Women returned at the Grammys on Sunday as female acts won album of the year and best new artist, while rap also triumphed, with Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” becoming the first rap-based song to win record and song of the year.
Kacey Musgraves’ “Golden Hour” picked up album of the year, and Dua Lipa won best new artist.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Musgraves said. “I am very thankful. Winning doesn’t make my album any better than anybody else in that category.”
Gambino was the night’s big winner, picking up four honors, including best music video and best rap/sung performance.
Drake surprised the music world when he emerged on stage to accept the best rap song trophy but told the room of musicians that winning awards isn’t necessary if you have real fans attending your concerts and singing your songs.
Drake, who rarely attends awards shows, won the honor for his massive hit “God’s Plan.”
“You’ve already won if you have people who are singing your songs word for word, if you’re a hero in your hometown. Look, if there are people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain and the snow, spending their hard-earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don’t need this right here. I promise you. You already won,” he said at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
He tried to continue speaking but was cut off as the ceremony suddenly went to a commercial.
Rap has endured a longtime losing streak at the Grammys. The last time a rapper won album of the year was in 2004, with Outkast. Only a handful of rappers have won best new artist.
Cardi B made history as the first solo female to win best rap album (Lauryn Hill won as a member of the Fugees at the 1997 Grammys).
She was shaking onstage as she tried to give a thank-you speech with her rapper-husband Offset holding her arm.
“The nerves are so bad. Maybe I need to start smoking weed,” she said as the audience laughed. “I just want to say thank you everybody that was involved … I want to thank my daughter.”
The Grammys kicked off with a group of powerful women, including Michelle Obama and Lady Gaga, describing the role of music in their lives – a display that came a year after female voices were somewhat muted at the 2018 ceremony.
“Music has always helped me tell my story,” said Obama, who surprised the audience with her appearance. “Whether we like country or rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves. It allows us to hear one another.”
Gaga told the crowd: “They said I was weird, that my look, that my choices, that my sound wouldn’t work. But music told me not to listen to them.”
Jada Pinkett Smith and Jennifer Lopez also spoke and stood in solidary with Obama, Gaga and Alicia Keys, who is hosting the show airing on CBS.
“Yes, ladies,” Keys said. “There’s nothing better than this.”
The opening contrasted with last year’s Grammys, where male acts dominated in nominations and the only woman competing for the top award, Lorde, didn’t get a chance to perform onstage.
But this year, Gaga, Brandi Carlile and Kacey Musgraves won three Grammys each.
Carlile took three honors in the Americana category and will compete for the three biggest awards during the live show: album, song and record of the year.
Gaga also won three, including best pop duo/group performance, a win she shared with Bradley Cooper.
Gaga, now a nine-time Grammy winner, won best pop solo performance for “Joanne,” while hit “Shallow,” from “A Star is Born,” was named best song written for visual media. The song is nominated for an Oscar and also won at the Golden Globes, the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards and the Satellite Awards.
Women have a strong presence in the top categories. Five of the eight album-of-the-year nominees were women, including Carlile’s “By the Way, I Forgive You,” Janelle Monae’s “Dirty Computer,” Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy” and H.E.R.’s self-titled album are also in contention.
When asked about the lack of women in the top categories at the 2018 Grammys, Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow said women need to “step up.” He later acknowledged that it was a “poor choice of words,” and his much-criticized remarks forced the academy to launch a new task force focused on inclusion and diversity.
Portnow, who didn’t seek a renewal on his contract which ends this year, seemed to address his words from last year during Sunday’s show.
“This past year I’ve been reminded that if coming face to face with an issue opens your eyes wide enough, it makes you more committed than ever to help address those issues. The need for social change has been the hallmark of the American experience, from the founding of our country to the complex times we live in today,” he said.
British singer Dua Lipa alluded to Portnow’s 2018 words when she won best new artist.
“I guess this year we’ve really stepped up,” she said after telling the audience she was was grateful to be nominated alongside so many female performers. Six of the best-new-artist nominees were women, including H.E.R., Chloe x Halle, Margo Price, Bebe Rexha and Jorja Smith.
Musgraves picked up best country album for “Golden Hour,” best country solo performance for “Butterflies” and best country song for “Space Cowboy.”
“I never dreamed that this record would be met with such love,” she said onstage.
She also gave a shout-out to her husband in the audience, saying she wouldn’t have been able to make the album if he “didn’t open my heart like you did.”
Musgraves performed “Rainbow” from “Golden Hour” during the show, and hit the stage for a second time to honor Dolly Parton. Musgraves and Katy Perry joined forces for “Here You Come Again,” later joined by Parton herself. The icon sang a duet version of “Jolene” with Miley Cyrus, who often covers the classic song. But the country music icon truly shined when she sang “Red Shoes,” with country foursome Little Big Town providing background vocals.
Yolanda Adams, Fantasia and Andra Day teamed up for stirring performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” in honor Aretha Franklin, who died last year.
Diana Ross earned a standing ovation when she emerged onstage in a bright red dress to perform “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and “The Best Years of My Life.” She celebrated her 75th birthday early with the performance, saying afterward, “Happy birthday to me!” Her actual birthday is March 26.
R&B singer H.E.R., who won best R&B performance for “Best Part” with Daniel Caesar, stunned as she played her guitar and sang. Chloe x Halle impressed when they sang Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack’s “Where Is the Love.” Monae grooved onstage during “Make Me Feel,” backed by several dancers. Post Malone performed with Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Cardi B grinded onstage during her latest single, “Money.”
Ariana Grande won her first Grammy in the same week that she publicly blasted Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich and accused him of lying about why she was no longer performing at the show.
Tori Kelly and Lauren Daigle won two awards each. Beyonce, Jay-Z, Ella Mai, Pharrell Williams, Hugh Jackman, Stingy, Shaggy, Dave Chappelle, “Weird Al” Yankovic, the late Chris Cornell, Greta Van Fleet and even former President Jimmy Carter also picked up early awards ahead of the live show.
There was a tie for best rap performance, and Drake was surprisingly not one of the winners. Drake’s “Nice for What” lost to Anderson Paak’s “Bubblin”’ and Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Future and James Blake’s “King’s Dead,” from the “Black Panther” soundtrack.
Beck was a double winner during the pre-telecast, taking home best alternative music album and best engineered album (non-classical) for “Colors.” Emily Lazar, one of the engineers who worked on the album and won alongside Beck, was the first female mastering engineer to win in the latter category.