In The Age of Covid 19, The Grammy Awards Reinvents Itself
And Brings Live Music Back.
By Bruce Pilato
It was a different Grammy Awards for a different time. The Covid 19 pandemic derailed the show from its usual late January/ early February broadcast, but The Recording Academy was determined not cancel the 2021 ceremony. What the world got this year something that looked and felt completely different, even if the celebratory spirit was as strong as usual.
Moved from the massive Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, to the LA Convention Center next door, it was essentially a variety show, with a few award presentations thrown in for good measure. As with the last few years, it was dominated by female pop artists and R&B/hip-hop divas.
Record of The Year went to Billie Eilish, for “Everything I Ever Wanted,” and, as many had predicted, Taylor Swift took home Album of The Year for Folklore. Beyonce broke the record for the number of Grammys ever won by a female artist (28) with for Best R&B Performance Grammy awarded to “The Black Parade.” She also received a Grammy for her duet with Megan Thee Stallion. The coveted Best New Artist also went to Megan Thee Stallion, as well as Best Rap Performance.
Although many expected her to win more Grammys than she did, iIt was a big night for Dua Lipa, who won Best Pop Vocal Album of The Year. Her heartfelt acceptance speech, where she was humble and truly grateful for her recent success was powerful and right to the point.
The show was peppered with short informational videos of select nominated artists. This was probably done because so many of the new artists were likely unknown to vast US audience watching the show. Although much of the show seemed uneven, there were a number of musical highlights. Harry Styles, who opened the show with a rousing version of “Watermelon Sugar,” ended up winning Best Pop Solo Performance for the song later in the show. Bruno Mars and Anderson Pak paid tribute to the classic 1970s Philly International soul sounds with “Leave That Door Open,” and took home a Grammy.
There were a number of left turns in the show this year. For one, they featured profiles of some of the legendary music venues in the US, including The Station Inn in Nashville, The Apollo in Harlem, and The Troubadour in Los Angeles who were hard it by the pandemic. Having the owner/operators of these venues as presenters was a kind gesture for sure, and one that was totally unexpected.
One of the best performance highlights was when Taylor Swift presented her new, acoustic-driven side, with material from Folklore. Her showcase medley of songs from the LP reunited her with the musicians who helped her create and record the album, only the second time they were able to be in the same room together since the project was started.
Artists such as Billie Eilish, who cleaned up last year with an armful of Grammys, excelled in simple, stripped down settings. Not everyone kept it simple, however. This year’s “it” girl, female pop star Dua Lipa, put on a glitzy performance accented by lots of choreography and laser lights. When she and the dancers stopped and the song (including her vocals) kept going, it was pretty evident she was lip syncing. That’s a shame, because she is an enormously talented singer. Female artists such Dua Lipa, Megan Thee Stallion, and Cardi B presented the most elaborate segments that were big on skimpy outfits and wildly sexual gyrations. There is nothing wrong with being sexy, but these performances were way over the top.
Another strange aspect of this year’s Grammys was the fact it was so clearly aimed at a millennium audience. The vast majority of the artists that appeared on the show were unheard of just a few years ago. Missing were the many legendary artists such as Stevie Wonder, Celine Dion, Elton John, Dolly Parton, Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney who have appeared on their own or with younger artists. These familiar faces, with the exception of Lionel Richie, were replaced with powerful tributes to some of the stars we lost including Little Richard, Kenny Rogers, Gerry Marsden, and John Prine. It featured newer stars singing their legendary hits. It was the only time in the show where baby boomers could feel a sense of inclusion. The “death reel” as it has been called in the past, was presented in a new format that combined, photos, historic clips, and the aforementioned tribute performances to those artists and industry icons lost since the Grammy Awards aired in January 2020.
As with most years, there were some upsets. H.E.R. won for Song Of The Year for “I Can’t Breathe” written about the death of George Floyd. She beat out artists such as Beyonce and Taylor Swift. Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas won Best Song Written For Visual Media for their James Bond theme, “No Time To Die.” The fact that movie has still not yet been released shows the impact of Eilish on current Academy voters. With The Foo Fighters holding off the release of their new studio album Medicine At Midnight until last month, made it possible for Fiona Apple to win Best Alternative Music Album, for Fetch The Bolt Cutters.
The pre-telecast awards, now labeled The Premier Ceremony, gave the late John Prine his first two Grammys. He earned Best American Roots Song and Performance for “I Remember Everything.” Blues legend Bobby Rush won Best Traditional Blues Album for his last disc, Rawer Than Raw. Chick Corea, who died just a few weeks ago, won Best Improvised Jazz Solo album with his All Blues. Best R&B Album Of The Year went to John Legend for Bigger Love, and James Taylor, one of the very few baby boomer artists to win, received a Grammy for American Standard the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album of The Year.
A surprise in the hip-hop world was Best Rap Album won by iconic rapper NAS, for his King Disease album. Premier Ceremony also awarded the Best Rock Album to The Strokes for The New Abnormal. Over 12.6 million viewers watched the Premier Ceremony online during the afternoon; viewership for the Grammy Awards telecast on CBS has yet to be released.