Grammys 2019: Best, Worst, WTF Moments – Rolling Stone
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Grammys 2019: 20 Best, Worst and Most WTF Moments

Cardi B’s undisputed triumphs, Alicia Keys’ unflappable chill and so much more

The 2019 Grammys were a melee before Sunday’s telecast even began, as Ariana Grande’s very public beef with producer Ken Ehrlich threatened to overshadow whatever might actually go down on music’s biggest night. And it only got worse from there, with Drake and Dua Lipa using their podium moments to throw further shade at the Academy. But a few stellar performers — not to mention audience VIPs BTS — managed to dispel the bad vibes, making the near–four-hour slog feel at least somewhat worthwhile. Below is our rundown of the good, the bad and the can’t-look-away ugly.

US musician St. Vincent (R) and English singer-songwriter Dua Lipa perform onstage during the 61st Annual Grammy Awards on February 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Best: Dua Lipa and St. Vincent Shared a Glance and Now They’re Married, Sorry!

There’s no denying that queer women, from Janelle Monáe to Brandi Carlile, were among the evening’s biggest winners. Annie Clark, patron saint of modern-day avant-rock, had the great satisfaction of performing her Grammy-winning hit “Masseduction” on Sunday night, and in thigh-high leather boots, no less. As if that wasn’t sufficient gay bait, British pop star Dua Lipa emerged from the shadows — with a matching dark bob cut — to sing a sultry version of Aretha’s “Respect,” as well as her own dance-pop number “One Kiss,” as St. Vincent stoked teasing wails from her guitar. Lipa circled the stage in a black-and-white dress hooked precariously by gold pins — what fellow Rolling Stone reporter Amy X. Wang identified as a tribute to Elizabeth Hurley’s audacious Versace look circa 1994 (which has its own Wikipedia article). There were no frills, no backup dancers — just levels upon levels of sexual tension. We’ll take the screenplay now! S.E.

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 10:  An image of the late Aretha Franklin is projected on a screen while (L-R) Yolanda Adams, Fantasia, and Andra Day perform onstage during the 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Worst: Nostalgia Casts a Too-Long Shadow

The Grammys are known for lionizing veterans at the expense of young acts, but it was still surprising how much of the telecast was devoted to oldies revues. A five-track Dolly Parton tribute, a pair of throwbacks from Diana Ross, an extremely long and very misguided homage to Motown, covers of Donny Hathaway and Aretha Franklin — at times it felt that there was barely any room for new music at all. Showcasing standards from Parton and Smokey Robinson is obviously a safe play for a show that wants to avoid any possible controversy, and the Aretha tribute was packed with formidable singers (Fantasia, Andra Day and Yolanda Adams). But neglecting contemporary pop doesn’t help the Grammys overcome a reputation for being out of touch. And a throwback-parade certainly doesn’t bring in any new or young viewers. E.L.

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 10:  (EDITORS NOTE: This image has been converted to black and white.) Janelle Monae performs onstage during the 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Best: Janelle Monáe Gives a More Than OK Computer Performance

Janelle Monáe must have known that her Grammy performance had to be the exclamation point for a ground-breaking year, and she didn’t let anybody down, especially fans of vagina pants. Wearing a black vinyl suit, Monáe managed to pay homage to everyone from Prince (the lead-off performance of “Make Me Feel”), Michael Jackson (via a bit of moonwalking) and James Brown (the knee-drop move) while still being her mesmerizing pan-sexual–cyborg self. Between the phalanx of dancers and the incorporation of other songs from her latest LP (“Django Jane” and “Pynk”), the riveting performance also made you wonder: Were we seeing a preview of a Dirty Computer Broadway show? D.B.

