Grammys Recap: Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Megan Thee Stallion, And More : Pop Culture Happy Hour After a six week delay due to COVID-19, we did finally have a Grammys ceremony, hosted by Trevor Noah, with loads of socially distanced performances and big wins for Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Megan Thee Stallion, and Billie Eilish.

Our 2021 Grammys Recap

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:

It's 12:35 a.m., and we are recapping this year's Grammy Awards. After a six-week delay due to COVID-19, we did finally have a Grammys ceremony hosted by Trevor Noah, with loads of socially distanced performances and big wins for Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Megan Thee Stallion and Billie Eilish. I'm Stephen Thompson. We are recapping the 2021 Grammy Awards on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR so don't go away.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

THOMPSON: Welcome back. Joining us from her home in Washington, D.C., is NPR music contributor Cyrena Touros. Welcome back, Cyrena.

CYRENA TOUROS, BYLINE: Hey, Stephen.

THOMPSON: It's great to have you. So at last year's Grammys, I had to preface the show by talking about some of the controversies surrounding the awards. Last year, those included serious allegations of workplace misconduct and ethical allegations involving vote-rigging. A year later, the Grammys are under new management, but controversies are still swirling around the awards' lack of transparency, issues surrounding diversity and some truly surprising snubs.

The Weeknd had an absolutely massive 2020 and yet got shut out of the Grammy nominations entirely. He has announced that he intends to boycott the Grammys basically from now until the end of time. Plus, the awards got delayed six weeks due to COVID-19, and by the time the actual Grammy telecast begins, most of the awards themselves already have been handed out earlier in the day, making the actual show more like a long concert with occasional pauses to hand out trophies, with Trevor Noah as the host.

They did give out awards, many of them to Beyonce and Megan Thee Stallion, as well as an album of the year trophy to Taylor Swift for "Folklore" and record of the year to Billie Eilish for "Everything I Wanted." We'll get to that in a moment. H.E.R. won song of the year for "I Can't Breathe." Megan Thee Stallion Won best new artist. Miranda Lambert won best country album. Harry Styles won his first-ever Grammy for best pop performance. And Dua Lipa won best pop vocal album. Anderson .Paak won for best melodic rap performance and had a couple of high-profile performance slots with Bruno Mars. And Bad Bunny won best Latin pop or urban album.

Beyonce passed Alison Krauss for the most Grammys ever won by a female artist. Alison Krauss has 27; Beyonce now has 28. She won best R&B performance for "Black Parade." And "Savage Remix," the song Beyonce performed with Megan Thee Stallion, won best rap song.

Cyrena, what did you think of this year's Grammy Awards?

TOUROS: Well, Stephen, I think it depends if you're talking about the broadcast or the awards-giving part of the ceremony.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

TOUROS: Because I think there were a lot of history-making moments, but they're only history because of the twisted and backwards narrative music history that the academy has created for itself in the first place. They've neglected to award talent and musicality when it's relevant.

And so now you have Beyonce - she took home a couple of big trophies tonight, and she's just achieved this great accolade of the most-awarded female artist of all time, but she hasn't even won in any of the major categories since 2010 for "Single Ladies." The Grammys snubbed both her self-titled record and "Lemonade." And so it feels almost like the Grammys are groveling at Beyonce's knees, saying, please do not join the legion of artists who are beginning to snub the academy; please perform again.

THOMPSON: Yeah.

TOUROS: So the academy is still working through what does it even mean to be relevant in 2021 and in the future. And this is an improvement, but they've got a lot of work to do yet still.

THOMPSON: Yeah. The Grammys did a lot of kind of self-congratulatory back-patting. They kind of took a moment to acknowledge that Beyonce had set that record.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "63RD ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS")

JIMMY JAM: History has just been made. Breaking the all-time record for the most Grammy wins ever by any female artist or any singer, male or female, the Grammy goes to Beyonce.

(CHEERING)

THOMPSON: Even at that time, I was sitting there, like, yeah, she's won 28 Grammys now, but the only major category she's ever won in was song of the year for "Single Ladies." And looking at the awards this year in general, I felt like the nominations were pretty on-point until you got to the general categories, at which point they just went haywire. Even just the list of nominations made no sense - completely shutting out The Weeknd, not nominating "Fetch The Bolt Cutters" by Fiona Apple or "Punisher" by Phoebe Bridgers.

