Kacey Mus­graves leads ma­jor show­ing for fe­male artists as the cer­e­mony re­stores some of its bat­tered rep­u­ta­tion


As the host of the Grammy Awards on Sun­day, Ali­cia Keys did a bit in which she re­called one of her pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ences at mu­sic’s most pres­ti­gious awards show. The year was 2005, she said, and the R&B singer badly wanted to win song of the year for her tune “If I Ain’t Got You.”

Well, that didn’t hap­pen.

But ev­i­dently the guy who won that night, John Mayer, shared Keys’ opin­ion that she de­served the award — so he broke his Grammy into two pieces and gave her one, which she pulled out all these years later to show the au­di­ence.

No­body was ask­ing women to set­tle for half a Grammy this time.

Fe­male artists took many of the big­gest prizes at the 61st Grammy Awards, held at Sta­ples Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les, in­clud­ing al­bum of the year, which went to Kacey Mus­graves for her psy­che­delic coun­try disc “Golden Hour,” and best new artist, which went to the dance-pop singer Dua Lipa.

Cardi B, the de­light­fully straighttalk­ing New York MC, be­came the first solo fe­male rap­per to win the award for rap al­bum with her smash “In­va­sion of Pri­vacy.” Other win­ners included H.E.R., who took R&B al­bum with her self-ti­tled de­but, and Ari­ana Grande, whose

“Sweet­ener” was named the year’s best pop vo­cal al­bum.

The re­sults rep­re­sented a re­mark­able shift from 2018, when the Gram­mys were roundly — and justly — crit­i­cized for shut­ting women out of sev­eral ma­jor cat­e­gories, de­spite the fact that women have re­li­ably been the ones mov­ing pop’s nee­dle in re­cent years.

Record­ing Academy Pres­i­dent Neil Port­now made mat­ters worse af­ter last year’s show when he sug­gested that women should “step up” if they wanted to be rec­og­nized — as though the sys­temic bar­ri­ers women face were merely a trick of the mind, and fail­ure to sur­mount them merely a lack of gump­tion.

Ac­cept­ing her prize, Lipa grinned and said, “I guess this year we’ve re­ally stepped up.”

The academy’s cho­sen win­ners this year — and its cho­sen per­form­ers and hon­orees — can be taken as ev­i­dence of an at­tempt at dam­age con­trol. The re­cent dearth of fe­male win­ners and Port­now’s clumsy phras­ing — along with the Gram­mys’ long-es­tab­lished blind spot when it comes to hip-hop — have done se­ri­ous harm to the show’s rep­u­ta­tion among young hit-mak­ers.

Last week Grande went pub­lic with her beef with the Gram­mys’ ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, Ken Ehrlich, over what she said was his lack of re­spect for a per­for­mance she’d planned to give. (As a re­sult, she sat out Sun­day’s cer­e­mony.)

And though he was nom­i­nated for al­bum of the year with his sound­track to the Marvel block­buster “Black Pan­ther,” Ken­drick La­mar also opted not to ap­pear. Also no­tably ab­sent was Child­ish Gam­bino, who had sev­eral im­por­tant wins for “This Is Amer­ica,” his vi­ral rap hit about gun vi­o­lence and racial ter­ror.

Along with the awards, Sun­day’s per­for­mances — the vast ma­jor­ity by women and peo­ple of color — at times seemed to scream, “Hey, we get it!” But the night, hosted by Keys with low-key warmth and en­thu­si­asm, never felt cyn­i­cal. It sim­ply seemed more in line with pop as it ex­ists to­day than the cer­e­mony has for years.

Camila Ca­bello opened the show with a col­or­ful ren­di­tion of her song “Ha­vana” that fea­tured cameos by Ricky Martin, Young Thug, Ar­turo San­doval and J Balvin (the last of whom held a news­pa­per head­lined “Build bridges not walls”).

Janelle Monáe did a med­ley of songs from her “Dirty Com­puter” — a fu­tur­is­tic ac­count of love de­fined as broadly as pos­si­ble — while ac­com­pa­nied by dancers wear­ing anatom­i­cally in­spired out­fits.

“Let the vagina have a monologue,” she said.

