A tragic pall was cast over the 62nd annual Grammy Awards Sunday night as news broke earlier in the day of Kobe Bryant’s untimely death. The fact that the awards were held in the Staples Center, the arena Kobe called home for the majority of his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, only added to the mournful nature of Sunday’s proceedings.
As Laker fans gathered outside the arena to mourn their fallen icon, celebs inside the Staples Center remembered the Laker legend in big and subtle ways.
Lizzo opened the show by dedicating her performance to Kobe. “Tonight is for Kobe,” she declared before launching into a passionate rendition of “Cause I Love You,” with an orchestra backing her. The song crescendoed into a brief dance interlude with four plus-size ballerinas in illuminated tutus before she went into a high-energy performance of “Truth Hurts.” At one point, a flute descended from the heavens and Lizzo gave what I believe may be the first flute solo at the Grammys, getting an early start on Black History Month.
After Lizzo’s performance, host Alicia Keys stepped to the stage to address the loss of Kobe Bryant and the effect it had on everyone.
“Earlier today, Los Angeles, America and the whole wide world lost a hero. And we’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built,” she told the audience.
“Right now, Kobe and his daughter Gianna and all of those that have been tragically lost today are in our spirit, they’re in our hearts, they’re in our prayers, they’re in this building, and I would like to ask everybody to take a moment and just hold them inside of you, hold them inside of you and share our strength and our support with their families,” she continued.
“We wanted to do something that could describe a tiny bit how we all feel right now,” she said.
Boyz II Men then joined Keys on stage to sing an a capella version of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye” as the camera panned up to show Kobe’s retired jersey being illuminated.
In terms of awards, ingenue pop star Billie Eilish swept Best New Artist, Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the Year, becoming the first woman to sweep all four major awards. The Grammys continued its tradition of relegating black artists to genre category wins as Lizzo—who was the most nominated artist going into the night with eight, including the four major categories swept by Eilish—won three statues for Best Pop Solo Performance (“Truth Hurts”), Best Traditional R&B Performance (“Jerome”) and Best Urban Contemporary Album (“Cuz I Love You (Deluxe)).” Lil Nas X, who had six nominations, picked up wins for Best Music Video and Best Duo/Group Performance for his viral hit “Old Town Road.”
During her acceptance speech for Best Pop Solo Performance, Lizzo gave an emotional speech that alluded to some of the problems she’s faced with her time in the spotlight and how those problems don’t feel so big anymore. She pleaded for unity and artists using their work to lift people up.
Tyler, the Creator won for Best Rap Album and had one of the more endearing moments when he brought his mother on stage, who was understandably emotional. Tyler was gracious during the telecast, going on to thank his mother, his managers, and friend Jasper before being hit with the walk-off music as he thanked Pharrell Williams. But backstage, he made a point of calling out the Grammys for how it categorizes black artists.
“I’m half and half on it,” Tyler told the press backstage. “On one side, I’m very grateful that what I make can be acknowledged in a world like this but also it sucks that whenever we—and I mean guys that look like me—do anything that’s genre-bending, they always put it in a rap or urban category. I don’t like that ‘urban’ word; that’s a politically correct way of using the N-word to me. So when I hear that I’m just like, why can’t we just be in pop?”
Here are some of the night’s other highlights:
Tributes to Prince and Nipsey Hussle
Four years after his death, the Grammys featured a Prince tribute with performances by Usher, FKA Twigs and Sheila E. Why now though? Apparently, the tribute was to promote an upcoming CBS tribute special airing later this year. I don’t even know how that makes sense, but here we are. The tribute was fine with Usher performing a melody of “Little Red Corvette,” “When Doves Cry,” and “Kiss.” FKA Twigs danced during “When Doves Cry,” but didn’t sing. I don’t know why but something just wasn’t clicking here. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t anything noteworthy.
After the performance, FKA Twigs addressed the issue. “Of course I wanted to sing at the Grammys,” she wrote in a tweet. “I wasn’t asked this time but hopefully in the future. None the less what an honour. Congratulations to all winners x.”
Later in the evening, Ava DuVernay introduced the tribute to Nipsey Hussle, who, like Kobe, was an L.A icon. Meek Mill opened the tribute with “Letter to Nipsey” with Roddy Ricch performing the hook. This transitioned to John Legend and DJ Khaled performing their song “Higher,” which was one of the last songs Nipsey completed (It would win a Grammy for Best Rap/Song Performance. Nipsey also won for Rap Performance with “Racks in the Middle” with Roddy Ricch). They had a full gospel choir on stage and Kirk Franklin came out and really took the whole thing to church. The performance ended with pictures of Nipsey and Kobe being displayed. It was a beautiful and necessary celebration of life.
Lil Nas X continued to ride in on the horse that brought him with a performance of “Old Town Road.” The initial setup had Lil Nas X chilling in a bedroom with a Kobe jersey on a chair and the cartoon Chowder playing in the background. As the stage rotated, Lil Nas would walk through doors to find BTS, Diplo, Mason Ramsey, and Billy Ray Cyrus, who all performed their respective remixes. In doing this, BTS would become the first Korean performers ever at the Grammys. The performance would transition into Lil Nas X performing “Rodeo” as rap legend Nas came out on stage to spit bars while Lil Nas X played a trumpet dressed in a long black leather coat like a cowboy Neo. It was, in a word, good.
When Tyler, the Creator took the stage, he came out dressed as his Igor persona and sang the hook to “EARFQUAKE” with the Gap Band’s Charlie Wilson and Boyz II Men around a barrel of fire. I respect the light flex. The song then segued into Tyler performing “New Magic Wand” with the stage resembling a minimalist neighborhood, which would eventually catch fire. Tyler rapped among the flames before dropping into a pothole. I, personally, found this to be the most enjoyable performance of the night and a welcome burst of energy.
Gary Clark Jr. gave a ferocious performance of his song, “This Land,” accompanied by The Roots. They performed in front of a backdrop that resembled a plantation house and the lyrics to the song were a rousing condemnation of this country’s history of racism. Gary Clark Jr. can perform the guitar like nobody’s business. It’s unsurprising he would take home awards for Best Contemporary Blues Album, Best Rock Performance, and Best Rock Song.
First Lady Michelle Obama Is a Grammy Winner
As usual, the Grammys handed out most of its 84 awards in a pre-telecast show. Forever first lady Michelle Obama won for Best Spoken Word Album for the audiobook version of her best-selling memoir, Becoming. Beyoncé’s Netflix doc Homecoming took home Best Music Film. Dave Chappelle won Best Comedy Album for Sticks & Stones. And Reggae artist Koffee made history as the first woman and youngest (at age 19) to win Best Reggae Album for Rapture.
For a complete list of winners, check here.