Call it payback or a long overdue acknowledgment, but the 61st annual Grammy Awards essentially served up a three-hour-plus nationally televised tribute to women in music Sunday.
The Grammys certainly had some making up to do after last year’s fiasco of an awards show that put women performers on the back-burner. Only one woman accepted an award during the 2018 telecast, and Recording Academy president Neil Portnow advised that women “need to step up” to broaden recognition.
In reality, it was the Grammys that needed to step up in meeting the moment in pop history, when women artists are reframing pop culture. The Sunday telecast was in many ways defined by women in their performances, speeches and many awards.
After winning for best rap album (“Invasion of Privacy”), Cardi B offered a kind of unfiltered genuineness rarely glimpsed at an awards show when she offered a halting, emotional and honest picture of what it felt like to be a pregnant working woman.
During the broadcast, Kacey Musgraves won album of the year and best country album (“Golden Hour”), Dua Lipa won best new artist, H.E.R. took home best R&B album (“H.E.R.”) and Lady Gaga collected one of her three awards for the song “Shallow.” The one male performer to break through in the top categories was Childish Gambino, whose “This is America” won both song and record of the year.
Some high- and low-lights from the 61st annual Grammy Awards telecast Sunday night:
After last year’s Grammys relegated women performers to a background role, the first 40 minutes of the broadcast were filled with an array of strong female voices: Camila Cabello, Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Dolly Parton and a real rock star — Michelle Obama – who got the kind of ovation most of the night’s performers could only dream about.
The “A Star is Born” freight train
The Grammys love their Hollywood tie-ins, but as “A Star is Born” co-star Lady Gaga accepted her best pop duo/group vocal performance for “Shallow,” she used the opportunity to make a tear-filled plea. “I’m so proud to be part of a movie that addresses mental health issues… A lot of artists deal with that… if you see someone who’s hurting, don’t turn away.”
Amid a bevy of women whose careers she influenced, Dolly Parton demonstrated that she’s still got a few more lessons to teach, whether investing her classic “Jolene” with mountain-soul heart-ache, bringing stripped-down poignancy to Neil Young’s “After the Goldrush,” or elevating her recent song “Red Shoes” to the gospel heavens.
Post Malone somehow got shoe-horned into a Red Hot Chili Peppers song as a guitarist, which makes no sense at all, in the head-slapping tradition of Linkin Park and Paul McCartney (2006), Stevie Wonder and the Jonas Brothers (2009), Deadmau5 and Foo Fighters (2012) and so many more.
A country detour wins big
Kacey Musgraves collected a country album of the year award for “Golden Hour,” a decidedly personal and nontraditional take on the music she loved since she was a kid. Her performance of “Rainbow,” draped in the symbolic colors of the LBGTQ pride flag, spoke to the album’s progressive perspective.
The best android-funk singer on the planet
Janelle Monae channeled some Prince and melded it with alien flair on “Make Me Feel,” which only underlined the power of her latest album, “Dirty Computer.”
Cotton Club connection
Cardi B tipped her hat to legendary French entertainer and activist Josephine Baker with a randy performance straight out of 1920s nightclub, whether writhing atop a grand piano or strutting in peacock feathers.
Before he was so rudely interrupted
A TV commercial cut off Drake’s acceptance speech for best rap song (“God’s Plan”), which is too bad, because he actually was in the midst of making a good point about awards shows: “We play an opinion based sport, not a factual based sport…you already won if you have people singing your songs word for word, if they’re singing in your hometown. You’re already winning, you don’t need this right here.”
Diana Ross carried herself like the diva she always was, but her brief set in celebration of her forthcoming 75th birthday sunk into supper-club dullness. Just as dire was Motown tribute led by Jennifer Lopez, which took a sound brimming with grit, heart-break and hooks into a Vegas routine.
Buddy Guy isn’t slowing down. At 82, he nailed down his eighth Grammy for best traditional blues album (“The Blues Is Alive and Well”).
Photo Credit: ABC News