Heading into the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday night, the question on many viewers minds was how the awards ceremony would acknowledge the controversy that’s been swirling around it for several weeks regarding accusations of vote-rigging and other misdeeds made by the Recording Academy’s ousted CEO. But following the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash on Sunday, the telecast turned into a tribute…and a reminder that music can be a powerful healing force.
Taking place at L.A.’s Staples Center — “the house that Kobe Bryant built” — the Grammys telecast immediately acknowledged the loss of Bryant in its first few seconds, as leading nominee Lizzo took the stage and stated, “Tonight is for Kobe.”
Following Lizzo’s performance, host Alicia Keys then took the stage to note, “We’re all feeling crazy sadness right now…we lost a hero…and we’re literally standing here heartbroken…so I would like to ask everybody to take a moment and hold [Kobe, his family and the victims] inside of you, and share our strength and our support with their families. We never imagined in a million years we’d have to start the show like this.”
Alicia and Boyz II Men then delivered an A cappella rendition of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”
But the Grammy controversy didn’t go unremarked-upon. After the first commercial break, Alicia, sitting at the piano, commented, “It’s been a hell of a week. There’s a lot going, on but I’m proud to be standing here.”
Then, noting that it’s a new decade and “a time for newness,” she continued, “We refuse the negative energy. We refuse the old systems. We want to be respected and safe in our diversity. We want to be shifting to realness and inclusivity. So tonight, we want to celebrate the people—the artists that put themselves on the line and share their truth with us.”
Her comments appeared to refer to the accusations that the Recording Academy is a “boys’ club” environment that was resistant to change. Then, as part of a song that mentioned this year’s nominees, she sang, “It’s when good people do nothing that the bad guys win” — which may have alluded to the controversy, or perhaps to what’s happening politically.
But in accepting the first award of the night, Best Pop Solo Performance for “Truth Hurts,” Lizzo brought everything back around to the tragedy and the theme of music as a healer.
“Today all of my little problems that I thought were big as the world were gone, and I realize that there’s people hurting right now,” she told the crowd. “You guys create beautiful music. You guys create connectivity. And as I’m speaking to all of you all in this room, we need to reach out. This is the beginning of making music that moves people again…Let’s continue to reach out…and lift each other up.”
The nods to Bryant continued through the night, with his #24 jersey prominently on display during several performances. At the end of an all-star hip hop tribute to slain rapper Nipsey Hussle, Bryant’s photo was displayed alongside Hussle’s on the screen. And when John Legend accepted the Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Performance for Hussle’s song “Higher,” he told the crowd, “Let’s love each other, let’s love our families, let’s hold each other tight.”
But despite the tragedy, the Grammys also highlighted a new generation of exciting performers. 18-year-old Billie Eilish, the night’s big winner with five trophies, including Album of the Year — making her the youngest artist ever to win that prestigious category.
2019’s other breakout star Lizzo took home three awards, while 20-year-old chart-topping “Old Town Road” rapper Lil Nas X won two. Plus, younger talent like Rosalia, H.E.R., Demi Lovato, Camila Cabello, Tyler, the Creator, BTS and Ariana Grande all got performance spotlights.
The legends got some love as well. Country icon Tanya Tucker won the first-ever Grammy awards of her career, despite having been first nominated back in 1973. Disco legend Gloria Gaynor won her first Grammy in 40 years.
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