The 64th Annual Grammy Awards aired Sunday night from Las Vegas, taking place in the shadow of a wildly controversial Oscars ceremony from just one week prior. It’s been a tough few years for the Recording Academy, which has dealt with internal strife, accusations of backdoor dealing, and the defection of some of music’s biggest stars: Drake and The Weeknd have publicly renounced the Grammy’s legitimacy, while Kanye West was banned from this ceremony due to “concerning online behavior.”
But in their place, a younger group of superstars asserted their claim to the center of the pop world at the 2022 Grammy Awards, from Olivia Rodrigo to Billie Eilish to Lil Nas X. Jon Batiste was the night’s big winner, taking home Album of the Year. Silk Sonic, the duo consisting of Anderson.Paak and Bruno Mars, won both Song and Record of the Year for their sultry “Leave the Door Open.” The Foo Fighters, mourning the death of drummer Taylor Hawkins, swept all three categories in which they were nominated, including Best Rock Album (Medicine at Midnight) and Best Rock Song (“Waiting on a War”). Trevor Noah hosted for the second year in a row. Here are some of the best and worst moments of the night.
Best: Jon Batiste
The big winner of the night was Jon Batiste, who took home five awards, including Album of the Year for We Are. It’s been a winding road for Batiste, who was raised in a family of New Orleans music royalty, rose through the ranks of the jazz world for his virtuosic piano playing, became the band leader for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and then decided to try his hand at being a pop frontman. When TIME interviewed Batiste in April, he described his latest pivot as inevitable:
“I function from the perspective of, Where is everything inevitably leading me toward? And it feels like the way it has led me is to definitely take the torch of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and be the Black pop star making Black pop masterpieces.”
On Sunday night, Batiste rose to the occasion, delivering a performance of “Freedom” that united many musical and cultural lineages—classical-inflected piano, a booming 808 kick drum, bebop jazz and hip-hop dance—into a coherent, exuberant whole. The performance brought the room to its feet, most notably Billie Eilish and Finneas, who were shown looking up at him reverently.
To close the show, Batiste took home the biggest prize of the night—Album of the Year—and delivered one of the better awards show speeches in recent memory. “I believe this to my core: there is no ‘best’ musician… No best artist, best dancer, best actor,” he said. “The creative arts are subjective…It’s like a song or an album is made and it has a radar to find a person when they need it the most.”
He paid tribute to his family—both his father and grandfather are on the album—as well as the other nominees in his category, saying that their music gave him “out-of-body experiences.” He then encouraged young musicians to stay true to themselves: “Be you. Keep going.”
Best: SZA and Doja Cat win their first Grammys for “Kiss Me More”
There was hardly a dry eye in the house when SZA and Doja Cat took home their first (and undeniably well-deserved) Grammys for best pop duo/group performance for their song “Kiss Me More,” one of TIME’s picks for 2021’s song of the summer. While the win had many reasons to be memorable—from Doja being in the bathroom when it was announced to Lady Gaga helping SZA, who was on crutches, with her train as she walked to the stage—it was Doja and SZA’s tearful and beautiful appreciation for each other in their acceptance speeches that gave us one of the night’s most heartwarming moments.
Doja and SZA’s win marks only the second time two women have won this category, a significant moment that wasn’t lost on Doja, who put aside her signature puckishness for a moment of gravitas at the end of her speech: “I like to downplay a lot of sh-t, but this is, uh, it’s a big deal.”
Best: Lil Nas X’s exuberant medley
No contemporary artist understands the zeitgeist quite like industry baby and prolific tweeter Lil Nas X, who provided one of the liveliest performances of the night. Drawing on four of his songs from his album Montero and featuring a cheeky guest appearance from rapper Jack Harlow, Lil Nas X delivered a dazzling, well-paced medley that was as exuberant as it was entertaining. To put it colloquially, Lil Nas X understood the assignment—and the Grammys were all the better for it.
Best: Olivia Rodrigo’s debut
It’s been a long fifteen months since Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” took the internet by storm, breaking all sorts of streaming records and soundtracking countless re-enactments and tributes on TikTok. On Sunday, Rodrigo proved on music’s biggest stage that “Drivers License” wasn’t just a flavor-of-the-month TikTok trend but an era-defining torch ballad. She howled with anguish, as if reliving her first teenage heartbreak, on a cinematic set of a dusty small town, with birds (or maybe debris) fluttering in the background.
