The 2016 Grammy Awards started and pretty much ended with the same person: Taylor Swift. Opening the show with a performance of “Out of the Woods,” Swift re-emerged toward the telecast’s close to claim her album of the year trophy for 1989. “I want to say to all the young women out there: There will be people who try to undercut your success and take credit for your fame,” she said, in a speech that pointedly referenced her recently reignited beef with Kanye West.
But while the country singer-turned-pop star may have grabbed the top prize, it was Kendrick Lamar who stole the show. In a performance that will arguably go down as one of the ceremony’s greatest, the Compton, Calif., MC took the stage in prison garb and chains, launching into a free-form version of “The Blacker the Berry” before moving into “Alright” and then a never-before-heard song that addressed Trayvon Martin’s death.
The rest of the show’s energy came from tributes, which nearly outnumbered duets (a Grammy staple). Bonnie Raitt sauntered onstage, joining Gary Clark Jr. and Chris Stapleton to honor B.B. King. Stevie Wonder, flanked by “new friends” Pentatonix, drew a standing ovation from the room of 18,000 for a rendition of “That’s the Way of the World” in honor of Maurice White. Just before announcing Ed Sheeran’s win for song of the year, Wonder also had Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard cheering for him when he cracked to the crowd, “You can’t read Braille.”
Also there to pay tribute was Jackson Browne, who joined the remaining members of the Eagles for “Take It Easy” in memory of Glenn Frey. Lady Gaga sent the Twittersphere into a frenzy with a much-hyped David Bowie tribute. All in all, with ratings down slightly, to 24.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen, one couldn’t help but wonder if it was the power of the past — or the impending Swift and Lamar headlines — that made it all work.