Bruno Mars cleaned up the major categories, Kendrick Lamar swept the rap field, JAY-Z and SZA were both shut out and Kesha’s performance rose above the rest for its power and resilience at the 60th annual Grammy Awards Sunday night (Jan. 28).
The three top honors — album, record and song of the year — were all won by Mars for his album 24K Magic, its title track and the single “That’s What I Like,” respectively, while Alessia Cara took home best new artist in one of the category’s most hotly-contested fields in years, with SZA, Khalid, Julia Michaels and Lil Uzi Vert all worthy nominees. “I’ve been pretend-winning Grammys since I was a kid, so you’d think I’d have this speech thing down,” Cara said while accepting her honor early in the evening. “You guys are the reason I don’t have to win Grammys in my shower anymore.”
The show kicked off with a bang led by Lamar for the second year in a row, as the Compton MC stood among a stage full of soldiers flanked by U2‘s Bono and The Edge for their collaboration “XXX.,” which cut into an explosive rendition of “DNA.” That ended with a cut to darkness that came up with a spotlight on none other than Dave Chappelle, who quipped, “I just want to remind the audience, that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America, is being an honest black man in America. Sorry for the interruption.” Chappelle once more cut in as Kendrick was in blistering form — “RUMBLE, YOUNG MAN, RUMBLE,” Chappelle said — before Kendrick cut his rendition of Jay Rock‘s “King’s Dead” short with a series of staccato gunfire-like bursts, each one punctuated with a hoodie-wearing backup dancer falling to the ground.
Kendrick’s performance set the tone, and set him up to once again sweep the rap field at the Grammys, taking home best rap album (DAMN.), best rap song (“HUMBLE.”), best rap performance (“HUMBLE.”) and best rap/sung performance (“LOYALTY.” feat. Rihanna). Along with a win for best music video (“HUMBLE.”), that gave him five victories on the night, behind only Bruno Mars’ six as the top artist of the evening.
The supremacy of Kendrick Lamar and Bruno Mars also meant that JAY-Z, who entered the night with the most nominations out of anyone, eight, ended it empty-handed. And Mars’ victories in the top three categories means that hip-hop’s history in album, song and record of the year remains barren; only one rap album, OutKast‘s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2004, has ever won album of the year (Lauryn Hill‘s The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, which won in 1999, was technically classified as R&B); no rapper has ever won record or song of the year. (For his part, Kendrick — who bested Jay in each of his victories on the evening — acknowledged both Hov’s trailblazer status and recent spat with Donald Trump by calling out “JAY-Z for president” while accepting best rap album.)
That may be one of several subtexts that will be dissected endlessly in the morning. But the Grammys also served up several moments that are worth celebrating, most notably from Kesha halfway through the evening. On a night when dozens of attendees wore white roses in support of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, Janelle Monae took the stage to introduce Kesha’s performance, and gave a strong, rousing speech as she did. “We come in peace, but we mean business. And for those who would dare try to silence us, we offer two words: Time’s Up,” Monae said.” Just as we have the power to shape the culture, we also have the power to undue the culture that does not serve us well.”
She then introduced Kesha who, flanked by Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Julia Michaels, Andra Day, Bebe Rexha and the Resistance Revival Chorus, delivered a powerful and defiant version of her song “Praying,” filled with unbridled emotion and nuance, which left chills running through everyone watching. That the performance culminated in a collective group hug only served to hammer home the supportive theme.
Kesha’s performance came just following a rendition of Eric Clapton‘s “Tears In Heaven” by Maren Morris, Brothers Osborne and Eric Church, all of whom had performed at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas in October, and which was dedicated to the victims of the mass shooting that occurred that night. Following Kesha, Cabello remained on the stage to give a short speech about the Dreamers — whose future in the U.S. is currently up in the air as politicians in Washington bicker with no resolution — and introduce U2, who delivered a pre-taped performance of “Get Out Of Your Own Way” on a barge in the Hudson River in front of the Statue of Liberty, barely masking the symbolism as they shouted out the countries that Trump had referred to as “shitholes” in an Oval Office meeting earlier this month.
That was also one of the two themes of the final performance of the evening, from Logic, Alessia Cara and Khalid, who performed the suicide-prevention hotline-title cut “1-800-273-8255,” another emotional performance that was punctuated by a speech from Logic that simultaneously addressed those with suicidal thoughts and from disadvantaged countries around the world, with his mantra that “You are not alone.”
Still, the night was not all serious messages and political and social-justice statements. Gary Clarke, Jr. and Jon Batiste delivered a slick and virtuosic joint tribute to Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, Mars and Cardi B had everybody on their feet with an unabashedly fun performance of the remix to “Finesse.” (Speaking of Cardi, she was a highlight, alongside none other than Hillary Clinton, in James Corden‘s only funny bit as host.) Both P!nk (“Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken”) and Lady Gaga (“Joanne” / “Million Reasons”) stunned with simple vocal romps, while Rihanna stood out with her turn alongside DJ Khaled and Bryson Tiller on “Wild Thoughts” (wherefore wert thou, Santana?), Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee turned things up with the original Spanish-only version of “Despacito” (which, frankly, was snubbed for record/song of the year) and Childish Gambino absolutely tore the house down with a late-night-cabaret themed tilt through “Terrified,” which grew in intensity and increasingly showcased his vocal range even before he crescendoed by bringing out the young JD McCrary and pushing his falsetto into the rafters.
But, in the end, it was all about Bruno Mars, who is proving himself to be a force to be reckoned with on the Grammys stage, and could end up with his name among some of the all-timers if this run he’s been on of late can continue in the future. In his acceptance speech for album of the year, he both acknowledged his competitors in the category — Jay, Kendrick, Gambino and Lorde — for pushing the bar so high, and to those on whose shoulders he stood — Babyface, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Teddy Riley — as a 15-year-old performer years ago, for bringing so much joy and love to people in the crowd. The Grammys’ top honor is always one that divides opinion, but Bruno’s ability to add to that legacy of joy and love in his songs is not one that can be questioned any longer.