The archetypal Grammy performance is a slow, sad piano ballad. It’s a relatively safe choice for an artist — at worst it’s slightly boring, but when done right it can be transcendental. So it’s fitting that the artist who gave exactly this kind of performance, Billie Eilish, is the one who walked away with all the biggest awards. Safe and well-deserved, it was no surprise that Billie had such a great night, but it made for an anticlimactic ceremony to say the least.
When Eilish took the stage to accept the Album of the Year Grammy for “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?,” her fourth prize of the night, she did so with exasperation. “Can I just say that Ariana deserves this?” she confessed.
Twitter agreed. “#Scammys” trended afterward on the website, with many fans decrying one of the biggest surprises of the night: Ariana Grande’s grand total of zero wins for her monumental album, “thank u, next.” However, the Recording Academy loves to attach itself to one artist and never let go (see: Adele), so it really isn’t that surprising that Eilish won the award, sending Grande home empty-handed despite her five nominations.
Before they could even return to their seats, Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell would have to return to the stage to accept one more award: Record of the Year for “Bad Guy.” With this award, Eilish completed the sweep of the big four categories — Best New Artist along with Album, Record and Song of the Year — a feat only accomplished once before by Christopher Cross in 1981. Eilish didn’t even give a speech, seemingly having run out of things to say. It was a boring end to a boring night.
The performances certainly did not help. Beyond Eilish’s fairly standard rendition of “when the party’s over,” Demi Lovato debuted her new ballad “Anyone” and Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton sang their new duet “Nobody But You.” A handful of other artists joined in during the ceremony for a few more forgettable performances.
Making matters worse, these subpar performances were often programmed back-to-back, causing long droughts between the actual presentations of the awards. In the first two hours of the three-and-a-half-hour ceremony, only three awards were handed out, and one of these was “Best Comedy Album.” The pace of the awards distribution picked up toward the end of the night, but this backloading wasn’t a good look for the Grammys — there wasn’t even enough time for a commercial break between the last two awards.
The most entertaining moments, in the absence of any drama with the awards, were the dynamic performances. Lizzo opened up the ceremony with a fiery combo of “Cuz I Love You” and “Truth Hurts,” bringing a level of energy that wouldn’t be matched for the rest of the night. Best New Artist nominee Rosalía performed her new song “Juro Que” alongside hit “Malamente.” Lil Nas X sang all the different remixes of “OId Town Road” on a rotating stage before joining Nas (the original — yes, it’s confusing) on a remix of “Rodeo.”
Ariana Grande may have left Staples Arena without an award, but she didn’t fail to make an impression first. Given a significant amount of time to work with for her performance, Grande was able to create the best show of the night. Her three-song mashup of “imagine,” “7 rings” and “thank u, next” ended with her symbolically putting a ring back into its case, closing out the most commercially and critically important era of her career.
Although it may be disappointing that Eilish gobbled up nearly every award in sight, it’s encouraging to see a new vanguard of artists winning at the Grammys. Along with her five awards, Lizzo, Lil Nas X and Rosalía went home with three, two and one awards, respectively, representing a standout night for performers nominated for best new artist. Are the Grammys finally ready to move on to a new fleet of artists? Only time will tell.
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