Surprise: H.E.R.’s “I Can’t Breathe” took song of the year over several songs that were thought to have a better chance of winning, namely Beyoncé’s “Black Parade,” Taylor Swift’s “Cardigan” and Billie Eilish’s “Everything I Wanted.” The topicality and timeliness of “I Can’t Breathe” carried the day.
Surprise: Billie Eilish took record of the year for the second year in a row, for “Everything I Wanted.” She won last year for “Bad Guy.” Eilish is the first artist in Grammy history to win record of the year twice before turning 20 and before releasing a sophomore album. I think it’s safe to say the voters really, really like her.
Surprise: Anderson .Paak’s “Lockdown,” a non-album single that wasn’t a hit, won best melodic rap performance, beating three hits that topped the Hot 100 (“Rockstar” by DaBaby featuring Roddy Ricch, Ricch’s “The Box” and Travis Scott’s “Highest in the Room”) and another that reached No. 2 (“Laugh Now, Cry Later” by Drake featuring Lil Durk).
Snub: Jhené Aiko hosted the Premiere Ceremony, at which the vast majority of Grammys are presented, but didn’t get to take home a Grammy. Her Chilombo, though nominated for album of the year, didn’t win in its home genre category, best progressive R&B album. It lost to Thundercat’s It Is What It Is -- which is probably pretty close to what Aiko is saying about her Grammy night experience. Tiffany Haddish, who was asked to host the Premiere Ceremony (but declined when she was told she wouldn’t be paid), won her first Grammy for best comedy album for Black Mitzvah.
Surprise: “Better Than I Imagine,” a track by Robert Glasper featuring H.E.R. & Meshell Ndegeocello, beat Beyoncé’s “Black Parade” for best R&B song -- even though “Black Parade” was nominated for song of the year. Beyoncé has won best R&B song four times, more than anyone else.
Surprise: Jojo Rabbit won for best compilation soundtrack for visual media over the blockbuster Frozen 2 and the currently buzzy Eurovision Song Contest: The Song of Fire Saga. The eclectic soundtrack for Jojo Rabbit features tracks by The Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald, Tom Waits, Love and Roy Orbison, among others.
Snub: It may not be a snub, but it’s a disappointment to many that Mickey Guyton lost best country solo performance for “Black Like Me.” She was vying to become the first Black female country solo artist to win a Grammy. She lost to Vince Gill, who picked up his 22nd Grammy for “When My Amy Prays.”
Semi-surprise: Billie Eilish and Finneas won the award for best song written for visual media for a song from a film that still hasn’t been released -- “No Time to Die” from the James Bond movie of the same name. Their song beat two songs that were nominated for Oscars last year: “Stand Up” from Harriet and “Into the Unknown” from Frozen 2. No Time to Die was originally scheduled for release in November 2019. It was postponed several times, first because of the departure of Danny Boyle, the original director and co-writer, and then because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The film is now scheduled for release on Sept. 30 in the U.K. and on Oct. 8 in the U.S.
Surprise: Legendary children’s host Mr. Rogers beat two legends of Black music -- Nat King Cole and Prince. Well, sort of. It’s Such a Good Feeling: The Best of Mister Rogers won best historical album, topping the Cole retrospective Hittin’ the Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943) and the Prince reissue 1999 Super Deluxe Edition. Prince’s classic album was nominated for two 1983 Grammys but lost both to Michael Jackson in the year of Thriller.
Mild Surprise: Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice won best music film, topping a field that included Beyoncé’s Black Is King. This is the 11th Grammy for the beloved Ronstadt, one of the top female singers of the rock era. Beyoncé won last year for Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé.
Surprise: Gillian Welch & David Rawlings’ All the Good Times won best folk album, beating the final studio album by the late Leonard Cohen, the poignantly titled Thanks for the Dance. Cohen died in November 2016.