Let’s be blunt: No matter what happens at the Grammy Awards, people are gonna complain. Your favorite didn’t win the award they were nominated for, you didn’t dig a performance — the gripes are endless. That being said, the 2019 Grammys were one of the most enjoyable in recent memory — from a salute to Dolly Parton that had us grinning ear to ear to Cardi B’s game-changing win, there were a number of moments that will go down in music history. And a few moments that left us cringing, of course. These are our best and worst moments of the 61st Annual Grammy Awards.
Michelle Obama’s Surprise Appearance
First-time Grammys host (and let’s hope not last) Alicia Keys brought out an impressive coterie for her emcee debut: Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett Smith and Michelle Obama.There’s not too many people who are greeted with deafening applause the second they open their mouths, but Michelle O is one of them. Before she could even mention the impact of Motown Records on her life in the South Side of Chicago (the label’s 60th anniversary would be feted later that night), she was drowned out by waves of adoration from the audience. “All right, all right, we got a show to do,” Obama chided the crowd. Forever, and always, a pro to end all pros.
Dolly Parton Tribute
The heartwarming tribute to the unimpugnable country legend got off to a shaky start, but when Dolly’s goddaughter Miley Cyrus took the stage to trade vocals on “Jolene,” hooboy, people were scraping their jaws up from the floor. Miley is a vocal ace, and her voice brought out the deeply affecting vulnerability of the original. Throw in a cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” featuring Maren Morris and a star-studded “9 to 5,” and you got yourself a Grammy stew, baby.
While we’re talking tributes, the salute to late soul legend Aretha Franklin from Andra Day, Fantasia and Yolanda Adams was a blissfully earnest tribute. Oftentimes, posthumous homages to icons feel driven by star power over relevance, but this trio was an ideal group to honor Aretha in terms of technical skill and impact. Fantasia in particular stole the spotlight, hitting a few high notes most singers would be lucky to come close to once or twice in their entire careers as if it was second nature. (Which, for her, it is.)
Cardi B’s Speech
At the 2019 Grammys, Cardi B became the first solo woman to win for best rap album when Invasion of Privacy nabbed the honor. (Lauryn Hill earned it as part of the Fugees when The Score was lauded with the same honor in 1997.) Her loose, honest and heartfelt acceptance speech was a heartening reminder that even when you’re at the top of your game, a Grammy win still means the world.
Alicia Keys’ Hazel Scott Homage
As you might have guessed, Alicia Keys isn’t just a pro pianist and an imposing singer-songwriter — she knows her music history. So when the Grammys host embarked on a medley of songs she wish she’d written, it wasn’t just your usual cute-but-forgettable affair. Keys placed herself between two pianos and, playing them simultaneously, paid homage to Hazel Scott, a pioneering pianist of the first half of the 20th century who refused to capitulate to the racist standards of her era. Not many people can cover Coldplay and Lauryn Hill AND make it a history lesson. But Alicia Keys is certainly one of that select few.
Janelle Monae’s Metropolis
Monae’s career-spanning fascination with sci-fi continued into her 2019 Grammy debut as she copped a variety of robotic affectations during her performance of “Make Me Feel,” which demonstrated the erotic longing slumbering beneath the immaculate delivery of her music. Armed with perfect choreography, a Klaus Nomi-esque vinyl outfit and song selections from one of 2018’s best albums, Monae gave the Grammys a refreshing touch of purposeful weirdness.
Drake’s Mic Cut
While many speeches at the Grammys were cut for time, the producers say Drake was axed because of the natural pause in his speech. Even so, the oddity of Drake winning a Grammy, explaining why winning a Grammy doesn’t matter and then saying “but” before getting cut off cannot be forgotten. Might’ve been an honest mistake. Even so, it tracked as a weird retaliation.
Red Hot Posty Peppers
Bro favorites Post Malone and Red Hot Chili Peppers seem like a decent pairing on paper, but watching the two collab on the Grammys broadcast, it was hard to shake the feeling that this team-up was more fun for them to do than it was for us to watch.
Neil Portnow Steps Back
Defenders of his lengthy career argue the Grammy guru’s term shouldn’t be defined by his massively ill-advised “step up” comment at the 2018 post-show Grammys. But did he deserve time to walk back the contentious comment on the Grammys broadcast? Maybe — if he fully owned up to the bone-headed comment. Which wasn’t exactly the case. As it was, we watched a vague “mistakes were made” moment followed by stone-faced reactions from Kacey Musgraves and Lady Gaga. And who could blame them.
A tribute to Motown’s 60th anniversary should’ve been a homerun. But with Jennifer Lopez presiding over it, it was an oddity for the ages. J.Lo — as demonstrated during her Motown medley — is an astonishingly adept dancer, a superb entertainer and a great vocalist. But in no world is she the best artist to fete Motown. And in no universe is she the SOLE artist to fete Motown in an awards show tribute. This was a head-scratcher for the ages.