The 2021 Grammy Awards: performers, nominees, location adapt to COVID challenges

Beyonce, shown at the premiere Of Disney's ''The Lion King'' on July 9, 2019, is nominated for a leading nine Grammy Awards. The postponed ceremony will be held March 14, 2021.
Beyonce, shown at the premiere Of Disney's ''The Lion King'' on July 9, 2019, is nominated for a leading nine Grammy Awards. The postponed ceremony will be held March 14, 2021.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Beyoncé is the leading nominee; performances planned from Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, BTS and dozens of other artists.

What will be different about the 63rd annual Grammy Awards?

Um, did you not experience 2020?

Then you know that nothing can remain the same.

From the date to the location to the presentation hosted by “The Daily Show” maestro Trevor Noah, the annual production steered by the Recording Academy has been forced to adapt. (The show was planned as usual for late January but postponed due to the COVID-19 surge in their home base of California.)

Since 2000, the Grammy Awards parked at the Staples Center — with the exception of a couple of years at Madison Square Garden — but the inner sanctum will be different this year. The majority of performances (some taped, some live) will originate from the Los Angeles Convention Center — adjacent to the Staples Center — but producers also plan to utilize many of the streets of the surrounding L.A. Live complex.

While ratings for other pandemic-era awards shows have plummeted, the Grammys are unique with its combination of multi-genre/multi-generational performers and the fact that such performances populate about 80 percent of the show. Music fans ravenous for glitzy production numbers should be sated with a starry and diverse lineup that includes show opener Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, Megan Thee Stallion and BTS, the inaugural K-Pop band to perform at the ceremony.

Harry Styles, shown performing for the "Today" show in February 2020, will open the 2021 Grammy Awards on March 14. (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA) (Sipa via AP Images)
Harry Styles, shown performing for the "Today" show in February 2020, will open the 2021 Grammy Awards on March 14. (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA) (Sipa via AP Images)

Credit: Sipa USA via AP

Credit: Sipa USA via AP

First-time executive producer Ben Winston, who takes over after a storied, 40-year run by Ken Ehrlich, told Variety that the show will abide by strict COVID-19 protocols with a setup of four stages arranged in a circle that each feature a separate backstage area. Since no audience will occupy the convention center, performers will rely on each other as a cheering gallery.

Another unique aspect of this year’s show is the planned tribute to independent venues. Some awards will be presented by behind-the-scenes venue workers — such as bartenders and box office managers — from The Troubadour and The Hotel Café in Los Angeles, The Apollo Theater in New York City and The Station Inn in Nashville.

“There is an undeniable interest in this years’ Grammy Awards Telecast,” said Michele Caplinger, senior executive director of the Atlanta Chapter of the Recording Academy. “Ben (Winston) brings a new vitality and verve to ‘Music’s Biggest Night,’ and there’ll be a spectacular lineup of performers, surprises and silver linings. It goes without saying, I’ll be rooting for the many Georgia-based Grammy nominees, so what’s not to be excited about?”

Here is what else to expect at the 2021 Grammy Awards, which airs at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 14, on CBS and will also stream on Paramount+ (the recently rebranded CBS All Access).

The top nominees and predictions:

Beyoncé leads the pack with nine nominations, followed by Dua Lipa, Roddy Ricch and Swift with six each.

Album of the year: Jhené Aiko (“Chilombo”); Black Pumas (“Black Pumas, Deluxe Edition”); Coldplay (“Everyday Life”); Jacob Collier (“Djesse Vol. 3”); Lipa (“Future Nostalgia”); Haim (“Women in Music Pt. III”); Post Malone (“Hollywood’s Bleeding”); Swift (“Folklore”).

Who will win: Betting lines are tight between Swift and Lipa, but the edge goes to Swift for her surprise pandemic-crafted collection of stripped-back songs veering from thoughtful to whimsical. If Swift triumphs, it will be the third album of the year victory of her career (following 2015′s “1989” and 2009′s “Fearless”), making her the first woman to accomplish that feat.

Song of the year: Swift (“Cardigan”); Beyoncé (“Black Parade”); Lipa (“Don’t Start Now”); Ricch (“The Box”); JP Saxe featuring Julia Michaels (“If the World Was Ending”); H.E.R. (“I Can’t Breathe”); Billie Eilish (“Everything I Wanted”); and Malone (“Circles”).

Who will win: Although Eilish — who swept last year’s Big Four Grammy categories — is the new constant threat, Grammy voters will reward Swift for the unlikely hit from “Folklore.” It’s one of her most delicate offerings, and this is a songwriter’s award, so the math makes sense.

Taylor Swift released "Folklore" in the summer of 2020 and then her second album of the year on Dec. 11, "Evermore."
Taylor Swift released "Folklore" in the summer of 2020 and then her second album of the year on Dec. 11, "Evermore."

