Our 2023 Grammys recap : Pop Culture Happy Hour Beyoncé broke a major record at this year's Grammys and has now won more awards than any other artist. But she was shut out of the major categories and lost to Harry Styles, Lizzo and Bonnie Raitt. We break down the awards and telecast, including our favorite performances.

Our 2023 Grammys recap

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Beyonce broke a major record at this year's Grammys. She has now won more awards than any other artist, but she was shut out of the major categories and lost to Harry Styles, Lizzo and Bonnie Raitt. I'm Stephen Thompson. It is 12:35 a.m., and we are recapping the 2023 Grammy Awards on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.


THOMPSON: Joining me is NPR culture desk correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas. Hey, Anastasia.


THOMPSON: Lovely to have you. Also joining us, writer Kiana Fitzgerald. Hey, Kiana.


THOMPSON: I am so glad that you are both here on this, music's biggest night.

TSIOULCAS: TM - don't forget - trademarked.


THOMPSON: Exactly. So - all right. So we have thoughts. We're going to start. Beyonce did set a major record at this year's Grammys. She has now won more Grammys than any other artist. That's 32 total in her career. Tonight, she won four of them. She won best dance/electronic recording, best dance/electronic music album, best traditional R&B performance and best R&B song. But when it came to the major general categories, she was shut out. Song of the year - she was nominated for "Break My Soul," but Bonnie Raitt won for "Just Like That." For album of the year, "Renaissance" was nominated, but Harry Styles won for "Harry's House." And for record of the year, "Break My Soul" was nominated again, but Lizzo won for "About Damn Time." Our panel has thoughts. Kiana, I'm going to start with you.

FITZGERALD: Yes, thoughts aplenty - I knew she wasn't going to win the big - anything in the big four, unfortunately, but in my soul, I was - my "Break My Soul" - I was hoping she would. You know, I thought that that was a possibility, especially with an album like "Renaissance" for album of the year. I thought that this was her chance to really take this award home, and it didn't happen. So I'm really, really grateful and happy that she won the awards that she did and broke the records that she did, but it still doesn't take away from the fact that this was a monumental album. This was a really well-constructed body of work, and it impacted so many people on so many levels. And I was really hoping that this would be reflected in the awards ceremony, and it wasn't. And that just kind of speaks to the broader issue of, you know, how diverse is the Grammys? You know, how much are we really seeking to reflect the culture of our country? And, you know, this wasn't the year. But, you know, I'm a big Beyonce fan, and I hope that in the future, she does submit more work to be considered. But she seemed to be gracious in this specific instance.

TSIOULCAS: I'm perhaps even more of a cynic about the Grammys than you, Stephen, which I know is saying something (laughter).

THOMPSON: Which is saying something.

TSIOULCAS: I felt that this was a real reflection of the often completely befuddling splits among the Grammy voters over the last few years. They have tried very, very hard to diversify, or they say they've tried hard to diversify the qualifications to become a voting member. You know, back when I was a voting member, like, I qualified as a producer and as a liner notes writer. You had to, like, literally lay out all of your qualifications and all of your album credits for the academy. And those times have changed. Having said that, there's still, like, real splits that - people seem to be totally fine giving Beyonce a history-shattering number of prizes but only kind of doling them out in this weirdly small, accretive way rather than sort of giving her the big prize.


TSIOULCAS: And it just was one of those awards that I felt like, was it a split? Was there some significant number of voters who voted for her, but there were just more people voting for Harry Styles? Was it really a sensibility? Like, we'll never know. But it sure - to Kiana's point, it sure feels that way. It sure felt like giving with one hand and taking away with another.

THOMPSON: Yeah. I think it's worth pointing out here that there is a structural setup that creates this situation year after year. In the individual categories, in the genre categories - correct me if I'm wrong, Anastasia - a Grammy voter votes in a set number of kind of specialty categories. And when you get to those big four, then all the Grammy voters are able to chime in. Is that correct?