TOUROS: Oh, big mistake.

STEPHEN THOMPSON AND CYRENA TOUROS: Huge.

TOUROS: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: I mean, these were, like, the most critically acclaimed albums of the year, and they were enormously popular. And to not nominate them, but instead nominate a 2019 album by Black Pumas that they acknowledged last year, to nominate the album by Post Malone for album of the year - which don't at me Post Malone hive, but nobody thinks that that album was one of the albums of the year. So they tied their hands behind their backs over and over again in those general categories.

And so you have this moment where you're acknowledging Beyonce. You're saying this is the most-awarded female Grammy artist of all time, and then you get to the general categories, and you just think, they're not going to give her record of the year, are they? And it was notable to me that she had left by the time...

TOUROS: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: ...They got to where they were giving out record of the year. It was like she knew. And then you have Billie Eilish winning record of the year for "Everything I Wanted." That is not the Billie Eilish song that people think of when they think of Billie Eilish. It is a perfectly pretty song, but it just dissipates as soon as you hear it. And so then you have Billie Eilish getting up there and basically saying, Megan Thee Stallion, I'm so sorry.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "63RD ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS")

BILLIE EILISH: You deserve this. You had a year that I think is untoppable. You are a queen. I want to cry thinking about how much I love you. You're so beautiful. You're so talented.

THOMPSON: And it's that same thing that Adele did when Adele beat Beyonce and was like, really? What? You're kidding me. Why? And so it was just sort of awkward for everyone involved. And it just kind of ended the night on a plfft (ph) - (laughter) that is really kind of a shame for how effective a telecast it was.

TOUROS: Yeah, I personally thought they should have ended with the BTS number "Dynamite."

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

TOUROS: I feel like that would have been the perfect tie note. I was, like, waiting for the fireworks to happen, and there weren't fireworks. Whatever. It's fine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DYNAMITE")

BTS: (Singing) Disco overload. I'm into that. I'm good to go. I'm diamond. You know I glow up. Hey, so let's go.

THOMPSON: Yeah. Well, given how much of that telecast they spent promoting that BTS performance - and let's point out that BTS was only nominated for one Grammy, which they didn't win - you know, Grammys were certainly willing to trade on BTS' success and were not particularly willing to acknowledge "Dynamite," which is a fantastic song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DYNAMITE")

BTS: (Singing) Shining through the city with a little funk and soul. Light it up like dynamite - whoa-oh.

THOMPSON: And let's acknowledge here that that Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande song, "Rain On Me," that's a great song.

TOUROS: Right.

THOMPSON: Sometimes when we talk about snubs, it's tricky 'cause there's more than one worthy entry in most categories, but it's still frustrating, given the Grammys' history, to see them pay so much lip service and to make progress in the direction of acknowledging Black artists, but then, really, when the rubber hits the road, they still find a way to fall short. It's pretty remarkable.

TOUROS: They're definitely patting themselves on the backs for getting people in the room and then not bothering to actually reward them.

THOMPSON: Well, we've talked about the awards. Let's talk about the telecast, which I have to say - hot take - I think this is how they should do the Grammys from now on.

TOUROS: Oh, absolutely. I think this was a Grammys that put the music front and center and let the artists themselves demonstrate why they deserved to be nominated and why their music was important to the landscape of 2020, which was leaps and bounds better than previous years, especially after 12 months without live music. Like, this ceremony made me miss music so much.

(LAUGHTER)

TOUROS: I feel like so many people were living vicariously through these performances. And they just cut out a lot of the fluff.

THOMPSON: Yeah.

TOUROS: The executive producer of "The Late Late Show With James Corden," Ben Winston, took over production duties this year. I mean, that guy is known for his Carpool Karaoke segments, which love him or hate him, they're well-edited.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

TOUROS: And this Grammy ceremony was well-edited. The awards felt almost like an afterthought, and I actually quite enjoyed it. You know, they say this is music's biggest night, and if it's music's biggest night, I want to watch some performances; I want to hear some music. I don't really care about the speeches so much, and to be honest, most of these speeches were pretty lackluster. I mean, I think with the history of the Grammys and the way they award artists, I think nobody's really expecting to win, and if they do, they probably think somebody else deserved it more.

