Every year, the biggest stars in music get together to watch each other perform, walk a red carpet, and balance an armload of golden gramophone statuettes.
And every year, the actual presentation of Grammy awards becomes less and less important. Though the Recording Academy hands out 84 categories’ worth of awards every year, only the biggest get handed out during the show, and even those get pressed for time.
Instead, the biggest night in music is about performance, be it in a musical number, behind a podium, or on the red carpet. The 59th Annual Grammy Awards, held on Sunday night, weren’t the best performance the music industry has ever put on.
The pacing was off, there were plenty of poorly timed jokes, and there were more mistakes than moments of gold. But no matter how good the show is, the Grammys are always one of the most talked about nights in music.
So let’s take a look at the night through its most instantly iconic and most utterly uncomfortable moments. Because this is, after all, a night all about winning, we’ll be breaking the night down by handing out golden gramophones to the winners, and pitying the utter losers:
Adele cried no fewer than three times at the Grammys on Sunday.
For the second time, she took home three of the big four Grammy awards: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year. Adele also won all three of the major awards in 2012 for her 2011 album 21. And this year’s Grammys, in all aspects, revolved around Adele. The opening shot of the night was her singing “Hello,” and the final shot was of her hugging her producer Greg Kurstin.
Had she not won almost every major award of the night, though, the biggest moment of the show would have still revolved around her. Adele was supposed to sing a slower-paced, more emotional version of George Michael’s “Fastlove” in tribute to the singer, but no more than five bars into the song, she stopped the performance, saying that she had to, “get this right,” and she started the performance over again. CBS bleeped out her response to the mess-up, but she could be seen mouthing an f-bomb. It was a moment of perfectionism and displayed the humility that she would continue throughout the night.
In what will probably become the most talked-about moment of the night, Adele claimed that she could not accept the award for Album of the Year, saying that she thought the award belonged instead to Beyoncé for her stunning album Lemonade. Earlier in the night she told Beyoncé from the stage, “I want you to be my mommy.”
Adele did not actually hand over her gramophone to Beyoncé during the ceremony, but her acknowledgement that Beyoncé was yet again shut out of the big four Grammy categories, despite creating an incredible work of art, was an important, considerate, and seemingly sincere thing to do. Her intentions will almost certainly be questioned and dissected in the next few days, but Adele has never been a very good actress, and her shock and immediate deference to Beyoncé’s work certainly shows appreciation and reverence.
There are very few rooms where Beyoncé isn’t a winner. Despite losing out to Adele on her major nominations for the night, Beyoncé still put on an incredible show during her performance to close out the telecast’s first hour. She started the set with a hologram interactive of her, her daughter Blue Ivy, and her mother interacting in various poses that represented fertility, femininity, and regality. She wore a halo of gold reminiscent of Pacheco’s 1621 Immaculate Conception painting of the virgin Mary, surrounded by dancers wearing halos of their own. Beyoncé was showered with flowers as she sang two of Lemonade’s slower songs: “Sandcastles” and “Love Drought.”
“Women like her cannot be contained,” Beyoncé’s voiceover said at the beginning of the performance, and she definitely could not be at this year’s Grammys: She took home Best Urban Contemporary Album and Best Music Video, and when Adele professed how much she loved Lemonade from the stage, Beyoncé’s eyes shone with tears.
Though she may have lost the big three awards to Adele, nothing about Beyoncé’s behavior could label her a loser.
Loser: sound mixing
It’s incredibly difficult to mix the sound for an arena performance, much less for more than a dozen different performers using separate stages and backing sounds. But it’s also impossible to forget how difficult it is to engineer sound, because the Grammys never make it look easy. Every year, there is at least one technical blip in the Grammys’ three-hour-plus telecast, but it was truly astounding how many issues this year’s ceremony had.
Most notable was Adele’s f-bomb-laden pause during her in-memoriam tribute for George Michael. It would be easy to blame the stumble on Adele, especially given her rocky performance at last year’s Grammys; but, as was the case then, too, problems like this almost always happen when an artist can’t hear themselves in an earpiece due to poor mixing.
Adele’s flub was the most obvious flaw of the night, but far from the only one.
When Tori Kelly walked on stage to participate in the Bee Gees tribute, I barely even registered her messing with her earpiece, because so many people had done it before her. Alicia Keys’s alto was mixed lower than Maren Morris’s, making their voices blend together instead of sounding distinct and full. Metallica’s James Hetfield’s microphone wasn’t working at all during the first half of the group’s otherwise-passable set with Lady Gaga.
