Last Sunday, Trevor Noah hosted the highly anticipated 63rd Annual Grammy Awards Show. The unique event was noticeably different from its predecessors, due in part to ongoing Coronavirus restrictions as well as larger social pressures. Indeed, the 63rd Grammy Awards should be recognized for what it was— a symbol of the times which we are living in.
For many people watching the awards show at home, it seemed like a blast from a not-so-distant past. A time when we could turn on the television and watch celebrities dazzle us on the red-carpet, effortlessly interacting with one another without ever mentioning the words ‘six feet apart.’ A time when celebrities didn’t attend award shows from their living rooms, and weren’t interrupted by poor internet connections. A time that feels particularly far away as we reach the one year anniversary of Coronavirus lockdowns.
This is because, unlike other awards shows, the Grammys made a concerted effort to make sure that the show didn’t just feel like a Zoom meeting. Instead of awarding winners remotely, the majority of the show took place outside, in a scaled-down, socially distant, celebration that took place at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The result of this was a more intimate show than its predecessors. Nominees were seated at socially distant tables, and were able to accept their awards live and in-person. Trevor Noah effortlessly addressed these changes in his opening monologue, poking fun at the Los Angeles air quality in the process. “As you can see here, we are outside. Meaning we get to enjoy the great Los Angeles air, which I know may be as dangerous as COVID, but we’re willing to take the risk.”
Due to the in-person nature of the event, nominees were tasked with turning face masks into a fashion statement, arguably the most physical symbol of the ongoing global pandemic. After a year of mask-mandates, the face mask has become as much a part of our outfits as jeans and a t-shirt are, but at the 63rd Grammy awards, celebrities took this accessory to a whole new level. Taylor Swift turned heads with a floral face mask made with embroidered flowers that matched the rest of her outfit. Harry Styles wore a yellow-plaid mask that complemented his plaid-Gucci suit. Meghan Thee Stallion showed up in a gorgeous satin-orange face mask that worked perfectly with the rest of her Dolce & Gabbana get up. I wonder if anyone was this stylish during the Black Plague?
The night was home to many memorable moments. Beyonce made history after winning four more awards, bringing her lifetime total to a record-breaking 28 Grammys— making her the most decorated woman in the show’s history, according to the New York Times. Beyonce’s daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, also won big, taking home her first Grammy at the age of 9 for her role in one of her mother’s music video. Taylor Swift’s quarantine LP “Folklore” won album of the year. And in between the awards, fans enjoyed performances by Meghan Thee Stallion, Harry Styles, Dua Lipa, Cardi B and more. After a year devoid of live music, these stars and others gave us a glimpse of the world which we will (hopefully) soon be returning to.
While Coronavirus restrictions did set this show apart from its predecessors, they weren’t the only reason that the show felt different this year. Throughout the evening, the show continued to highlight the contributions of women in the music industry, as well as the impact of the Black Lives Matter Protests— putting police brutality and racial justice on center stage. In a particularly powerful moment, Lil Baby directly referenced police brutality and the summer of protests while performing his track “The Bigger Picture.” The song was written as a response to the tragic killing of George Floyd and the resulting nationwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations. R&B singer H.E.R. was awarded song of the year for her protest song “I Can’t Breath.” Like Lil Baby, H.E.R. was inspired by the surge of activism that took place last summer, naming the track after George Floyd’s powerful last words that shook the nation to its core.
However, while these moments may have been striking, the Grammys continue to face controversy over their voting system and accusations of bias against women and black artists. Prior to the event, Canadian pop star The Weeknd criticized the show after his critically acclaimed, record breaking album: After Hours, failed to receive a single nomination. The Weeknd has vowed to boycott the Grammys moving forward, joining a growing list of black musicians who have publicly criticized the award show.
These accusations of bias took center stage when Billie Eilish was awarded record of the year instead of Meghan Thee Stallion. After winning the award the singer used her acceptance speech to criticize the decision, stating that Meghan Thee Stallion deserved to win instead. “This is really embarrassing for me,” Eilish stated. “Megan… I was going to write a speech about how you deserve this. But then I was like, ‘There’s no way they’re gonna choose me.'” For many, the incident felt eerily similar to Adele’s 2017 acceptance speech after winning album of the year. The singer dedicated her win to Beyonce, stating that her 2016 album, Lemonade, should’ve won instead. For many, this incident stands as a reminder that systemic issues within the Grammys have not gone away—- and therefore can not be ignored.