TSIOULCAS: That's exactly right. So you're supposed to self-limit by your areas of expertise so that you don't have, you know, people who only do, I don't know, New Age voting for hip-hop, like - right? - or vice versa. But then it blows into everybody can vote for these big four. And I think that that's part of why you see such crazy results in those big four categories, which are album of the year; song of the year, which is a songwriting prize; record of the year, which is a performance production prize, and best new artist. And I think that accounts for a lot of the weirdness and the sort of lack of acknowledgement of certain artists who have done an incredible job like Beyonce. "Renaissance" is an amazing album, I think, from start to finish.


TSIOULCAS: Also, the other thing I would say about this is that quite recently this was a - one of the categories blown out to 10 different nominees. But I think that also, in this particular instance, serves to splinter the vote again.

THOMPSON: Yeah. And it makes it more likely and more common that kind of very, very traditional-style acts are likeliest to slip through. And we should discuss very briefly the history of Beyonce, particularly in the album of the year category. Her self-titled record, which is maybe my favorite Beyonce record, lost to Beck's "Morning Phase." Her album "Lemonade," which - widely considered to be her masterwork, lost to Adele's "25." And now "Renaissance," which, as you guys have said, is just this complete piece and just such a monumental piece of craftsmanship honoring many decades of Black dance music, to have that record lose out to Harry Styles - and, look, I like Harry Styles. None of this is to crap on Harry Styles. But that history of her kind of losing to very safe, very mainstream, very white artists in these main categories really stands out. It just can't be overlooked.

FITZGERALD: Yeah. I mean, honestly, it's something that is being observed over and over again. You know, we're seeing it happen year after year, album after album. And, you know, at some point, it does become a little bit infuriating, you know, It's like...

TSIOULCAS: A lot infuriating.

FITZGERALD: Yes. Thank you. You know, it's like, what does she have to do? You know, like, she's put her personal life on the line. She's involved, like, communities that have not traditionally been involved in these processes. Not only is she doing this, but she's doing it to a very high level. And at what point does that become recognized? You know, it's like - it's just reflective of the history of this industry, honestly.

TSIOULCAS: For sure. I mean, and obviously, the casting aside of important Black music is fundamental - I think we cannot not talk about that, and we have been - also, very often a casting aside of female artists, especially - you know, it's OK for them to be good singers and performers, generally - often not recognized as songwriters, as producers. The numbers of female engineers in this business is still, I think, still, as of this year, still below 4%. Like, there are all kinds of ways in which great female talent, including Beyonce, is being ignored. It's a terrible situation, and it remains so no matter how many times the Grammy institution says no, no, no, we're on it.

THOMPSON: Well, and on a much happier note, Lizzo won record of the year for "About Damn Time." And I have to say, I mean, this was my favorite song of 2022. I've talked about this song a lot. I've written about this song. It is such a ray of light. It is a song I've heard hundreds and hundreds of times. You just hear it on the wind out on the street and in your car, whatever, and I never tire of it. It is such a master class of pop production. It makes me very happy. And any time Lizzo gives an acceptance speech, I am delighted.


LIZZO: When we lost Prince, I decided to dedicate my life to making positive music. And I was like, I don't care if my positivity bother you. What's wrong with you?


THOMPSON: And when we talk about Black artists and particularly Black women, seeing Lizzo win this major, major prize did feel like progress and did feel like, to me, the correct choice.

FITZGERALD: I stood up, and I screamed when she won, you know? I was like, wow, this is it. This is happening, you know? I was so excited. And, you know, even she was shocked, you know? And she got on stage and delivered her speech, which was excellent, as it always is. But, you know, I wasn't exactly, like, ready for it because, you know, historically, that isn't something - that isn't a move that's typically made in the Grammys for such an award. So, yeah, I was super pumped for it.

THOMPSON: Yeah. I thought it was a great moment. So in song of the year, the prize went to Bonnie Raitt for the song "Just Like That." It was announced by Jill Biden. And when Jill Biden opened the envelope and said, "Just Like That," the - you could see the crowd just like, what? What? What's the song?

TSIOULCAS: Also, Bonnie Raitt looked totally shellshocked.

FITZGERALD: Yes, she did.

TSIOULCAS: Like (laughter)...

