Lady Gaga, Kacey Mus­graves and Child­ish Gam­bino were win­ners on a night no­table mostly for its no-show stars.

A big night for Kacey Mus­graves and some firsts for Child­ish Gam­bino and hip-hop, but night is de­fined by no-shows

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY CHRIS RICHARDS

Kacey Mus­graves won the big one. Lady Gaga won a few. But be­fore we re­view the score­card from the 61st an­nual Grammy Awards in Los An­ge­les, let’s check the at­ten­dance sheet — be­cause this was a cer­e­mony de­fined by the no-shows and the Record­ing Acad­emy should be em­bar­rassed about that.

The first glar­ing ab­sence on Sun­day night came dur­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion of song of the year, one of the most pres­ti­gious lit­tle gramo­phones in the bunch. The award went to “This Is Amer­ica” by Child­ish Gam­bino, the nomdu-rap of en­ter­tain­ment poly­math Don­ald Glover. But he wasn’t there to col­lect his prize.

And he wasn’t the only rap star lever­ag­ing his ret­i­cence. De­spite lead­ing the pack with the most nom­i­na­tions, Ken­drick La­mar and Drake also de­clined re­spec­tive in­vi­ta­tions to per­form on Sun­day night — pre­sum­ably be­cause they know their Grammy his­tory. Rap re­mains the dom­i­nant pop id­iom of the 21st cen­tury, but OutKast is the only rap act to have ever won al­bum of the year, the most pres­ti­gious of all Gram­mys — and that hap­pened way back in 2004. Fif­teen years later, who could blame rap’s bright­est lights for stay­ing away from the mi­cro­phone? “This Is Amer­ica” was the first rap tune to win song of the year. Ever. (Later, it won record of the year, too. Also a first.)

And that’s just one of the Gram­mys’ big, dumb prob­lems of late. An­other is deny­ing women pro­por­tional air­time dur­ing the tele­cast. So, this year, the acad­emy tried to tackle that one head-on by re­cruit­ing the serene R&B singer Ali­cia Keys to host the show. Af­ter shar­ing her open­ing mono­logue with a sur­pris­ing cast of power-peo­ple — Lady Gaga, Jen­nifer Lopez, Jada Pin­kett Smith and Michelle Obama — Keys spent the rest of the night ooz­ing sin­cer­ity, try­ing to give this slog of a cer­e­mony a co­ag­u­lant warmth.

As for the big show it­self, it was ac­tu­ally big­ger. In an ef­fort to pro­mote in­clu­sive­ness, the Record­ing Acad­emy had broad­ened its

slate in the night’s top categories — al­bum, record and song of the year, and best new artist — from five nom­i­nees to eight. That meant more styles and more sounds on the bal­lot, and more di­ver­sity in the win­ner’s cir­cle, too.

Mus­graves won al­bum of the year for her lightly psychedelic coun­try opus “Golden Hour.” Dua Lipa won best new artist. “This year we’ve re­ally stepped up,” the Bri­tish singer said while ac­cept­ing her award, tak­ing a shot at out­go­ing Record­ing Acad­emy Pres­i­dent Neil Port­now, who re­sponded to the gen­der asym­me­try at last year’s Gram­mys by ask­ing women to “step up.” Mo­ments later, Port­now ma­te­ri­al­ized on­stage to ad­dress the crowd, say­ing that his eyes had been opened by last year’s or­deal and that the Gram­mys must “en­sure that there is di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion in all that we do.”

For many women, Sun­day al­ready felt like progress. In the coun­try bracket, Mus­graves also won best coun­try al­bum, best coun­try song and best coun­try solo per­for­mance. In the R&B col­umn, H.E.R. won best R&B per­for­mance and best R&B al­bum. Lady Gaga won in var­i­ous categories: best pop solo per­for­mance for “Joanne,” and best pop group/duo per­for­mance and best song writ­ten for vis­ual me­dia for “Shal­low,” her new sig­na­ture power-bal­lad from “A Star is Born.” And when the larger-than-life Cardi B ac­cepted her award for best rap al­bum, she seemed al­most par­a­lyzed by the honor.

As ever, the show’s per­for­mances vastly out­num­bered the ac­cep­tance speeches, and they ranged from fun, to a lit­tle bit off, to in­fu­ri­at­ing in their in­ex­pli­ca­bil­ity.

In the fun col­umn: An eter­nally ef­fer­ves­cent Dolly Par­ton lead­ing her own de­light­ful trib­ute per­for­mance, ac­com­pa­nied by Katy Perry and Mi­ley Cyrus singing so hard, it was as if they were try­ing to harm that poor woman. Also, Shawn Men­des do­ing light Bruce Spring­steen cos­play, and Camila Ca­bello, strut­ting her stuff along­side rap- ge­nius -slashzero-time-Grammy- nom­i­nee Young Thug, Menudo grad­u­ate Ricky Martin, Latin trap star J. Balvin and jazz mae­stro Ar­turo San­doval in a wide-armed col­lab­o­ra­tion that shouldn’t have worked, but did.

