the most of any artist.
If you missed all or some of the show, here’s a ranking of the 18 performances from the night. And here are seven big moments not to miss:
So ... what was the former first lady doing at the Grammy Awards? While there was no explanation given, it’s worth noting that her former chief of staff, Tina Tchen, runs the Recording Academy’s diversity and inclusion task force. Either way, the audience was thrilled when she took the stage for a segment with Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Jada Pinkett Smith and Alicia Keys.
After the other three talked about their appreciation for music, Obama started to speak, but the crowd’s applause drowned her out. “Alright, we got a show to do!” she laughed, and then segued into her own tribute, which of course included a reference to Beyoncé:
She continued: “Whether we like country or rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves. Our dignity, our sorrows, our hopes and joys. It allows us to hear one another, to invite each other in. Music shows us that all of it matters, every story within every voice, every note within every song.”
Lady Gaga had a great night with a headbanging performance of “Shallow,” the signature ballad from “A Star Is Born” — not to mention three awards: pop solo performance for “Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Goin’?)” and visual media song and pop duo-group performance for “Shallow.” She accepted the latter prize on the telecast and gave a shout-out to her duo partner, Bradley Cooper, who was attending the BAFTAs in London.
She also got serious in her speech as she talked about how “A Star Is Born” addresses mental health (Specifically, Cooper’s character, who is an addict.)
“A lot of artists deal with that, and we gotta take care of each other. So if you see somebody that’s hurting, don’t look away,” she said. “And if you’re hurting, even though it might be hard, try to find that bravery within yourself to dive deep and go tell somebody, and take them up in your head with you.”
Let’s be real: The Grammys telecast is mostly just one big concert, and there were some pretty amazing performances. Dolly Parton is such a hard worker that she headlined her own career retrospective medley that featured goddaughter Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves and Little Big Town, and closed out with a rousing “9 to 5,” which brought the crowd to its feet.
On the other end of the spectrum, Diana Ross paid tribute to herself, by herself, with a 75th public birthday performance that came six weeks before her actual birthday (only she can do this). Alicia Keys took a break from hosting to play two pianos at once while covering eight songs. J. Lo, for some reason, took the lead on the Motown tribute. Travis Scott scaled a fence. Janelle Monáe brought out the vagina pants. And Ricky Martin went to “Havana” with Camila Cabello. (Again, you can read our ranking of the evening’s performances here.)
In accepting the award for best new artist, British pop star Dua Lipa said it was an honor “to be nominated alongside so many incredible female artists this year, because this year I guess we really stepped up?” — a direct shading of Recording Academy president Neil Portnow.
Last year, when asked backstage about the lack of women performing and winning at televised awards, Portnow said it has to begin with “women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers and want to be part of the industry on the executive level … [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome.” The backlash was immediate, with the hashtag #GrammysSoMale.
Well, Dua Lipa’s speech Sunday came right before a prerecorded montage in which famous musicians spent several minutes singing the praises of Portnow — oof, talk about timing — before Portnow himself stepped onstage to talk about improving diversity and gender equity.
Cardi B ended up winning, and said in an Instagram video backstage, “I read an article that Mac Miller’s family said if he don’t win, they want me to win, so I’m sharing this Grammy with you.”
The Bronx rapper became the first solo artist to win best rap album (Lauryn Hill was the first woman, who won in 1997 along with the rest of the Fugees). Cardi B thanked her daughter and said, “When I found out I was pregnant, my album was not complete. I had, like, three songs I was for sure having. And then you know how it was: We was like, ‘We have to get this album done so I could shoot these videos while I'm still not showing.’ And it was very long nights.”
The win came after Cardi showed up on the red carpet with an entourage to help with her 1995 couture Thierry Mugler flower dress and after her performance of “Money,” which included a fierce piano intro, plush couches, backup dancers doing a bunch of timed spread eagles and a lingering question: Was she lip-syncing?
One of the night’s biggest winners was Childish Gambino (known in his many other artistic endeavors as Donald Glover), but the multitalented auteur was nowhere to be found, leading to a couple awkward moments — such as when his song “This Is America” became the first hip-hop track to win song of the year and record of the year, and he wasn’t there to take home either.
He wasn’t the only star to skip the ceremony this year. Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande all watched on television, if they watched the ceremony at all. Gambino’s absence is particularly unsurprising. He reportedly turned down the opportunity to perform at the awards, though it’s not clear why. Perhaps his experience from last year was to blame: He sang onstage during that telecast — when he was up for the two biggest Grammy awards — and won neither.