These kind of sound issues might be more acceptable at the Emmys or Oscars, but when the entire show depends on the sound, it’s pretty important to get the mixing right.
Winner/Loser: political commentary
For the first two-thirds of the Grammys, every single political reference was halfhearted at best.
Paris Jackson started off the night’s blithe political references with a reference to #NODaPL. Laverne Cox referenced a future Supreme Court case. Katy Perry wore an armband with the word “Persist” and stood in front of the preamble to the Constitution projected on a wall. The president of the Recording Academy even called on the president and Congress to “update music laws” and “support the arts.” All of these movements, no matter how well-intentioned, felt fairly empty during such an otherwise glitzy night.
Then, in one of the most riveting moments of the night, Anderson .Paak joined A Tribe Called Quest for a performance bedazzled with political statements. Standing on the center stage, the group thanked “President Agent Orange” for the Muslim ban and had backup dancers knock down a wall onstage. The group ended the performance with raised fists; “Resist. Resist. Resist,” was chanted as the set ended, concluding the show’s only outwardly political statement with real heart and guts.
Loser: Joy Villa
Joy Villa, who goes by the stage name Princess Joy Villa, made the first headlines of the night, arriving on the Grammy red carpet wearing what looked like a giant white poncho, only to strip it off in front of the paparazzi to reveal a dress sporting Donald Trump’s signature campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” in vertical sparkling letters.
A multiracial artist actress and singer, Joy Villa wasn’t nominated for anything at this year’s Grammys — her Instagram profile says she’s a “Grammy Considered Artist” — abut she still managed to snag her own piece of the spotlight with her puzzling fashion statement. That may be a win for her PR people, but it wasn’t really a win for her.
Winner: David Bowie
In his entire music career leading up to this year’s Grammys, David Bowie had only won a single regular Grammy — Best Video, Short Form in 1985 for “Jazzin’ for Blue Jean.” (He was also presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.) That means that until tonight, Bowie had never won an award for his work as an individual artist.
Before this year’s show even began, though, Bowie — who received an in-memoriam tribute treatment at last year’s Grammys — took home four posthumous awards: Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical (Blackstar), Best Rock Performance (“Blackstar”), Best Alternative Album (Blackstar), and Best Recording Package (Blackstar). And in winning Best Rock Song during the live show, Bowie won for every category he was nominated in.
Loser: James Corden
The Grammys, possibly jealous of every other awards show, decided to bench LL Cool J this year and hand the hosting reins over to late-night personality, “Carpool Karaoke” host, and CBS mainstay James Corden.
Corden began the night by falling down a flight of stairs, and then wearing one shoe to sing a constructed rap meant to kick off the night in spectacular fashion, I guess.
Part of the reason the Grammys have never had a traditional host like other awards shows, though, is that the Grammys are already packed full of performances. The show does not need Ellen DeGeneres creating a group selfie, because it has a dozen superstars performing choreographed sets.
The addition of James Corden to the Grammys’ already-crowded night not only added a mess of gimmicky moments that were completely unnecessary (a joke about Corden’s parents swinging, for example), it took away from the already little time allotted to the actual award winners: The show played off Greg Kurstin when he tried to give speech after Adele for their Song of the Year win, and yet made plenty of time for James Corden to do an extended Carpool Karaoke gag.
That’s not necessarily Corden’s fault — CBS chose him to host for a reason, after all — but he frankly can’t out-perform most of the big names on the Grammys stage, and it was cruel to make him try.
Winner: Chance the Rapper
The two things Chance the Rapper is most well-known for are his gospel inspiration and being an independent artist — and he took every chance to hammer both of those brands home at this year’s Grammys.
The Chicago performer kicked off the night with a Best New Artist win for his mixtape Coloring Book, an R&B album laden with Gospel references, and used his moment in the spotlight to continually repeat “glory to God,” while accepting his award. And when he won Best Rap Album, he dedicated it to “the indie artists who’ve been doing this stuff for a long time.”
Where Chance truly shined, though, was in his performance toward the end of the show, when he sang “How Great” with a full choir and gospel-music superstar Kirk Franklin. Even though his mic was turned down so low you could barely hear him, he was dynamic, and he moved straight into a high-energy rendition of “Blessings,” pacing back and forth and jumping around the entire stage.
Chance’s dependence on gospel inspiration may be nearing its tipping point, but for tonight, it served as a perfect conduit for his impressive talent.