H.E.R., shred­ding on an elec­tric gui­tar, did a beau­ti­ful ren­di­tion of her song “Hard Place” that felt suf­fused with con­fi­dence in her own vi­sion. She wasn’t hur­ry­ing for any­one.

And then there was Cardi B, who rapped “Money” while dressed as an evil queen amid a boudoir dream­scape.

On­stage later to ac­cept her rap al­bum tro­phy, the out­spo­ken and ver­bally dex­ter­ous hip-hop star was speech­less for once and ad­mit­ted that her nerves were get­ting the best of her. With a grin, she added, “Maybe I need to start smok­ing weed” — a line that ex­em­pli­fied the authen­tic goof­ball charm that’s en­deared her to so many over the last two years.

An­other sign of progress for the Gram­mys: The awards for record and song of the year went to Child­ish Gam­bino — also known as the ac­tor Don­ald Glover — for his sear­ing track “This Is Amer­ica.” The lat­ter rep­re­sented the first time a hiphop track has won song of the year — an ab­sur­dity, given how long rap has dom­i­nated the Top 40, but a wel­come achieve­ment nonethe­less.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper won the award for pop duo per­for­mance with “Shal­low,” from their movie “A Star Is Born,” which felt only right. Af­ter all, what mu­si­cal mo­ment got more mileage on­line in the last 12 months than Gaga’s whoaoh-oh yowl from that pitch­per­fect power bal­lad?

As if to prove the point, the singer per­formed “Shal­low” on Sun­day’s show, re­fash­ion­ing it into a kind of art-metal ex­trav­a­ganza sure to be end­lessly memed in the days ahead.

And the show — long scorned for pair­ing young up-and-com­ers with past­their-prime veter­ans for per­for­mances proudly re­ferred to as “Grammy mo­ments” — also did bet­ter bal­anc­ing old and new.

Mi­ley Cyrus and Shawn Men­des, both in their 20s, per­formed his “In My Blood” to­gether, while Lipa joined St. Vin­cent — as op­posed to, y’know, Judy Collins — to mash up a cou­ple of their tunes.

Even the in­evitable tributes to ag­ing icons felt fresher than usual, in large part be­cause Dolly Par­ton and Diana Ross took con­trol of their own salutes, singing with real gusto (if not al­ways a clear sense of pitch, as in Ross’ case).

Keys, in a lovely se­quence that had her play­ing two pi­anos at the same time, paid ten­der homage to some of her fa­vorite songs, which had to have been the first time Nat King Cole’s “Un­for­get­table” and “Lu­cid Dreams” by the rap­per Juice WRLD were in such prox­im­ity.

Not ev­ery­thing worked, of course.

One dread­ful Grammy mo­ment had Post Malone jam­ming with the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers, which did noth­ing for ei­ther act. And a cel­e­bra­tion of Mo­town Records — the la­bel that ar­guably laid the ground­work for black Amer­i­can pop — was fronted for some rea­son by … Jen­nifer Lopez.

Per­haps this num­ber could have il­lus­trated how Mo­town’s glo­ri­ous songs reached be­yond spe­cific cul­tures to unite peo­ple of all back­grounds.

But Lopez didn’t do any­thing to “Danc­ing in the Street” or “Please Mr. Post­man” to make that point; it was pure high-level mimicry — as pro­fes­sional as it was mean­ing­less.

But those off notes were ex­cep­tions in a pro­gram that went some way to­ward restor­ing the Gram­mys’ bat­tered rep­u­ta­tion.

Mar­cus Yam Los An­ge­les Times

KACEY MUS­GRAVES holds her four awards — in­clud­ing for al­bum of the year for “Golden Hour” — at the 61st Grammy Awards. Last year, the show was roundly crit­i­cized for leav­ing women out of top cat­e­gories.

Pho­to­graphs by Robert Gauthier Los An­ge­les Times

DOLLY PAR­TON, left, and Mi­ley Cyrus per­form on­stage at Sta­ples Cen­ter dur­ing the 61st Grammy Awards on Sun­day night.

ALI­CIA KEYS hosted with low-key warmth and en­thu­si­asm. Not ev­ery­thing worked, but the Gram­mys made progress over a ma­ligned 2018 pro­gram.

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