Credit: Beth Garrabrant

Credit: Beth Garrabrant

Record of the Year: Beyoncé (“Black Parade”); Eilish (“Everything I Wanted”); Lipa (“Don’t Start Now”); Malone (“Circles”); “Colors” (Black Pumas); “Rockstar” (DaBaby featuring Ricch); “Say So” (Doja Cat); and “Savage” (Megan Thee Stallion).

Who will win: For as many Grammys as Beyoncé has — that would be 24 — they’re primarily in secondary categories such as best R&B song and contemporary R&B album. The academy will — and should – reward her in a marquee category for the song she dropped on Juneteenth.

Megan Thee Stallion during a 2019 portrait session in New York. The "Savage" rapper is nominated for four Grammy Awards. (Photo by Victoria Will /Invision/AP)
Megan Thee Stallion during a 2019 portrait session in New York. The "Savage" rapper is nominated for four Grammy Awards. (Photo by Victoria Will /Invision/AP)

Credit: Victoria Will

Credit: Victoria Will

Best new artist: Ingrid Andress, Phoebe Bridgers, Chika, Noah Cyrus, D Smoke, Doja Cat, Kaytranada and Megan Thee Stallion.

Who will win: There’s much solid competition here, but no one should doubt that the fierce Megan Thee Stallion will snag this one. (She’s nominated for three additional awards.)

The performers:

Half of the artists in the lineup will take their inaugural Grammy stage bow: BTS, Bad Bunny, Black Pumas, DaBaby, Doja Cat, Mickey Guyton, Haim, Lil Baby, Megan Thee Stallion, Ricch and Styles.

Swift will perform for the first time in five years (this will mark her seventh appearance), while other repeat players include Cardi B, Brandi Carlile, Eilish, Brittany Howard, Miranda Lambert, Lipa, Chris Martin of Coldplay, John Mayer, Maren Morris and Malone.

Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s new collaboration, Silk Sonic, was a late addition to the lineup after Mars took to social media for an amusing plea to perform on the show.

The one notable absence: top nominee Beyoncé.

The locals:

Georgia always offers an impressive throng of nominees — not just performers, but producers and songwriters as well. The state has also welcomed some transplants who are officially part of the Atlanta chapter, while others, such as Chloe x Halle are now L.A.-based, but Atlanta born (the sisters scored a trio of nods: best progressive R&B album, “Ungodly Hour,”; best traditional R&B performance, “Wonder What She Thinks of Me”; and best R&B song, “Do It”).

Lil Baby performs during the annual Hot 107.9 Birthday Bash at State Farm Arena in Atlanta on Saturday, June 15, 2019.
Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com
Lil Baby performs during the annual Hot 107.9 Birthday Bash at State Farm Arena in Atlanta on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

Other familiar names include Future (best music video, “Life Is Good” with Drake); Lil Baby (best rap performance and best rap song, “The Bigger Picture”); Lecrae (best contemporary Christian music performance/song category, “Sunday Morning” — along with Atlanta songwriter Lasanna Harris — and best gospel performance/song, “Come Together,” with Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins Presents: The Good News); Big Sean (best rap performance, “Deep Reverence” with Nipsey Hussle); Luke James (best R&B album, “To Feel Love/d”); Migos’ Quavo (best pop duo/group performance, “One Day” with Justin Bieber); Jack Harlow (best rap performance, “What’s Poppin’”); Earthgang with Tiana Major9 (best R&B song, “Collide”); engineer/mixer Colin Leonard (factors in Beyoncé's “Black Parade” and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage”); Samuel Gloade (co-writer of Ricch’s “The Box”); and Terius Nash (aka The-Dream, co-writer of “Savage”).

The Premiere Ceremony:

Viewers only see limited awards presented during the telecast of the Grammys’ 84 categories. The majority of trophies are bestowed during the three-hour Premiere Ceremony, and in recent years, the Recording Academy has endeavored to create a fulfilling experience for artists in categories that will never see prime time (e.g., best instrumental composition, best improvised jazz solo).

This year’s Premiere Ceremony — which streams live on Grammy.com at 3 p.m. — will be hosted by Jhené Aiko, who is nominated for three awards, and feature an array of performances from artists including Rufus Wainwright, Burna Boy, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes and Poppy. The presentation will kick off with a tribute to the 50th anniversary of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)” with a collective of players including the Afro-Peruvian Jazz Orchestra, Ledisi, PJ Morton, Grace Potter and Regina Carter.

Current nominees Bill Burr, Chika, Infante and former Recording Academy Chair Jimmy Jam will present the slew of awards.

Follow The Atlanta Music Scene on AJC.com for full coverage of the Grammy Awards.

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