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 10:  Shawn Mendes performs onstage during the 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Best: For Once, Grammy Pianos Actually Rocked

Grammy voters and producers alike love nothing more than A) an earnest ballad and B) making pop stars prove they can sing and play instruments, and nothing quite satisfies both those fixations than the sight of a piano onstage. Anyone hoping Kacey Musgraves would romp out “High Horse” had to settle for — you guessed it — her ballad “Rainbow,” featuring perhaps the world’s longest grand piano (appropriately rainbow-hued). Pianos made multiple appearances throughout the telecast, but at least this year, they rocked. Fog and beams of light emanated from the one Shawn Mendes emoted from. Cardi B’s pianist, Chloe Flower, played a keyboard encased in sequins. And during her tribute to songs she wished she’d written, Alicia Keys rocked two pianos at once, as if she were also saluting Rick Wakeman during his Yes days. Elton John, where were you? D.B.

ariana grande instagram

Alfredo Flores via Ariana Grande/Instagram

Best: Ariana Grande Skips Out, Still Shines

In the days leading up to the Grammys, the show’s failure to book major stars for performances repeatedly made headlines: No Kendrick Lamar, no Childish Gambino and no Ariana Grande. Producer Ken Ehrlich made things worse by getting into, and immediately losing, a war of words with Grande on Twitter. The Thank U, Next star continued to casually overshadow the Grammys during the broadcast Sunday night. She posted a series of popular photos on Instagram that showed her lounging in the gown that she would have worn if she felt like attending the ceremony. And after the Dolly Parton tribute, Grande’s Number One single “7 Rings” blared during an Apple Memoji commercial. These were effective reminders of what viewers were missing: the presence of one of pop’s most exciting stars. E.L.

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 10:  (L-R) Ricky Martin, Camila Cabello and J Balvin perform onstage during the 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Lester Cohen/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Best: Latin-Pop Royalty Build Bridges in Opening Medley

Excluding the triumphs of Dominican-Trini-American rap queen Cardi B, Latinx representation among Grammy nominees was scant in comparison to their formidable showing on U.S. charts and streaming platforms in 2018. Which is why it mattered when Havana-born Camila Cabello opened the Grammys with her earworm of an ode to her hometown, co-starring Young Thug, who later scored an award for Song of the Year with Childish Gambino. Dressed smartly in an all-white suit, Puerto Rican royalty Ricky Martin and his mustache emerged from beneath the stage to regale the audience with his 2006 plena hit, “Pégate” — set positively aflame by legendary Cuban-American trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. And hiding behind a newspaper that read, “Build bridges, not walls” — perhaps the night’s only jab at Trump’s border wall — Colombian reggaetonero J Balvin played it extra cool in his rendition of his international super hit “Mi Gente.” S.E.

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 10:  Alicia Keys performs onstage during the 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Best: “Club Keys” Opens for Business

Keys is a medley specialist: At the Clive Davis party the night before the 2018 Grammys, she sped through an impressive set of Jay Z covers, and at the 2019 ceremony, she performed a series of “songs she wished she’d written.” The conceit was goofy — “Club Keys, where the music is cool and timeless and the vibe is sensational.” But the set-up was an easy win, a chance for Keys to display her virtuosity as both a pianist (she played two of them!) and a singer. She was easygoing during Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song” and imposing during Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing).” Keys also made several unexpected left turns, such as moving from Coldplay’s “Clocks” into Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody,” and serving up a straining and theatrical rendition of Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams” that was boldly at odds with the original hit. These surprises were welcome during an otherwise by-the-book show. E.L.

Dua Lipa, Bob Newhart. Dua Lipa accepts the award for best new artist at the 61st annual Grammy Awards, in Los Angeles. Looking on at right is presenter Bob Newhart61st Annual Grammy Awards - Show, Los Angeles, USA - 10 Feb 2019

Matt Sayles/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Best: Dua Lipa Subtweets Neil Portnow IRL

A little over a year after Recording Academy president Neil Portnow told Variety that women need to “step up” if they want to win as many Grammys as men — comments which played no small role in him stepping down from his position after a nearly two-decade run — Dua Lipa threw some major shade his way when she said “so many women, I guess we really stepped up” after winning Best New Artist. Near the end of a long evening that seemed designed to clean up Portnow’s mess, they were words that many wanted to hear. A.G.