THOMPSON: Yeah. So basically, instead of holding the Grammys at the Staples Center or, you know, some massive single room, they had a venue with multiple stages on it, kind of all facing each other. I described it on Twitter as a little bit like they had five tiny desks and just pointed them at each other. And you're able to rotate performances across these stages, where you don't have to fill time to set up and tear down. And so it really created a kind of intimacy where you're seeing musicians watching other musicians perform in the same room where they just performed, and it's a very different, very intimate vibe.

And look; I said this a little bit on Twitter, but it really bears repeating - there's a cliche that, like, pop music - oh, they're all working with auto-tune. Oh, everything is manufactured. None of these people are really talented. And I have sat through hundreds and hundreds of Tiny Desk Concerts, many of them with big pop stars, and I will tell you, these people are freaking talented.

So much of what goes wrong when you say, like, this person bombed on some awards show, this performance wasn't as good as expected at some awards show, it is very often because of a bunch of variables that have nothing to do with talent. It can be a weird, shoddy mix in the room. You have weird energy in the crowd. You have kind of a nervous crowd. Sometimes that affects the quality of the performance. There's a million different variables that can go wrong.

And what this show demonstrated is that when you remove most of those variables and you just allow performers to perform without a lot of extraneous stuff that can go wrong, you're really giving people a chance to shine. And that's why we're talking about a 3 1/2-hour awards show with dozens of performances, and we're not sitting here talking about how any of them were train wrecks because there weren't any.

Well, did you have favorites? I mean, we've acknowledged that none of these performances were awful. Did you find that there were any that really, like, rose above?

TOUROS: Well, let's eat our vegetables first and talk about something that I didn't quite enjoy as much.

THOMPSON: (Laughter)

TOUROS: Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak have just joined forces to create a new supergroup called Silk Sonic. And I mean, to be honest, their song, "Leave The Door Open," is lovely.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN")

SILK SONIC: (Singing) I ain't playing no games. Every word that I say is coming straight from the heart.

TOUROS: It's - you know, I am not immune to the charms of Bruno Mars.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

TOUROS: But I do think that the Grammys are Bruno-sexual to a point that's a little disturbing.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN")

SILK SONIC: (Singing) I'mma (ph) leave the door open. I'mma leave the door open, girl. I'mma leave the door open, hoping that you feel the way I feel and you want me like I want you tonight, baby.

THOMPSON: Yeah, boy. Bruno Mars, man (laughter) - the meanest thing I will ever say about Bruno Mars - and I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again when he inevitably plays the Grammys next year - at his least effective, he is headlining the Bruno Mars rock and soul revue for Carnival Cruises.

TOUROS: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: And he is the best damn cruise ship entertainer you have ever seen. And I felt like the Silk Sonic stuff - I mean, he's working with Anderson .Paak. He's working with absolute top-notch talent. But, man, this was not my Bruno Mars.

TOUROS: Yeah. I mean, it was serviceable. It was good. But I would have rather seen, you know, a smaller-tier performer like Chloe x Halle take the stage tonight.

THOMPSON: Oh, my God. Yeah, absolutely. All right. Who'd you like?

TOUROS: I mean, we couldn't get through this podcast without talking about Megan Thee Stallion. I am waiting for the behind-the-scenes, like, stage production documentary about what was going on tonight. It was incredible.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAVAGE REMIX")

MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) I'm a savage. Attitude nasty. Talk big - but my bank account match it. Hood, but I'm classy. Rich, but I'm ratchet. Haters kept my name in they mouth; now they gagging - ah. Bougie.

TOUROS: The dancing. The attitude. The chemistry of Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B in the same room...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAP")

CARDI B: (Rapping) I don't cook. I don't clean. But let me tell you how I got this ring.

MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) Gobble me. Swallow me. Drip down the side of me. Quick, jump out before you let it get inside of me. I tell him where to put it, never tell him where I'm about to be. I'll run down on him before I have a - running me. Talk your...

THOMPSON: Yeah, I mean, they performed "WAP" here, which was absolutely one of the songs of 2020. It is a very filthy song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAP")

CARDI B: (Rapping) I don't want to - I want to - whoo (ph) - I want to - ah - I want to - I want you to touch that, touch that - that swinging in the back of my...

