Noteworthy Moments From the 2021 Grammys
Megan Thee Stallion, Beyoncé, Harry Styles, and other highlights from the ceremony.
Megan Thee Stallion, Beyoncé, Harry Styles, and other highlights from the ceremony.
Text: Luana Harumi
If the music industry has been one of the most affected in the past year because of Covid-19, what could be expected of its “big night”? A historic event, of course – and the 2021 Grammys managed to pull it off in a surprisingly delightful way. Hosted by Trevor Noah, the 63rd Grammy Awards took place on Sunday in Los Angeles in front of a small audience of masked socially distanced nominees. Alternating between an outdoor main stage and an indoor structure for live and pre-recorded performances, the ceremony was perhaps the first major pandemic-era awards show to not feel like a long, awkward Zoom call.
The nearly four-hour telecast highlighted women and Black Lives Matter protests in a dazzling celebration of one of music’s weirdest and most challenging years. Take a look at some of our favorite moments from the 2021 Grammy Awards:
An opening act that actually worked
When Noah started presenting the first performers of the evening, things looked like they would go an awkward direction: Black Pumas, HAIM, Billie Eilish, and Harry Styles were all in the same big, crowdless stage and would take turns playing their Grammy-nominated hits. However, as soon as the first chords of “Watermelon Sugar” reverberated, all worries were gone. Cameras showed Eilish having fun with Styles’ dance moves, then Styles whistling to her rendition of “everything i wanted,” followed by an energetic performance of “The Steps” by the Haim sisters.
Women dominated the Grammys
The evening’s four major categories went to women: Megan Thee Stallion won Best New Artist, H.E.R. won Song of the Year for her protest anthem “I Can’t Breathe,” Taylor Swift’s folklore became Album of the Year, and Billie Eilish achieved Record of the Year for “everything i wanted.” Megan also won Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for “Savage” alongside Beyoncé, who also won Best R&B Performance for “Black Parade” and Best Music Video for “Brown Skin Girl”, while Dua Lipa won Best Pop Vocal Album for Future Nostalgia, Miranda Lambert won Best Country Album for Wildcard and The Highwomen won Best Country Song for “Crowded Table.” Fiona Apple, who was absent from the ceremony, also won Best Alternative Music Album for Fetch the Bolt Cutters and Best Rock Performance for “Shameika.”
Megan Thee Stallion’s acceptance speech
Megan Thee Stallion was left speechless when she won her first award of the evening for Best New Artist – she became the first female rapper to win the category since Lauryn Hill in 1999. Megan then went on to win Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for “Savage” with Beyoncé and took the opportunity to thank her fellow Houston artist for always inspiring her since her Destiny’s Child days. “My mama would always be like 'Megan what would Beyoncé do?',” she said. “And I'm always like, you know what, what would Beyoncé do, but let me make it a little ratchet.”
Beyoncé made history – or better saying, herstory
With four wins on Sunday, Beyoncé achieved a total of 28 prizes and became the female artist with most Grammy wins ever, breaking a record previously held by Alison Krauss. Beyoncé now also holds the record for the most Grammys won by any singer, male or female, and is tied with producer Quincy Jones as the living person with the most Grammys. (However, the Recording Academy hasn't recognized her in any of the four major categories since 2010, when "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" won Song of the Year – a fact that did not go unnoticed by the Beyhive.) And with the “Brown Skin Girl” win, Blue Ivy is now also officially a Grammy-winner.
Lil Baby’s powerful performance
Lil Baby performed his protest song “The Bigger Picture” in a graphic reenactment of a scene of a Black man being killed by the police, followed by protests and a speech by activist Tamika Mallory. “It’s been a hell of a year,” she said. “Hell for over 400 years. My people, it’s time we stand, it’s time we demand the freedom that this land promises. President Biden, we demand justice, equity, policy, and everything else that freedom encompasses. And to accomplish this, we don’t need allies, we need accomplices.”
Dua Lipa’s pink glitter discothèque
Lipa took the stage for a Future Nostalgia medley of “Levitating,” with DaBaby, and “Don’t Start Now,” a performance that featured intense choreography, masked dancers, and no less than three Versace wardrobe changes – including a Swarovski-laden fuchsia cape. The negative part? Realizing we still haven’t had the chance to enjoy the hits at a packed dance club.
A beautiful “In Memoriam” segment
This year’s homage to artists and other music industry players who passed away was emotional as usual but also brought powerful performances to the stage. Bruno Mars and the Free Nationals honored Little Richard with a passionate performance of “Good Golly Miss Molly,” followed by a serene Lionel Richie version of Kenny Rogers’ “Lady” and a Brandi Carlile’s moving rendition of John Prine’s final song, “I Remember Everything.” Brittany Howard closed the segment with a striking performance of Gerry Mardsen’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Taylor Swift’s cottagecore dream
Dressed in a flowing gown and with her hair styled in braided buns, Swift performed some folklore tracks in an enchanted forest set that reminded fans of “The Hobbit”’s Middle-earth village. She started singing “cardigan” laying down in the grass and then joined collaborators Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff inside a little cozy cabin for “august” and “willow.” Later that evening, the trio won Album of the Year for folklore – making Swift the first woman to win the category three times.
Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s heated performance
Megan Thee Stallion went up a classy, bougie golden stage to perform a medley of “Body” and “Savage” before joining Cardi B in metallic bodysuits on a strip-club inspired set that included a giant bed and a huge stripper shoe that doubled as a dance pole. This was the duo’s first live performance of “WAP” and, as expected, it was wild. Or, at least as wild as it could be, as the lyrics were mostly censored, with a detail most viewers (and CBS) probably missed: the song ended with a Brazilian funk remix by DJ Pedro Sampaio that says, “Fica de quatro” – or, in good Portuguese, “get on all fours.” Oops.
BTS’s historic rooftop show
BTS was one of the most anticipated performances of the evening and they did not disappoint. They made history as the first-ever South Korean group to be nominated for a major Grammy and stunned viewers with a lively act straight from Seoul. The band sang their feel-good hit “Dynamite” as they danced and roamed through a replica of the Grammys Los Angeles stage (and backstage), ending the show on a rooftop emblazoned with their signature logo.
Billie Eilish’s shocking Record of the Year win
The biggest category of the evening was presented by the chill peace-and-love Beatle Ringo Starr, who handed the award to Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas for “everything i wanted.” Eilish looked shocked as she went on stage to accept the Grammy and said she believed it would go to Megan Thee Stallion for “Savage.” “You deserve this,” Eilish addressed Megan in her acceptance speech. “You had a year that I think is unstoppable. You are a queen. I want to cry thinking about how much I love you.”
She added, “Genuinely, this goes to her. Can we just cheer for Megan Thee Stallion, please?”
The win and Eilish’s words reignited a discussion about the Recording Academy’s celebration of diversity, with viewers pointing out it reminded them of when Adele talked about how Beyoncé should have won Album of the Year for Lemonade and Macklemore apologized to Kendrick Lamar for winning Best Rap Album for The Heist over Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city.
The unprecedented Grammys ceremony required guests to show up with the most famous accessory of the past year. Most nominees in attendance were careful to coordinate their masks with the rest of their outfits, giving us some great face covering moments – and a bittersweet reminder that we’re still living a twisted reality. Click here to check out our favorite outfits of the evening.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Beyoncé had never won in any of the four major categories of the Grammys. Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" won Song of the Year at the 52nd Grammy Awards in 2010.