A lit­tle off: Gaga’s an­tic­i­pated per­for­mance of “Shal­low.” She performs it like a movie star on screen, and she’s been singing it like a rock star at her new res­i­dency in Las Ve­gas. On the Grammy stage, she seemed stiff.

And the night’s strange blood-boiler: Rap-ad­ja­cent vo­cal­izer Post Malone per­form­ing “Rock­star,” a record of the year-nom­i­nated duet with 21 Sav­age. Some­how, Malone failed to men­tion the fact that 21 had re­cently been ar­rested by U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment and was spend­ing Grammy night in a Ge­or­gia de­ten­tion cen­ter. In­stead, he let his “21 SAV­AGE” T-shirt do the talk­ing. When he fin­ished with “Rock­star,” he joined the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers for a song that only the band seemed to know.

Thank­fully, most of the evening’s AWOL nom­i­nees were ab­sent by choice. Last week, pop singer Ariana Grande pulled the plug on her Grammy night per­for­mance, ac­cus­ing long­time tele­cast pro­ducer Ken Ehrlich of sti­fling her cre­ative agency. Ehrlich has had pub­lic dis­agree­ments with per­form­ers at Gram­mys past, in­clud­ing an espe­cially spicy tiff with folk singer Justin Ver­non of Bon Iver back in 2012 af­ter Ver­non de­clined to play by the show’s rules.

Just last year, New Zealand’s Lorde backed out of the cer­e­mony when she was asked to per­form a Tom Petty trib­ute in­stead of her mu­sic — which hap­pened to be nom­i­nated for some of the night’s top hon­ors. So with Grande’s dra­matic with­drawal chew­ing up band­width on so­cial me­dia in the hours lead­ing up to Mu­sic’s Big­gest Night, fans may have felt ex­hausted be­fore the show even started.

Based on the pre-tele­cast cer­e­mony streamed on­line from Los An­ge­les on Sun­day af­ter­noon, Grammy vot­ers are tired, too. For more than three hours, tro­phies were re­peat­edly tossed out to the most rec­og­niz­able names on the bal­lot. Beck — who in­fa­mously bested Bey­oncé for al­bum of the year in 2015 — main­tained his Grammy-cat­nip sta­tus, winning best al­ter­na­tive al­bum and best en­gi­neered al­bum, non­clas­si­cal.

“Quincy,” a doc­u­men­tary about the leg­endary record pro­ducer Quincy Jones, won best mu­sic film, mak­ing Jones, now a 28-time Grammy win­ner, the win­ningest Grammy win­ner alive. The Grammy for best spo­ken word al­bum went to none other than our 39th pres­i­dent, Jimmy Carter.

With so many awards in cir­cu­la­tion — this year’s tro­phy-count clocked in at an in­sen­si­ble 84 — it’s hard to tell whether the Gram­mys are get­ting any closer to solv­ing their many prob­lems. And at one mo­ment in the mid­dle of the tele­cast, the acad­emy showed us all how the best in­ten­tions still re­quire fol­low-through.

Coun­try duo Dan and Shay were pre­sent­ing the award for best rap song, and when they opened the en­ve­lope and found “God’s Plan” in­side, Drake ac­tu­ally ma­te­ri­al­ized from back­stage to ac­cept the award.

In his speech, he spoke di­rectly to all the young mu­sic mak­ers watch­ing at home, telling them that if any­one is lis­ten­ing to their mu­sic, “You don’t need this right here, you al­ready won.” There seemed to be more to his speech, but the pow­ers-that-be up in the con­trol room didn’t care. They cut him off and went to a McDon­ald’s com­mer­cial.

H.E.R. (GABRIELLA WILSON) PERFORMS. KEVORK DJANSEZIANGETTY IMAGES

MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS

ROBYN BECK/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Sun­day’s Grammy Awards in­cluded per­for­mances by Lady Gaga, at top, and Janelle Monáe, above cen­ter. But there were glar­ing ab­sences — no­tably rap­per Child­ish Gam­bino, who won song of the year.

KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/GETTY IMAGES

R&B singer Ali­cia Keys, above, oozed sin­cer­ity as she hosted the Grammy Awards on Sun­day. Kacey Mus­graves, below, won al­bum of the year — the Gram­mys’ big­gest prize — for her lightly psychedelic coun­try opus “Golden Hour.”

ROBYN BECK/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

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