Delayed by Virus, Grammy Awards Celebrate Music Industry’s Return
The 64th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday night featured major wins by Silk Sonic, Jon Batiste and Olivia Rodrigo, elaborate performances from a music industry struggling to emerge from the pandemic and an impassioned plea for help from President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.
The show, broadcast from Las Vegas, opened with Silk Sonic, the retro soul-funk project of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, playing “777,” about the high-rolling, Sin City side of Las Vegas. Moments later, the group won song of the year for “Leave the Door Open,” a throwback to smooth early ’70s soul.
“Leave the Door Open” also won record of the year, which recognizes a single recording, as well as best R&B song, and Silk Sonic shared best R&B performance on that track with Jazmine Sullivan.
“We are really trying to remain humble at this point,” said Anderson .Paak, born Brandon Paak Anderson, while accepting record of the year. “But in the industry we call that a clean sweep.” (The record of the year prize is for a single recording, while song of the year recognizes songwriters.)
Silk Sonic and Batiste’s wins kept Rodrigo — a 19-year-old Disney television star who burst on the music scene with smashing success and critical respect — from making her own sweep of the four top categories. But she did take best new artist.
“This is my biggest dream come true,” Rodrigo said as she accepted that prize. She also took home best pop vocal album for “Sour” and pop solo performance for “Drivers License,” which she performed on a set like a suburban street, her voice swelling to emotional peaks and then breaking as it fell.
Jon Batiste, the bandleader of “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” took album of the year for “We Are,” which had virtually no commercial impact but was supported strongly by the membership of the Recording Academy, the organization behind the Grammys. Batiste was up a total of 11 awards, more than any other artist, and won five.
“I believe this to my core,” Batiste said, taking album of the year. “There is no best musician, best artist, best dancer, best actor. The creative arts are subjective and they reach people at a point in their lives when they need it most.”
The Grammys ceremony, initially planned for Jan. 31 in Los Angeles, had been delayed nine weeks by the Omicron variant, and moved to Las Vegas for the first time. “Better late than never,” the host, Trevor Noah, said as the CBS telecast opened at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“We’re in Vegas,” he said. “Look at this. You know, people are doing shots. I mean, last year, people were doing shots, but it was more Moderna and Pfizer.”
President Zelensky had pressed the producers of the Academy Awards to speak last week, but was turned down. Invited to speak at the Grammys, he made an impassioned plea for his country, saying in a hoarse voice that Ukrainian musicians “wear body armor instead of tuxedos” and urging American music fans to “tell the truth about the war” on social media and “support us in any way you can.”
John Legend then led a somber performance of his song “Free,” featuring Ukrainian artists like the singer Mika Newton and the poet Lyuba Yakimchuk.
The night was also a complementary balance of vital young stars — Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X — giving powerful, fizzy performances that showed them fully in command of their art, and older acts being lauded for decades of work. Tony Bennett, the 95-year-old lion of the American songbook, won best traditional pop vocal album for the 14th time for “Love for Sale,” his Cole Porter project with Lady Gaga, who sang solo from that album. (Bennett, who has Alzheimer’s disease and has retired from performing, did not attend the ceremony, but briefly introduced Lady Gaga by video.)
Women delivered some of the most memorable messages. Sullivan, who won best R&B album for “Heaux Tales,” said her project “ended up being a safe space for Black women to tell our stories, for us to learn from each other, laugh with each other and not be exploited at the same time.”
Doja Cat, a spitfire rapper and internet provocateur, won pop duo/group performance for her hit “Kiss Me More,” featuring SZA. Taking the stage, she joked about racing back from the restroom just in time. Then she teared up. “It’s a big deal,” she said.
Lil Nas X, the rapper, singer and meme master, performed a high-concept medley of his songs “Dead Right Now,” “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” and “Industry Baby,” featuring Jack Harlow, interspersed with a montage of overheated media commentators. In other performances, the K-pop stars BTS began their song “Butter” looking like “Oceans 11” characters, and the Latin pop superstar J Balvin sang with Maria Becerra.
There were several nods to the controversy that marred last week’s Academy Awards, when the actor Will Smith slapped the comedian Chris Rock onstage. During a nontelevised ceremony before the telecast, one presenter, Nate Bargatze, introduced the classical field while wearing a thick helmet. “This is what comedians at awards shows have to wear now,” Bargatze said.