On shows like Tiny Desk, Rodrigo has shown that she has huge pipes despite not performing live until last year—and her Grammy debut firmly inserted her into a lineage of great balladeers like Stevie Nicks, Brandi Carlile, and Adele. Rodrigo later won Best New Artist and Best Pop Solo Performance, proclaiming onstage, “This is my biggest dream come true.”
Most Vegas: BTS
BTS was practically made for Vegas: a slick and ultra-polished group of multi-hyphenates fueled by perfectionism, gaudy showmanship, and a love for pop culture. So they looked completely in their element in their performance of their #1 hit “Butter,” delivered with the craftsmanship and practiced joy of the most seasoned performers on the strip. The group began with V flirting with the it-girl of the night, Olivia Rodrigo, and Jungkook descending from the ceiling.
The group, dressed in monochrome suits, proceeded to live out their cosplay dreams of Mission Impossible and Now You See Me, jumping over laser beams and flinging cards across the room. As their shiny shoes swept across the floor, nary a heel kick or jump was out of place.
Best: Tribute to Ukraine
While Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky didn’t get a chance to speak on behalf of his country at the Oscars—as he reportedly wanted to, given his show business background and the Oscar’s massive audience—he settled for the next best thing: The Grammys. In a pre-recorded video, Zelensky emphasized the importance of music to Ukrainian culture, especially in war: “Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos. They sing to the wounded,” he said in English. “Russia brings horrible silence with its bombs. Fill the silence with your music.”
The video was followed by a poignant performance by John Legend and several Ukrainian artists—bandura player Siuzanna Iglidan, singer Mika Newton, poet Lyuba Yakimchuk—that tied together biblical, African-American, and Ukrainian struggles for freedom and self-sovereignty.
Best: Billie Eilish’s sweet homage to Taylor Hawkins
Billie Eilish delivered one of the best performances of the night with a charismatic, rock-powered rendition of the titular track from her album Happier Than Ever. While Eilish and her brother/producer Finneas performed on a set that replicated the music video for the song, the most touching part of the performance may have been Eilish’s bittersweet homage to Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, who died less than a month ago. Sporting an oversized t-shirt with Hawkins’ visage emblazoned on it, Eilish’s spirited, cathartic performance captured the energy that the late Hawkins often embodied with the Foo Fighters.
Least impactful: Trevor Noah
Daily Show host Trevor Noah assumed Grammy duties for the second straight year, and presided over a very different type of ceremony than the last one: While the 2021 awards were socially distanced and muted, this one aimed for Vegas glitz. But Noah didn’t match that energy, and rushed through most of his punchlines (perhaps in an effort to keep the show under runtime).
He did land a couple solid zingers, though. Referencing the NFT obsession of some musicians, he joked, “You know it’s hard when your favorite artists go from trying to sell you music to selling you pictures of digital monkeys.” And after Silk Sonic won “Song of the Year,” Noah gave full credit for the band’s success to Anderson.Paak, explaining to his bandmate Bruno Mars, “We don’t talk about Bruno.” (For those of you wondering—that song from Encanto will be eligible for next year’s Grammys.)
Most played out: Jokes about the slap
[Barenaked Ladies voice] It’s been one week since Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars, although it feels like it’s been a lot longer. Jerrod Carmichael got it right on Saturday Night Live this weekend, when he joked that “it feels like we’ve been living in the wake of it our entire lives,” and confessed to never wanting to talk about it again.
The slap was the subject of a couple jokes on Sunday night, which were mostly met with some strained guffaws. “We’re gonna be keeping people’s names out of our mouths,” Trevor Noah said in his brief monologue. And Questlove, while presenting Song of the Year, jokingly told everyone in the room to “stay 500 feet away from me.” (Questlove himself had been at the scene of the confrontation last week, accepting an Oscar for his film Summer of Soul.)
Best: Celebrating non-stars
While pop stars ruled the night, the Grammys also gave some shine to lesser-known artists and the crews supporting artists tirelessly behind the scenes. With the number of performance slots inside the MGM Grand in short supply, organizers decided to implement a second stage on the MGM roof, where several non-pop acts played the telecast in and out of commercial breaks. This slightly inelegant solution nonetheless put artists who never would have gotten a chance to play at the Grammys on broadcast television. And all of them, from Aymée Nuviola to Maverick City Music to Billy Strings, showed off their virtuosic musicianship, frankly running circles around their more famous counterparts downstairs.
Meanwhile, several A-list performers were introduced by members of their crew tour, including wardrobe supervisors and production managers, who served as a reminder both of how essential enormous teams are toward creating onstage magic, and how hard the touring industry has been hit by COVID-19. In an era of stan culture and idol worship, their presence was a welcome change of pace.
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