Host Noah easily fulfilled any step-count goals as he bopped from outside with nominees to inside with performers. He proved equally deft with early jokes that swiped at politics and paltry streaming payments for artists.
As the leading nominee heading into the ceremony with nine, Beyonce’s quartet of victories emphasized her dominance. Her two wins with Megan Thee Stallion for “Savage” (co-written by Atlanta’s Terius Nash, aka The-Dream) and her own for best music video for “Brown Skin Girl” with daughter Blue Ivy and best R&B performance for “Black Parade,” stretched her total wins to 28, surpassing Alison Krauss for the most-ever by a female artist.
As she accepted her record-breaking trophy, Beyonce said, “As an artist, I believe it’s my job and all of our jobs to reflect the times and it’s been such a difficult time. So I wanted to uplift and encourage and celebrate all of the beautiful Black queens and kings who continue to inspire me.”
Megan Thee Stallion picked up the third trophy of her career (she also scored best new artist and best rap performance) with Beyonce by her side, beaming as her fellow Houstonian shared that, “If you know me, you have to know that ever since I was little, it was a goal to be the rap Beyonce.”
Although Megan Thee Stallion ceded the record of the year win to Billie Eilish’s “Everything I Wanted,” she received genuine praise from her peer.
“You deserve this,” Eilish said, looking at the rapper. “You are a queen. I want to cry thinking about how much I love you. I root for you, always.”
The introspective musical renderings of Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” merited her album of the year honors, the third of her career, which makes her the only female artist to accomplish the feat.
During the show, Swift, channeling Snow White and Joni Mitchell in her flowing sleeves and subtle hairpiece, offered an elegant performance — first atop a mossy roof then inside a little wooden house — for portions of “Cardigan,” “August” and “Willow.”
Swift gave a rare public acknowledgement of boyfriend Joe Alwyn, calling him the first person she ever plays songs for, and also credited her devoted fans. “You guys met us in this imaginary world we created and we can’t tell you how honored we are,” she said
Cerebral R&B singer/guitarist H.E.R. surprised with her song of the year win for “I Can’t Breathe,” which she said she wrote in the bedroom of her mother’s house.
“I didn’t imagine that my fear and my pain would turn into impact and possibly into change, and I think that’s what this is about,” she said. “Remember, we are the change that we wish to see.”
The 2021 production opened with a trio of performances to maximize the unique setup of four amply spaced stages.
Harry Styles cooed in black leather pants and jacket, his tattooed chest exposed and a full length olive-colored feather boa draped around him, for a slinky rendition of “Watermelon Sugar.” He would later win his inaugural Grammy (best pop solo performance) for the song.
Eilish stood atop a car hood, brother Finneas behind her on keyboards, for the ethereal “Everything I Wanted.” Along with sweeping the major categories at the 2020 Grammys and her record of the year nod, Eilish also buffed her fledgling resume with a win for her James Bond theme, “No Time to Die” (best song written for visual media), increasing her total to seven.
And, with the other artists as their only crowd reception, Haim made their Grammy performance debut with the sunny SoCal pop of “The Steps.”
Hip-hop’s dominance was highlighted with an elaborate showing from DaBaby, who wore jewel-encrusted white gloves as he commanded a stage with backup singers in judicial robes and enlisted Roddy Ricch and Anthony Hamilton to join him for “Rockstar.” Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B and Atlanta’s Lil Baby (nominated for two rap awards) also carried the hip-hop flame.
Lil Baby’s incendiary performance of “The Bigger Picture” in front of the Los Angeles Convention Center included a cameo from Killer Mike as they simulated the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks by an Atlanta police officer and the subsequent torching of the Wendy’s where the killing occurred.
Megan Thee Stallion mixed burlesque into her booty-shaking anthem, “Body” and “Savage” before Cardi B, hair short and blond, appeared for a futuristic run through “Up” and, with Megan, “WAP,” the show’s most inarguably lascivious performance.
Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak debuted their throwback soul project, Silk Sonic, with a finger-snapping performance of “Leave the Door Open,” their rust-colored three-piece suits and tinted glasses the perfect complements to the lover man ballad.
The “in memoriam” portion — producers reportedly had to sift through a record 800 submissions — was deeply felt in a year that included so much loss. Deservedly lengthy, the segment excelled with a series of live performances: Mars and Paak honored Little Richard with a suitably untamed “Good Golly Miss Molly”; Lionel Richie crooned “Lady” for his friend Kenny Rogers, ending with a heartfelt, “I miss you, man”; Brandi Carlile heralded John Prine with the poignant “I Remember Everything”; and Brittany Howard, with Chris Martin on piano, effectively closed the tribute with a visceral “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Later in the show, BTS beamed in from Korea for a sprightly performance of “Dynamite.” While the impeccably prepared group didn’t win a Grammy — they were nominated for best pop duo/group performance, but lost to Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s “Rain on Me” — they became the first K-Pop artists to perform on the show.
Among the other victors, Dua Lipa won best pop vocal album for “Future Nostalgia” (“Happiness is something that we all deserve,” she said); Miranda Lambert secured her third Grammy for her opus, “Wildcard” (best country album); and Fiona Apple collected her first wins since 1997 with best alternative music album (“Fetch the Bolt Cutters) and best rock performance (”Shameika”).
The late Prine and Chick Corea also each added two more Grammys to their legacy.
Prine, who succumbed to COVID-19 in April, won best American roots performance and best American roots song (“I Remember Everything”).
Corea died in February. His nods for best improvised jazz solo (“All Blues”) and best jazz instrumental album (“Trilogy,” with Christian McBride and Brian Blade) prompted wife Gayle Moran to choke up slightly while accepting on his behalf.
“Sweetheart,” she said, “you know you’re going to keep music going forever in our hearts.”