And early on in the telecast Noah promised that “we’re going to be dancing, we’re going to be singing, we’re going to be keeping people’s names out of our mouths,” alluding to Smith’s expletive-filled demand that Rock stop talking about his wife.
A series of complications in recent days had challenged Grammy producers as the show came together. Kanye West was barred from performing and Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters, which had been scheduled to play, died while on tour. Two members of BTS, the K-pop phenomenon, announced that they had tested positive for the coronavirus, leaving fans to guess whether their performance would go on.
As the multibillion-dollar touring industry tries to return to full capacity, some of music’s biggest stars gathered for a celebration of the art — and business — of performance. In a series of segments, behind-the-scenes crew members introduced those stars, telling of the hard work and close bonds that develop on the road. Nicole Massey, the production manager for Billie Eilish, introduced the woman she called “the best 20-year-old boss in the world.”
How the Ukraine War Is Affecting the Cultural World
Valentin Silvestrov. Ukraine’s best-known living composer, Mr. Silvestrov made his way from his home in Kyiv to Berlin, where he is now sheltering. In recent weeks, his consoling music has taken on new significance for listeners in his war-torn country.
Anna Netrebko. The superstar Russian soprano faced backlash in Russia after she tried to distance herself from President Vladimir V. Putin with a statement condemning the war. She had previously lost work in the West because of her past support for Mr. Putin.
Olga Smirnova. A principal soloist at the Bolshoi Ballet since 2016, Ms. Smirnova announced that she had joined the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam, becoming one of the most significant Russian cultural figures to leave the country because of its invasion of Ukraine.
Tugan Sokhiev. The Russian conductor, who recently resigned from two high-profile posts after facing pressure to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, will no longer lead a series of concerts with the New York Philharmonic because of the war.
Paavo Järvi. The Estonian American conductor was in Moscow, leading rehearsals for an engagement with a Russian youth orchestra, when Russia began its attack on Ukraine. When he decided to stay there not to disappoint the players, many criticized his choice.
Valery Gergiev. The star Russian maestro and vocal supporter of Mr. Putin was removed from his post as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic after he refused to denounce Russia’s actions in Ukraine. His abrupt dismissal came three years before his contract was set to expire.
Alexei Ratmansky. The choreographer, who grew up in Kyiv, was preparing a new ballet at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow when the invasion began, and immediately decided to leave Moscow. The ballet, whose premiere was set for March 30, was postponed indefinitely.
Foo Fighters won all three awards they were nominated for: rock performance (“Making a Fire”), rock song (“Waiting on a War”) and rock album (“Medicine at Midnight”). Voting by Recording Academy members ended in January, long before Hawkins’s death.
Chris Stapleton won three country awards: solo performance (“You Should Probably Leave”), country album (“Starting Over”) and country song (“Cold,” with Dave Cobb, J.T. Cure and Derek Mixon). The jazz keyboardist Chick Corea, who died last year, won two.
Joni Mitchell won best historical album for her “Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967),” sharing the award with Patrick Mulligan, her fellow compilation producer. In a rare televised appearance, Mitchell gave a brief introduction for a performance by Brandi Carlile, whom she called “my brilliant friend and ambassador.”
The 64th Grammy ceremony honored music released during a 13-month period, from Sept. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021. Winners were chosen by more than 11,000 voting members of the Recording Academy, who qualify by gaining recommendations from fellow music professionals.
Speeches from early winners highlighted personal triumphs, social ills and the power of music to serve as a balm in troubled times.
Accepting the award for best country duo/group performance, T.J. Osborne, of the group Brothers Osborne, said their song “Younger Me” was written about his coming out as gay — a risk given Nashville’s largely conservative music business.
“I never thought that I’d be able to do this professionally because of my sexuality,” he said, “and I certainly never thought I would be here on this stage accepting a Grammy after having done something I felt like was going to be life-changing, potentially in a very negative way.”
The comedian Louis C.K., who has admitted to sexual misconduct, won for best comedy album (“Sincerely Louis C.K.”).
The first award of the day, for best musical theater album — a prize that in the past has gone to Broadway smashes like “Hamilton” and “The Book of Mormon” — went to “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical,” a D.I.Y. project by Emily Bear and Abigail Barlow, who created the music as fans, while spurred on by comments from viewers online who watched them work.
“A year ago, when I asked the internet, what if ‘Bridgerton’ was a musical,” said Barlow, “I could not have imagined I would be holding a Grammy in my hands.”