THOMPSON: You know, Bonnie Raitt is a longtime Grammy favorite.


THOMPSON: In the early '90s, when Bonnie Raitt was putting out absolute masterpieces like "I Can't Make You Love Me," she was winning armloads of Grammys. And they'd kept coming back to her over the years. But this was a big surprise, right?

TSIOULCAS: Yeah. I mean, you know, she also won this afternoon in what the Grammys like to now call the premiere ceremony, which means you didn't make it to television.

THOMPSON: That's when they give out, like, 79 awards.

FITZGERALD: Oh, my goodness.

TSIOULCAS: Yeah. There are 91 categories. That's a lot of categories to get through. So when she spoke at the afternoon ceremony and then later again at the telecast, she made reference to the song being about organ donation and also being partly inspired by John Prine. So I can see those resonating with a lot of Grammy voters. And as we said earlier, this is one of the categories in which any Grammy voter can cast a ballot. So I think that that was a category - if she was going to win anything, that would definitely be a place that a lot of traditional Grammy voters could gravitate towards.

THOMPSON: I do want to mention - I mean, we talked about Beyonce and album of the year where Beyonce didn't win; Harry Styles did for "Harry's House." He also won best pop vocal album. And I think it's worth noting, you know, how huge a year Harry Styles has had. And he really was one of the big, big takeaway winners at these Grammys. And I got to say, "As It Was" is a gorgeous little pop song. I would not have necessarily placed this album as an album of the year or even as, like, a particularly cohesive set of songs where other than Harry Styles fans could list more than three, maybe four songs from this record. So I was surprised compared to something like "Renaissance" or Bad Bunny, which is basically a 23-track greatest hits album of all-new songs.


THOMPSON: I was a little surprised that a record this kind of frothy would kind of make the cut here, but it's undeniable. It won album of the year. It won pop vocal album. It also won best engineered album, nonclassical, which speaks to just how bright and sparkling the production is. And good for Harry Styles, man. Moving on to best new artist - Samara Joy, a young, 23-year-old, kind of traditional, kind of classic Grammy pick, right? But she's really good.

TSIOULCAS: She's great. She's - you know, she's this bright, bubbly, 23-year-old from the Bronx. I saw her do a live show not even two or three weeks ago. And she just felt like someone who had been on the road in the best ways possible for decades. You know, she had complete control of this gorgeous instrument. She totally knows what she's doing on stage. She knows what she wants to do and where her career is headed. And she's a pure joy. And also, it's an incredibly traditional pick.


THOMPSON: Yeah. This pick harkened back to the days of Norah Jones with, like, six Grammys in her arms, you know, that very traditional, young, very approachable jazz singer. She's great. Among the other milestones, Viola Davis became an EGOT. She has now won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony because she won best audiobook narration and storytelling recording for her memoir, "Finding Me, Love Viola Davis," (ph) which she had been nominated for an Oscar.


THOMPSON: That's a lovely moment.

FITZGERALD: Yeah, yeah. I was very happy for that. I love when anybody approaches EGOT status and to see her...


FITZGERALD: ...Actually acquire it was super exciting.

THOMPSON: So deserving. Among the other milestones, best pop duo group performance - Sam Smith and Kim Petras won for "Unholy." That is the first openly nonbinary and openly trans artists, respectively, to win Grammys in this category. Major milestone, big moment on stage.


KIM PETRAS: My mother - I grew up next to a highway in nowhere Germany. And my mother believed me that I was a girl. And I wouldn't be here without her and her support. And everyone...

TSIOULCAS: Yeah. And I think it's one of the things that they were clearly so delighted to bring to a television audience or, you know, in a broadcast audience, an online audience, you know? This is a time in which, of course, a lot of nonbinary and trans people are feeling very much unseen within their geographic communities or their family communities. So I think it's a win that had a huge amount of resonance for a lot of people.

THOMPSON: It was also just a great big moment for Kim Petras, who's been at this for a while. And I'm delighted to see her get her flowers on that huge, huge stage. In best country album, Willie Nelson won for "A Beautiful Time." That is his 98th career album. He is 89 years old, and he won best country album. That is some kind of milestone.

