Women took center stage at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Sunday night, with bold performances and wins in many top categories, a year after the awards came under withering criticism for its track record in gender representation.
The controversies of last year, when just one woman won a solo award during the telecast — and the outgoing head of the Recording Academy, the organization behind the awards, remarked that women in music should “step up” to advance their careers — were never far from the surface of the show.
Dua Lipa, a 23-year-old British singer who has established herself as a hitmaker, alluded to that when accepting the award for best new artist, saying she was honored to be recognized among so many other female artists.
“I guess this year we really stepped up,” Lipa said. Backstage, she told reporters that the message of greater gender equity was immediately clear to her when the nominations were announced in December.
The award for album of the year went to Kacey Musgraves for “Golden Hour,” a collection that stretched the boundaries of country and drew deep respect from critics. She also took home three other prizes in the country field.
“Women have a really necessary perspective — to life, to music,” Musgraves told reporters backstage. “It’s really nice to see that getting a chance to be included.”
Many of the awards won by men highlighted the Grammys’ fraught history with hip-hop. Both the record and song of the year prizes — the latter awarded for songwriting — were won by Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” a thumping, confrontational song about racial injustice.
It was the first hip-hop song to win either award. But Donald Glover, the actor and musician who performs as Childish Gambino, was absent. He, along with Kendrick Lamar and Drake, the two most powerful and influential young rappers in music, were offered performance spots on the show but turned them down, reflecting the alienation from the Grammys that has taken hold among much of the upper ranks of hip-hop.
Drake was there to accept the award for best rap song, for “God’s Plan” from his blockbuster album “Scorpion.” Before his speech was cut off, he alluded to the gulf between the Grammy establishment and hip-hop culture.
“This is a business where sometimes it’s up to a bunch of people that might not understand what a mixed-race kid from Canada has to say or a fly Spanish girl from New York, or a brother from Houston,” he said.
“But the point is, you’ve already won if you have people who are singing your songs word for word, you don’t need this right here,” he added, holding up the Grammy.
Brandi Carlile, an earnest female singer-songwriter in an Americana style, was the dark horse of the show, getting six nominations — more than any other woman — including in the top categories of album, record and song of the year.
She gave a powerful, arena-filling performance of her song “The Joke,” and ended up winning three awards, though none in the top categories. She took best American roots performance and song for “The Joke,” and Americana album for “By the Way, I Forgive You.” They were the first Grammys of her career.
Lamar and Drake, the two most-nominated artists — with eight and seven nods, respectively — each won only one. Lamar’s “King’s Dead,” from the “Black Panther” soundtrack, tied for best rap performance with Anderson .Paak’s “Bubblin.”
Appearance by Michelle Obama draws thunderous applause
The ceremony began with the 21-year-old singer Camila Cabello performing her song “Havana” on a neon-colored city street scene, joined by a white-suited Ricky Martin, J Balvin and Young Thug.
But the first moment of major star power came a few minutes later, when Alicia Keys, the host, introduced “my sisters”: Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett Smith, Michelle Obama and Jennifer Lopez. Each spoke about the inspiring power of music throughout their lives.
Obama, drawing a thunderous welcome from the crowd at the Staples Center, was nearly drowned out as she delivered her lines.
“From the Motown records I wore out on the South Side,” she said, “to the ‘who run the world’ songs that fueled me through this last decade, music has always helped me tell my story.”
One superstar woman after another performed solo routines, as if they were fleshing out different views of diva-hood.
Janelle Monáe performed “Make Me Feel” with bits of inspiration from Prince and Michael Jackson, but focused on female sexuality, surrounded by female dancers in tight rubber outfits.
With Cooper absent, Lady Gaga took both parts of “Shallow” herself. Dressed in a black sequined suit and high platform heels, she thrashed on the stage like a 1970s arena rocker, as pyrotechnics announced the song’s climax.
Jennifer Lopez led a Motown tribute performed as a Vegas-style revue. She was joined by Smokey Robinson and Ne-Yo, with a medley of about 10 songs jammed into six minutes and featuring gymnastic, bottom-shaking, somersaulting dancing.
Cardi B wins her first Grammy
Cardi B performed “Money.”CreditMike Blake/Reuters
Cardi B won the first Grammy of her career, best rap album for “Invasion of Privacy.” Holding the hand of her husband, the rapper Offset, she joked about struggling for composure — “Maybe I should start smoking weed!” — before talking about the long nights she worked to finish her album and shoot videos while pregnant. She is the first female solo artist to win in the category.
Earlier, she performed “Money” dressed in purple and black like a supervillain, while dancers around her moved and spread their legs in synchronous motion like a bawdy Busby Berkeley sequence. In the audience, Offset stuck out his tongue suggestively.
H.E.R., the stage name for the 21-year-old singer and songwriter Gabriella Wilson, led a slow-build version of her ballad “Hard Place.” She won two awards, for R&B performance (in the song “Best Part”) and best R&B album, for her self-titled release “H.E.R.” But when accepting R&B album, she seemed almost baffled that it was eligible.
“It’s not even an album,” she said. “It’s an E.P.”
Lady Gaga won the first award of the telecast, best pop duo/group performance, for “Shallow,” her duet with Bradley Cooper from their movie “A Star Is Born.” Tearful, she said she wished Cooper were with her — he was in London for the Baftas, the British film awards — and addressed a theme in the film, in which Cooper plays a singer struggling with addiction.
“I’m so proud to be part of a movie that addresses mental health issues,” she said. “A lot of artists deal with that and we’ve got to take care of each other.”
Tributes to Dolly Parton and Diana Ross
Diana Ross, appearing in a wide, lacy red gown, celebrated her 75th birthday with two hits from her solo career, “The Best Years of My Life” and “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).” Winding up her performance, she ordered those in the crowd to wave their hands, saying: “Together we have no limits. You can learn, dream, unlock new doors. All is possible.”
She ended with, “Happy birthday to me!”
Dolly Parton had the most cross-generational appeal, singing a five-song medley with Katy Perry, Kacey Musgraves, Miley Cyrus and Maren Morris that had Smokey Robinson and the K-pop group BTS all dancing and singing along in the crowd. It ended with a nostalgic singalong on “9 to 5” that seemed to pull in the whole arena.
Shortly thereafter, Musgraves won her third Grammy of the night — best country album for “Golden Hour” — and gushingly doled out thanks to her manager, the Grammys and her fans.
“I never dreamed that this record would be met with such love, such warmth, such positivity,” Musgraves said.
Early wins for Carlile and Lady Gaga
All but nine of the Grammys’ 84 awards were given out in a nontelevised ceremony that was attended by few of the night’s big stars. Carlile led the preshow portion with her three wins in the American roots category.
“Americana music is the island of the misfit toys; I am such a misfit,” Carlile said, accepting the second award. “It is the music that has shaped my life and made me who I am, and even given me my family.”
Lady Gaga and Musgraves each had two early wins. Lady Gaga’s “Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Goin’?),” a piano version of a song first released more than two years ago, took best pop solo performance, and “Shallow” took best song written for visual media. Musgraves won best country solo performance for “Butterflies” and her “Space Cowboy” took best country song.
The score for “Black Panther” also won an award for its composer, Ludwig Göransson.
The preshow awards may be invisible to most of the general public, but they can set important benchmarks in the industry, and have the power to reshape careers among artists in genres
The Grammys missed a chance for another milestone in the producer of the year category. The award went to Pharrell Williams. Had it gone to Linda Perry, she would have been the first woman to take home that award.