So after a wave of pre-show criticsm and anxiety over what potentially laid ahead with this year's winners, did the Grammys finally nail it in 2019? Well, mostly -- and certainly moreso than in any other year in recent memory -- but still not entirely. The genre categories continued to reflect an unfortunate voter tendency to go for the biggest name eligible, leading to relatively eye-rolling wins like Lady Gaga's "Joanne (Where Do You Think You're Goin'?)" -- an alternate version of a 2016 album track -- reigning in best pop solo performance, over some of the year's biggest radio hits, and Justice's career-spanning remix album Woman Worldwide taking best dance/electronic album, over more urgent sets from SOPHIE and Jon Hopkins. Meanwhile, the progress made in bringing gender equality to this year's Grammys was undermined slightly by a somewhat self-congratulatory final address from the departing Portnow, as well as an unnecessary compilation video of (mostly female) artists thanking him for his service -- time which could've been budgeted for acceptance speeches, so stars like Dua Lipa and Drake wouldn't need to get cut off mid-thanks.
But the show's biggest issues still lie with the hip-hop community. "This Is America" winning both song and record of the year is a massive first step towards the genre getting the Grammys recognition it demands, but it is lamentable that it took such a headline-catching song (and music video, of course) from such a major cross-platform, award-winning star for the Recording Academy to finally take the genre seriously in the Big Four. Meanwhile, Musgraves' win for Golden Hour means we still haven't had a hip-hop winner for the night's final award since Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2004; few would call Golden Hour an undeserving winner, but Cardi B's blockbuster Invasion of Privacy would've certainly made for a more timely one.
More pressingly, hip-hop went woefully underrepresented in the evening's performances. Only four rappers showed up across the 18 performances on Grammy night, and of the quartet, only Cardi's performance was unassisted. The others saw Young Thug showing up as a special guest for Camila Cabello's show-opening "Havana," Post Malone playing an accoustic ballad and then jamming out with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Travis Scott splitting mic time with James Blake and Earth, Wind and Fire before going off raging on his own. That's a pretty meager showing for a genre that commanded eight of the top 15 slots on Billboard's 2018 Top Artists year-end chart.
It wasn't necessarily due to a lack of trying on the Grammys' part: Ehrlich claimed that the show approached Drake, Childish Gambino and Kendrick Lamar -- three of the evening's biggest nominees -- about performing, but were turned down. But the fact that the show didn't have a backup plan for the stars bowing out is telling both of the bar rappers, even veteran ones, have to clear to be considered worthy of a Grammys performance (who wouldn't have loved a Pusha T performance?), and of how even in a night of such purposeful focus on female artists, Cardi was still the only female rapper to have a presence. Meanwhile, the big-name no-shows reflect an ongoing distrust between the Grammys and the rap world's premier players, following eons of snubs in the major categories. That hurt might've been soothed by the dual "This Is America" Big Four wins, but also might've been re-exacerbated by the producers cutting off Drake, an expected no-show, in the middle of his best rap album (for Scorpion) acceptance speech -- a speech which already challenged the notion of the Grammys as an arbiter of objective musical truth.
Ultimately, it was unquestionably a year of progress for the Grammys and the entire Recording Academy, in some very critical areas. But there's still a lot of work to be done: in repairing music's biggest night's relationship with music's biggest genre, in encouraging awards in all categories to go to the best artists and not just the most recognizable names, in making marquee artists feel like they're being treated with respect, and in ensuring the steps made this year in gender quality aren't backtracked if or when it becomes a less immediately pressing PR concern. The best thing you can say about the 2019 ceremonies, though, is that for the first time in a long time, we've been given reason to believe this is work the Grammys can actually get done one day.