TSIOULCAS: Totally. I mean, you know, I wonder - not being familiar with this album in particular, it felt like more of a career acknowledgment, which often happens at these awards, as we all know - not just the Grammys but others as well - that it's sort of a summation of a life more than for the - that particular project.

THOMPSON: Yeah, and the Grammys do have a long history - especially in recent years with country music - of favoring very traditional sounds over country artists who actually get played on country radio. This has become the Chris Stapleton prize for achievements...

FITZGERALD: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: ...In country music, and he didn't have an album eligible this year. But I was delighted to see that for Willie Nelson. For best rap album, Kendrick Lamar for "Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers." He won big in rap categories, as I think was expected.

FITZGERALD: Yeah, definitely. I don't think anybody was expecting anyone to win over him for this particular round of Grammys. I was hoping - you know, because Kendrick has plenty of accolades. He has a - what is it? A...

TSIOULCAS: He has a Pulitzer

THOMPSON: He has a Pulitzer, yeah.

TSIOULCAS: He has a Pulitzer.


FITZGERALD: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, he has a Pulitzer. Yeah, exactly. Like, he doesn't need anything else. But, you know, I was - I thought that Pusha T was going to take this one. But I'm not at all mad about Kendrick. You know, I got to see him perform this past year, this particular album, and I was very excited. I have been following him for a very long time - since 2010, I think. So I am elated for him. You know, he deserves all the things. And, you know, it was not unexpected.

THOMPSON: Yeah, I did sit there thinking, is it going to be Jack Harlow?


FITZGERALD: I was worried.


THOMPSON: Adele did take a pretty big prize tonight for best pop solo performance for "Easy On Me." I think that makes a lot of sense. That is a very, very classic sounding composition. I thought it would win song of the year.

TSIOULCAS: Yeah, I think it was a real contender for that. But it's one of those things that it felt like the right category for the right song and more or less the right time for her. It felt cozy in a good way.

THOMPSON: Yeah. All right. So let's talk about the Grammys telecast. We've talked about the awards. When we run down the performances of the night, I cannot think - really off the top of my head, I cannot think of another performance than this hip-hop tribute - 50 years of hip-hop. Questlove and The Roots...


THOMPSON: ...Kind of put together this incredible lineup. These are just some of the names parading across the stage - Black Thought, Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J...


THOMPSON: ...DJ Jazzy Jeff, Salt-N-Pepa, Rakim, Public Enemy, Ice-T, Queen Latifah, Method Man, Big Boi, Missy Elliott, The Lox, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, Grandmaster Flash, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Nelly, Scarface, Lil Baby, GloRilla, Lil Uzi Vert and more, along with Questlove and The Roots. If you think, boy, was that a mess? It was not.


MISSY ELLIOTT: (Rapping) Everybody here get it out of control. Get your backs off the wall 'cause Misdemeanor said so...

FITZGERALD: The hip-hop 50-year anniversary performance was amazing, in my opinion. They were able to handle it in a really mechanized way. I feel like it flowed really well, even though I would have loved to see more than 20, 30 seconds of a performance per artist. But I know that they had to do what they had to do. I am such a big fan of hip-hop, and even though, you know, I was born in '89, I'm still - like, you know, my brother, my mom put me on to certain things. So just seeing all these acts come together on the same stage in the same space was absolutely beautiful. I would have loved to have seen some more Southern representation. Especially with - when we come to the aughts, you know, I don't think there was much representation in that area. But overall, I think they did a really good job. I think, you know, Questlove, The Roots, everybody that put this together - phenomenal, phenomenal work.

THOMPSON: It was exhilarating. I, like, stood up and paced around the living room (laughter).

FITZGERALD: Yes. I had my laptop in my arm, like, screaming at the TV. I was so excited.

TSIOULCAS: The amazing thing, too, is, like, they kept cutting away to Jay-Z for reaction shots, and I'm like, Jay-Z is all of us. Also, they didn't forget him. He's going to be on later.

FITZGERALD: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I was like, why isn't Jay on the stage? But yeah, I get it. I get it.

