Let me preface by saying this: I hate awards shows. In my experience, they’re all obnoxious, petty spectacles that create unnecessary competitions. They’re glistening, empty corporate flex-parades with no value for artistic merit. They reward only that art which has the most potential to make a bunch of soulless industry moguls unbelievable stacks of money. And most of them are at least three hours too long.
That said, the 61st Annual Grammy Awards this past Sunday had plenty of cool stuff to offer. The mood at music’s biggest night of the year was one of mutual respect and artistic fellowship. The undisputed highlights, as always, were the performances–the gorgeous, awe-inspiring, intricately-choreographed performances. Here’s a look at some highlights from the show that made it feel like actual art was being celebrated that evening.
Janelle Monae helped make the Grammys gay again
Performance-wise, this year’s ceremony was perhaps the most queer in recent memory, with spirited appearances by LGBT superstars like Brandi Carlile and St. Vincent. But the highlight of the evening was, without dispute, Monáe’s stunning medley of three cuts off Qrewcial’s favorite record of 2018. You could feel the electricity through your TV screen as the raw sexual power of “Make Me Feel” came to life, complete with the vagina pants from the “PYNK” video. Always a born performer, here Monáe brought on moves as slick as those of her late mentor Prince. She strutted and writhed across the stage, cloaked in bisexual pink-purple lighting and surrounded by gyrating ArchAndroids. (That this singular artist gave us this capital-P Performance and walked home with nothing definitively proves these awards are a farce.)
The whole thing was much, much more than just a killer set. Monáe reminded the entire room of the exhilarating, life-giving power of music–the joy of watching a blisteringly-confident artist do the thing they do best. “I love you, Dirty Computers,” she whispered as the song ended. The feeling’s mutual.
Alicia Keys was full of love for everyone
After two excruciating James Corden-hosted ceremonies in a row, watching Keys take the stage was truly a blast of fresh air. Ever the impeccably-dressed ray of sunlight, she delivered a freewheeling but enthusiastic intro that struck a mood of love and celebration. “Do you feel that love in the room,” she asked her crowd of fellow artists. “This is love, this is life, this is livin’, this is light–and all because of music!” Keys’ endless positivism and reassurance throughout the night were a true blessing. She called the audience “sparkly and gorgeous” and promised them, “I got you.” Also on hand for the opening were Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jennifer Lopez, and Michelle Obama, who all had powerful words on how music had impacted their lives. It ultimately made for a legitimately beautiful moment that undercut the cash-fueled cynicism of the event.
Brandi Carlile made Post Malone cry
Like Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley before her, the Americana icon has one of those once-in-a-generation voices. She sings in a fiery, heavenly wail that simultaneously rocks your soul and reduces you to a puddle. A sequin-suited Carlile put her remarkable talents to great use on Sunday, absolutely shaking the rafters with a performance of “The Joke,” off last year’s By the Way, I Forgive You. With the watered-down yowl-fest that is “Shallow” looming large over the night, it was neat to see the real deal showing the youngsters how it’s done. Even human-manifestation-of-a-Spencer’s-Gifts Post Malone could be seen vibing to Carlile’s soaring, impassioned delivery. Carlile snagged three awards that evening, with By The Way taking home Best Americana Album and “The Joke” earning Best Roots Performance and Song.
Cardi B twerked on a piano.
Cardi only won one of her five nominations this year: a richly-deserved Best Rap Album for Invasion of Privacy. However, that didn’t stop the phenomenal talent from making her mark on the evening. Clad in an ornate black leopard-print suit and enormous feathers to match, Cardi ripped into an ostentatious version of recent single “Money.” Amid scores of backup dancers on a grand burlesque set, she exhibited her spitfire flow—not to mention a few killer dance moves—on top of a Swarovski crystal-studded piano once owned by (I’m not making this up) Liberace. Few figures in the music biz today can put on quite as spectacular a show as Ms. Almánzar, and she’s yet to fail to amaze in every way possible.
St. Vincent was St. Vincent.
Annie Clark, one of our chief arbiters of queer post-pop weirdness, did not disappoint on Grammy night. Taking the stage in what could only be described as Saint-Laurent BDSM-chic, she launched into a minimalist, ecstatically sexy take on the title track of 2017’s Masseduction. Joining Clark was Best New Artist Dua Lipa, whose hit “One Kiss” set the scene for one of the most beautiful, sensuous, and straight-up fun performances in Grammy history. Lipa draped herself around Clark, gazing lovingly into her eyes as Clark punctuated the track with one of her signature face-disintegrating guitar solos. A dazzling, robotic display of pure future-cool for the ages.
A living legend took the stage in honor of…herself.
After receiving the MusiCares Person of the Year award two days earlier, country music legend and national gosh dang treasure Dolly Parton graced the Grammys with a joyous greatest-hits mini-revue. She and her various guests–including ROTY winner Kacey Musgraves–took the Staples Center Stage by storm with a medley including standards like “Jolene,” “9 to 5,” and “Here You Come Again.” It’s rare to see an artist actively participate in their own Grammys tribute–but then again, we’re talkin’ about Dolly here.