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 10:  H.E.R. performs onstage during the 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Best: H.E.R. Jolts the Ballad Parade to Life

The ceremony was packed with plodding ballads, a decision that often prevented the show from gaining any semblance of forward momentum. But not all ballads are buzzkills. H.E.R.’s rendition of “Hard Place” was one of the night’s most stirring performances, building slowly but surely to the type of satisfying, lighter-in-the-air moments that the Grammys love. H.E.R. strummed her guitar, putting her multi-instrumentalist chops front and center, and she was joined on stage by a squad of vigorous violin players and head-bobbing backing vocalists. “Hard Place” is about persisting in the face of uncertainty — “I’m caught between your love and a hard place,” H.E.R. sings. “What if nothing ever will change?” On Sunday, she proved just how quickly change can be achieved: Two years ago, she was barely known, but she took home Grammys for Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Album. E.L.

President and CEO of The Recording Academy Neil Portnow arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center, in Los Angeles61st Annual Grammy Awards - Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 10 Feb 2019

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Worst: Neil Portnow Bores Everyone on His Way Out

Neil Portnow’s annual speech has been boring Grammy viewers ever since Norah Jones and John Mayer were competing for the Best New Artist award, but on an evening when the show was so behind schedule that even Drake got cut off mid-speech it seemed especially inessential. The segment began with a tribute video where the likes of Celine Dion, Andra Day, Shirley Caesar, BeBe Winans and Yolanda Adams spoke about all of his supposed great work. He then proceeded to thank “all the artists who performed on the Grammy stage, who … represent a remarkable and diverse group, including some of the most thrilling and legendary female voices of our times.” He put a strong emphasis on the word “female” as if that would make up for his blunder. By the looks on the faces of Lady Gaga and Kacey Musgraves, it did not. A.G.

Maren Morris, Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus. Maren Morris, from left, Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus perform "After The Goldrush" at the 61st annual Grammy Awards, in Los Angeles61st Annual Grammy Awards - Show, Los Angeles, USA - 10 Feb 2019

Matt Sayles/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Best: The Grammys Go to Dollywood

A way-overdue tribute to the country icon, who was crossing over to pop and back again decades before folks like Shania Twain, had its shaky moments. During their duet on “Jolene,” Miley Cyrus oversang and over-gesticulated, seemingly forgetting that Parton was supposed to be the center of attention. But the combo platter of Parton, Katy Perry and Kacey Musgraves on “Here You Come Again” was sweet fun, Parton’s overwhelming ray-of-light vibes conquered all, and another unlikely match was a highlight of the entire night: Parton, Cyrus and Maren Morris taking Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” to church. You almost didn’t mind when they changed “I felt like getting high” to “I felt like I could cry” (as Parton did on an earlier recorded version of the song, with Young’s permission). D.B.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 10: Brandi Carlile performs onstage during the 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Best: Brandi Carlile Delivers Power-Ballad Perfection

Six-time nominee Brandi Carlile delivered one of the evening’s clear emotional highlights when, nearly three hours into the broadcast, she offered up a note-perfect performance of her 2018 misfit anthem “The Joke.” Performing alongside longtime band members Phil and Tim Hanseroth, Carlile, 2019’s most nominated female artist, belted the high-drama tale of alienation and acceptance, drawing out the climactic note even longer than usual. On a night of filled with ballad drudgery, Carlile’s spellbinding performance offered a welcome dose of both intimacy and classic-rock theatrics. J.B.
Anthony Kiedis, Post Malone. Anthony Kiedis, left, of Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Post Malone perform a medley at the 61st annual Grammy Awards, in Los Angeles61st Annual Grammy Awards - Show, Los Angeles, USA - 10 Feb 2019

Matt Sayles/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Worst: Post Malone’s Mofo Party Plan With the Red Hot Chili Peppers

Post Malone was nominated for four awards after a year in which he broke streaming records and old ones set by Michael Jackson. But for some reason, he needed to spend most of his performance joining Red Hot Chili Peppers for “Dark Necessities,” a song off 2016’s The Getaway. After running through his monster hits “Stay” and “Rockstar” quickly, Post strapped on a Telecaster to join the Chilis for a song that few remember. Anthony Kiedis ripped off his shirt and rap-scatted, Flea pogoed, but it just made you wonder 2018 VMAs Aerosmith collaborator Post, now one of the biggest artists in the world, needs to keep performing with tired veteran rock acts during his award-shot slots. P.D.