Arts and Entertainment

The Grammys: Music’s Medium-Sized Night

The 2021 Grammys, though successful performance-wise, prompted a whirlwind of questions in regards to the true intentions of music’s biggest night.

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By Joanna Meng

Music has a special place in the hearts of many. Whether it’s rap, pop, or country, musicians of all genres and backgrounds come together in the self-proclaimed “biggest night in music”: the Grammys. After being postponed two months due to the pandemic, music lovers finally got to experience incredible singing, a diverse spread of awards, and even some record-breaking moments on March 14, despite criticism from stars about how truthful the show is.

The night featured many eclectic performances by artists whose songs stood out amidst the commotion of this past year. Though a few sets were pre-recorded, they brought us back to what music’s biggest night is truly about: the music. Beginning in front of the Staples Center, Harry Styles opened the show with a rendition of his hit song “Watermelon Sugar” that had all viewers swooning over his vocals, fashion sense, and funky dance moves. Billie Eilish came next, standing on top of a car singing her touching ballad “Everything I Wanted,” and sister trio HAIM closed off the opening acts with the alternative smash “The Steps.”

Other major performances followed the original Grammys format viewers are familiar with. First was Dua Lipa’s pretty-in-pink set, featuring songs from her album “Future Nostalgia” (2020). Megan Thee Stallion performed a powerful medley of “Body” and “Savage,” which was full of glitz and glam, as well as a questionable tap routine. In a performance with Cardi B, the two joined forces to perform the vibrant and scandalous “WAP,” featuring a high-heel-shaped stripper pole and gigantic bed. Later in the evening, Taylor Swift shone in a cottage scene, singing “cardigan,” “august,” and “willow” from her albums “folklore” (2020) and “evermore” (2020). Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak (as musical duo Silk Sonic) crooned “Leave the Door Open.” Doja Cat danced her heart out to the (arguably overplayed) “Say So,” BTS dazzled with an energetic rooftop performance to “Dynamite,” and DaBaby and Roddy Ricch showcased a curious choral arrangement of their song “Rockstar.”

As for the awards themselves, winners this year were relatively dispersed, with no single artist sweeping awards in any of the major categories. Whether this was a purposeful strategy by the Recording Academy to reduce any post-award backlash is up to debate. A less surprising aspect of the night, however, was Taylor Swift’s win of the prestigious Album Of The Year award for her mid-quarantine release, “folklore.” Some other notable contenders in the category included “Hollywood’s Bleeding” (2019) by Post Malone and “Future Nostalgia” by Dua Lipa. While the latter didn’t win Album Of The Year, “Future Nostalgia” went on to take home the award for Best Pop Vocal Album.

H.E.R.’s “I Can’t Breathe” won Song Of The Year—a fairly anticipated win considering the relevance of the lyrics to the current political climate. Record Of The Year—an award more so geared toward the production rather than the composition of a recording—went to “everything i wanted” by Billie Eilish. Eilish sheepishly took to the stage to accept her award, using her speech to praise fellow nominee, Megan Thee Stallion, whom Eilish felt was the rightful winner—and not without reason. While Eilish’s song was popular, it just didn’t gain the same traction or have the same effect as Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé’s “Savage.” Nevertheless, “Savage” still managed to take home two awards: Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song. These awards, coupled with Beyoncé’s wins for Best R&B Performance and Best Music Video, for songs “Black Parade” and “Brown Skin Girl,” respectively, have now secured Beyoncé the title of the female artist with the most Grammys.

Some other notable winners of the night included Harry Styles’s “Watermelon Sugar” for Best Pop Solo Performance, Nas’s “King’s Disease” (2020) for Best Rap Album, Megan Thee Stallion for Best New Artist, and Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s “Rain On Me” for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

This year’s Grammys had a rather serious undertone. In light of the social justice movements across the U.S., artists’ performances reflected our political climate and delivered more than just a night of extravagance and escape. The most politically-charged moment of the night was Lil Baby’s performance of “The Bigger Picture.” The set reenacted an instance of police brutality, followed by shots of protests, and a memorable speech from activist Tamika Mallory. The scene was out of the ordinary for the Grammy stage: instead of tiptoeing around a message, the performance condemned police brutality outright and took a strong stance on the Black Lives Matter movement.

But even glamorous performances and nominations couldn’t fully cover up controversies within the Grammys. Upon releasing nominations in November of 2020, the Academy quickly accumulated backlash for snubbing several artists. After the top artist of 2020, The Weeknd, received no nominations for his immensely successful album “After Hours” (2020) and record-shattering hit “Blinding Lights,” he boycotted the Grammys, stating “The Grammys remain corrupt.”

Several celebrities—including Zayn Malik, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj—spoke out against the Grammys and their opaque voting process. In 2020, former CEO of the Recording Academy Deborah Dugan even said that “The Grammy voting process is ripe with corruption.” This lack of transparency is a breeding ground for inequalities, as demonstrated by the lack of major awards given to Black artists over the last decade.

Even though this year’s Grammys delivered performances and a great range of winners, feelings of dissatisfaction among artists still linger. If this is really music’s biggest night, it is imperative that quality not be sacrificed. It’s clear they can make a show happen; music lovers just want more than what the Grammys delivered. Passionate performances coupled with truthful nominations and winners would make this show truly deserving of the title “music’s biggest night.”