Memorable moments from the 2019 Grammy Awards
Buoyed by Alicia Keys’ phenomenal turn as host (literally, everyone should have been taking notes!), the 61st annual Grammys were a spectacular blending of old and new, with inspired performances of some of the buzziest new songs and pitch perfect tributes to icons like Dolly Parton and Diana Ross. Click through to see the most memorable moments from music’s biggest night.
Alicia Keys kills it as host
Let’s be honest, being an awards show host can be a thankless gig, but Alicia Keys proved it doesn’t have to be with her heartfelt, musical hosting. Her dual piano performance midway through the ceremony stole the show, opening with her playing Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” on two pianos in tribute to legendary performer Hazel Scott. Keys gave a shout-out to several artists, including Roberta Flack and Ella Mai, playing snippets of their songs in a segment called “Songs I Wish I Wrote,” before closing with her own “Empire State of Mind.” It’s a concrete hosting job, where dreams are made of.
Kicking things off in Havana
Camila Cabello kicked off the 61st annual ceremony with a colorful performance of her 2018 hit, “Havana.” The number showcased the production values that truly make the Grammys special with a huge ensemble dancing through colorfully lit rooms in neon shades of green, pink, and yellow as they recreated scenes from the “Havana” music video (and Cabello’s grandmother’s childhood). It closed on a high note when Ricky Martin joined Cabello to sing his hit “Pegate” with a solo from world-renowned Cuban-American trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. Latin superstar J Balvin closed out the flashy opening with his “Mi Gente.” As the show began, half of our heart was in Havana.
Michelle Obama's surprise appearance
The former first lady took the stage alongside a flock of high-powered ladies including Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez to champion the power of music. “From the Motown records, I wore out on the South Side to the who run the world songs that fueled me through the last decade, music has always helped me tell my story,” Michelle Obama told the audience. “Music helps us share our selves. It allows us to hear one another. Music shows us that all of it matters — every story within every voice, every note within every song.” Amen to that.
Janelle Monáe rocks the house
The prevailing theme of the evening for the first hour was girl power (a breath of fresh air after last year’s tone deaf call from the Music Academy’s president for the ladies to step up). Janelle Monáe showed the audience just why she’s such an intoxicating artist with an electrifying performance of the 2018 single “Make Me Feel.” The song owes a clear debt to Prince’s sound and Monáe collaborated with him on this album before his untimely 2016 passing. His showmanship as transmogrified through Monáe’s own unique talent was on full display in her performance that showcased her witty, playful lyrics; her deft, winking ode to sexual identity; and her seriously mind-blowing dance moves.
The Dolly Parton tribute
We will always love Dolly! The renowned singer-songwriter received a tribute befitting her greatness that brought out everyone from goddaughter Miley Cyrus to 2019 Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves to quartet Little Big Town to offer up renditions of some of her most famous songs alongside Parton herself. It was iconic with a capital “I” to see Cyrus and Parton knock it out of the park on “Jolene.” Parton also paid tribute to her role writing legendary songs for movies, closing with “Red Shoes” from 2018’s Dumplin’ and then the entire ensemble in chorus together on 1980’s “9 to 5.”
Diana Ross: Happy birthday to me!
Diana Ross took to the stage to celebrate her 75th birthday (which is actually March 26) in a fashion that only she could. After being introduced by her adorable grandson, Ross entered looking spectacular in a red ballgown talking about how music and her fans have brought her so much joy. She closed with an incandescent rendition of “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” that brought her into the audience for a birthday celebration for the ages. “Happy birthday to me!” exclaimed the diva.
Kacey Musgraves takes us over the rainbow
Musgraves knows how to put on a show from her sparkly saddle she hangs above her in concerts to her always eye-catching glam moments. But for the 61st annual Grammys she stripped things down, appearing in a flattering, simple white gown and singing encouraging love note “Rainbow” with piano backing. The rainbow-colored backlighting was the perfect touch for a subtle, elegant performance.
Drake shows up to accept Best Rap Song award
Started from the bottom, now he’s [surprisingly] here…It was rumored that Drake would be a no-show at the ceremony, having declined an invitation to perform on the broadcast. In the end, he made an appearance to accept the award for Best Rap Song for his track “God’s Plan” (his second Grammy in the category). Still, even though he attended, he somewhat refused to play the game, downplaying the award’s significance, saying, “We play in an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport. The point is, you’ve already won if you have people who are singing your songs word for word, if you’re a hero in your hometown.” He continued on, but his mic was ultimately cut off and he walked offstage.
Lady Gaga is far from the shallow
In an amped-up take on her Oscar-nominated song “Shallow” from A Star Is Born, Gaga proved why she remains one of the most iconoclastic, unpredictable artists around. Her vocals, with assistance from co-songwriter Mark Ronson on guitar, were shatteringly good, and it injected new life into the song to see her perform in a sparkly jumpsuit. In the film, the song is a superb top 40 duet, but this performance offered it a rock edge. Earlier in the evening, Gaga also memorably accepted a Grammy for Best Pop Duo for the track, calling attention to the film’s themes of mental illness and making a plea to extend a helping hand to struggling artists.
The mess of a Motown tribute
The Motown tribute started off so promising with a beautiful acapella duet between Alicia Keys and Smokey Robinson on “Tracks of My Tears.” Jennifer Lopez then kicked off a medley with “Dancing in the Street” that got everyone on their feet and gamely teamed with Robinson on a few bars of “My Girl.” Keys even got in on the fun on “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” and we appreciated the wry cut-away to A-Rod as J.Lo asked “Do You Love Me?” But in the end, it fell apart and was a big Hitsville mess capped off by scattered vocals from Ne-Yo. Lopez, known more for her dancing chops and Latin sound, always seemed an odd choice for a Motown tribute (was Beyoncé unavailable?). Unfortunately, her harried performance didn’t do much to clarify that decision.
Brandi Carlile is no joke
Carlile took home three Grammys Sunday night for her album By the Way, I Forgive You, and her performance of “The Joke” on the broadcast proved why she deserved that hardware and then some. She displayed an unparalleled clarity in her vocals and held the audience in thrall with only some gentle twinkly lighting and her lyrics displayed onscreen. Showmanship is essential for any artist, but Carlile made a strong case for why one-of-a-kind talent is most intoxicating when left to speak for itself. Carlile is in the middle of a major moment, and it was thrilling to see that magic come to the Grammy stage.
Cardi B makes money moves
The female rapper made Grammy history on Sunday becoming the first woman to win Best Rap Album since Lauryn Hill received the honor in 1996. Taking home the gold for 2018’s Invasion of Privacy, Cardi was adorably overwhelmed when she took to the stage, struggling to catch her breath while processing the moment. She easily landed the prize for best speech of the night when she quipped, “Maybe I should start smoking weed” in regards to her inability to calm her nerves. She had a banner evening, earning raves for her performance onstage earlier in the evening as well.
Kacey Musgraves has a golden night
“It’s just all about the songs.” Kacey Musgraves summed up the night when she took home the top prize for Album of the Year for Golden Hour, her fourth studio album. After earning trophies for Best Country Album, Best Country Song, and Best Country Solo Performance earlier in the evening — and delivering a show-stopping performance of “Rainbow” — Musgraves scored her fourth Grammy for the night with her much-deserved win for her critically acclaimed album. She spoke to music’s unifying and healing power, saying, “Life is pretty tumultuous right now for all of us, I feel like because of that, art is really thriving and it’s been really beautiful to see that.” Most of the wins tonight were as expected and Musgraves was a predicted favorite, but the Recording Academy followed their arrow for a win that makes us happy. Full stop.