The 2021 Grammy Awards were always going to be a little awkward, given pandemic constraints. But the show managed to soldier on anyway – and indicated it’s been paying attention to criticism about diversity and inclusion by recognizing Black and female artists with wins in major categories.
The Recording Academy – the voting body behind the Grammy Awards – has been working to diversify its membership and organization, accelerating efforts over the last year. Viewers will be pleased that the academy seems to be making good on those efforts for now – except when it came to record of the year.
At Sunday night’s ceremony, the slate of winners reflected current music tastes and sales charts by honoring artists like Beyoncé, Megan Thee Stallion, Dua Lipa and Taylor Swift. Here’s a closer look at what they got right – and wrong.
The full winners list:Beyoncé makes history with most wins, Billie Eilish wins second record of the year
What did the Grammys get right? Beyoncé, Megan Thee Stallion, H.E.R. win
Judging solely by the diverse array of performers – from DaBaby to Bad Bunny to Mickey Guyton to Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B – you wouldn’t necessarily think the Grammys had a diversity problem. But when you learn that Guyton was the first Black female solo country singer to perform at the show, that should put things into perspective.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z unexpectedly turning up instantly made the show that much more interesting and relevant – and extra-special, considering the records Beyoncé broke Sunday night. It seemed like Megan Thee Stallion was just as surprised to see her as we were, and made their time sharing the stage together that much more riveting.
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H.E.R.’s song of the year win for “I Can’t Breathe” reflected the country’s renewed racial reckoning of this past summer. The academy’s recognition for the song suggests the needle moved, ever so slightly, for correctly honoring Black artists (and Black lives). In conjunction with Lil Baby’s performance of “The Bigger Picture” that directly confronted police brutality, the Recording Academy sent a loud and clear message about the artists it chose to elevate.
Earlier, best new artist winner Megan Thee Stallion slayed alongside Cardi B with their “WAP” performance. The duo’s powerful sexual energy and confidence was a welcome sight for network television reminiscent of J.Lo and Shakira’s Super Bowl performance of 2020. Considering how much Black bodies in particular are policed – quite literally – Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s unapologetic self-love told audiences to love their bodies, too. America: We hope you watched and learned.
We couldn’t have classic Pride celebrations this year but that didn’t mean we stopped listening to “Rain on Me.” Lady Gaga’s win for best pop duo/group performance with Ariana Grande (arguably the song of the summer) was a win for the LGBTQ community, too. The track arrived in late May ahead of Pride Month in June and served as an anthem to a Pride lost and a hope for a future one.
And we wanted to leap into the screen and grab Harry Styles’ feather boa during his opening performance of “Watermelon Sugar.” Styles turned heads last year for being the first man to grace the cover of Vogue – and did so in a ballgown. Seeing him yet again gender-bend effortlessly on national television will empower children to feel they don’t need to fit into any kind of gender binary – a win for all.
Wow:Taylor Swift makes Grammys history with ‘Folklore’ win, becoming first woman in three-peat club
Must-read:Brutally honest reviews of every Grammys 2021 performance
What did the Grammys get wrong?
We spent time critiquing the Grammy nominations, which were hit (great news for women in rock and country music) or miss (a less-than-diverse showing of children’s group nominees) when it came to diversity and inclusion. But the winners themselves were a diverse group, suggesting that in future years, an even more diverse field to begin with could yield sustainable inclusion efforts.
“A successful show will be a show that people love and we don’t get torpedoed … based on who wins and who doesn’t,” Harvey Mason Jr., national chairman and interim president of the Recording Academy, told USA TODAY ahead of the show. Given the night’s winners, we’re guessing the academy will avoid a major torpedo beyond those initial nomination snubs – save for Billie Eilish’s win for record of the year, which even she suggested should’ve gone to Megan Thee Stallion. We’re inclined to agree.
Bow down! Beyoncé is now the most-winning female singer – like in Grammy history
The Weeknd failed to score a nod at all, prompting him to tweet “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency.” On Thursday, just days before this year’s ceremony, the singer (whose real name is Abel Tesfaye) said he planned to boycott the Grammys “because of the secret committees.”
No K-pop groups broke into any of the major categories, and BTS failed to win its only nomination for best pop duo/group performance. While Gaga and Grande’s “Rain on Me” banger was more than deserving, failing to recognize the dominant force that is BTS (and K-pop at large) is an egregious blindspot the BTS Army won’t soon forgive.
The Recording Academy has weathered controversy in recent years stemming from a lack of diversity in its membership, nominations and awards.
“If we are waiting until Grammy night to have conversations on race and inclusivity metrics, then we have failed to acknowledge the systemic issues plaguing the Recording Academy and its power structure,” Kimberly Tignor, a civil rights lawyer and founder of Take Creative Control, told USA TODAY before the show.
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