THOMPSON: The show kicked off with a performance by Bad Bunny, which felt, you know - that lead-off performance is a really, really big showcase. He was also the biggest shoo-in winner of the night in the category of musica urbana. There was no way he was not winning that award.


BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

TSIOULCAS: I always wonder when there's people put in that specific slot at the beginning that there's a very good chance that they didn't win the biggest prize that they're up for. And that turned out to be true. Bad Bunny was one of the albums - one of the 10 up for album of the year, and I sort of saw him come on screen. And I was like, oh, OK, well, we know that. Like, let's check that off the list.

THOMPSON: I did want to talk briefly about the in memoriam set. They had to pay tribute, as they do every year, to a lot of major towering musicians. And I thought they did it in a really thoughtful way. You had Kacey Musgraves singing "Coal Miner's Daughter" for Loretta Lynn. You had Quavo with Maverick City Music performing "Without You" and "See You Again" in honor of Takeoff from Migos. You had Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt and Mick Fleetwood paying tribute to Christine McVie, and I thought that was lovely. Even if some of the faces in the montage kind of got lost in the shuffle, I thought having artists who had, in several cases, who had working relationships with the people who died, I thought lent some real weight to those performances.

FITZGERALD: Yeah, I'll speak to the Quavo tribute to Takeoff. That one - you know, I learned about his involvement a few days prior, and I was like, oh, my gosh, like, this is going to break me. And it did. You know, I was sobbing as he performed, and I'm glad that he got the opportunity. It's really unfortunate that he had to do it. And, of course, everybody who passed - you know, it was - you know, nobody wants to sit and reflect on a life lost, you know, unless it's, like, a very specific situation. But also there were - you know, there were some missing names from the tribute overall. I know Gangsta Boo who passed...


FITZGERALD: ...Recently wasn't involved. And, you know, there were - there was a lot of chatter about that on social media. So, you know, these things are imperfect. But, you know, I think that the portions that I related to really spoke to me.


QUAVO: (Rapping) Remember the days we smoked big blunts together? Remember the days we rocked out Coachella? Remember the days we ain't have our - together? On the Northside, times were hard, but them days was better.

TSIOULCAS: I think it was really beautiful and moving. And it also kind of - and, again, this is me being slightly cynical - it also kind of solved one production problem because when they run those in memoriams and they have taped music in the background, then it becomes a popularity contest of people applauding.

THOMPSON: Oh, I hate that.

TSIOULCAS: Yeah. It feels terrible to me as a viewer. And having those performers performing live and performing about musicians who meant so much to them sort of totally took that awful applause out of the equation, which I really appreciated.

THOMPSON: That's a really great point. Last note - this event was hosted by Trevor Noah, who did his Trevor Noah thing, kept the show on rails. Any thoughts on Trevor Noah?

TSIOULCAS: He was totally serviceable. Nothing went terribly badly. Nothing went terribly memorably. He made a lot of jokes about Harry Styles' attractiveness, and that was kind of the only thing I remember of the entire evening and that he was having a hard time negotiating around all the little tables in the front.

FITZGERALD: The standout moment to me is, as soon as Beyonce arrived, he was like, she's here. You know, like, let's pull up and talk to her and, like, chatter, you know, and just make her feel uncomfortable. But yeah, I think he did a fine job. You know, it's not easy to host an award show, I'm sure. So he did what he had to do.

THOMPSON: Yeah. I think he won a prize for service journalism in the field of not being James Corden.


THOMPSON: All right, well, we want to know what you think about the Grammys. Find us at facebook.com/pchh. That brings us to the end of our show. Anastasia Tsioulcas, Kiana Fitzgerald, thanks so much to both of you for being here.

TSIOULCAS: It's such a delight to be with you guys. Thank you for having me.

FITZGERALD: Yeah. I had such a great time. Thank you.

THOMPSON: I always love doing this episode. This episode was produced by Candice Lim and edited by Jessica Reedy. Hello Come In provides our theme music. Thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Stephen Thompson, and we will see you all tomorrow, when we'll be talking about the new Peacock series "Poker Face."


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