TOUROS: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: Lots of very benign words that when in "WAP," had to be silenced for a family telecast. But also, the production values on that thing were absolutely magnificent. And the fact that you had so many performances over the course of the night and they still managed to be the one that everyone is going to talk about is a testament to the enormous amount of talent and moxie on display.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: I also wanted to call out the Lil Baby performance Of "The Bigger Picture."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BIGGER PICTURE")

LIL BABY: (Rapping) I find it crazy the police will shoot you and know that you dead but still tell you to freeze. I seen what I seen. I guess that mean hold him down if he say he can't breathe. It's too many mothers that's grieving.

THOMPSON: I found it really powerful. And in a telecast that did not really acknowledge the issue of police violence very much, I found it very bracing and effective.

TOUROS: Yeah, NPR Music ran a whole series over the summer about songs related to Black Lives Matter, and, you know, that was a big movement in music in 2020. And so it was a little startling to see this performance because, I mean, that movement was not really acknowledged in the broadcast up until this point. So I think it was really important that he brought that to a national audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BIGGER PICTURE")

LIL BABY: (Rapping) It's bigger than black and white. It's a problem with the whole way of life. It can't change overnight, we got to start somewhere. Might as well go ahead and start here.

THOMPSON: I also got to call out, on the other end of the production values' spectrum, I found Brandi Carlile's tribute to John Prine really, really beautiful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I REMEMBER EVERYTHING")

BRANDI CARLILE: (Singing) I been down this road before. I remember every tree. Every single blade of grass holds a special place for me. I remember every town and every hotel room and every song I ever sang, guitar out of tune.

THOMPSON: Brandi Carlile is about as good a singer as you could throw at a John Prine song. I got real weepy. I mean, in general, that In Memoriam segment, that endless list of names, was really hard to take. But I thought they handled the In Memoriam really beautifully and with a series of very different performances. I thought that was very effective.

TOUROS: And it should be noted - John Prine actually took home two awards posthumously in the preshow broadcast.

THOMPSON: Absolutely. All right. Well, we've talked about a lot of the big-name winners and a lot of the big-name performances. Cyrena, do you have any favorite down-ticket winners? I mean, they gave out, like, 70 awards earlier in the day.

TOUROS: Yeah, I love dance and electronic music. And actually, Kaytranada, who is a producer, he won best dance and electronic album for "Bubba," which came out in December of 2019. And he's actually the first Black artist to take home that award, which is just astonishing to me because electronic music, dance music, those were created by Black artists and Black musicians. And so that's another one while it's historic and it's great and I'm so excited for an artist that I love to have won that award, it's also just a testament to, you know, the Grammys' not so great history at awarding performers who are not white and not male.

THOMPSON: Yeah. Yeah, looking at some of the other categories, there were actually some really delightful outcomes. As angry as I was that Fiona Apple wasn't nominated for any major categories, she did win best rock performance for "Shameika" and best alternative music album for "Fetch The Bolt Cutters." I was thrilled to see best country song go to the song "Crowded Table" by the group The Highwomen. The Highwomen put out my favorite album of 2019. Best country song is a major category for a record that I don't think got enough attention.

And I have to call out - this is so goofy - Jim "Kimo" West won best new age album for "More Guitar Stories." Jim West is "Weird Al" Yankovic's guitarist.

TOUROS: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: And he's been "Weird Al" Yankovic's guitarist for, like, 40 years now. I was delighted to see him win a Grammy. And finally, Beyonce won her 28th Grammy. Blue Ivy won her first Grammy with Beyonce for best music video. So Blue Ivy is one down, 28 to go to surpass her mother.

(LAUGHTER)

TOUROS: Oh, big shoes to fill.

THOMPSON: And finally, I think it's worth shouting out Trevor Noah as the host. I mean, this was not really a flashy hosting performance. And it's easy to look at that telecast and think that he didn't do very much. The jokes weren't necessarily explosively funny. He certainly didn't have a crowd to riff off of. But, man, you know what? He emceed a telecast that is a lot trickier than it looks. I think he did a lovely job.

Once again, the producers of this telecast, everybody involved in putting this broadcast together, did - I think - the absolute best they could do, given the nominations they were given and given the awards that the Grammys ended up giving out. So I guess that's something.

TOUROS: This was a tightly run ship. So, yeah, big kudos to them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEVITATING")

DUA LIPA: (Singing) Come on. Dance with me. Come on. Dance with me.

THOMPSON: Well, we want to know what you think about the Grammys. Guessing you have thoughts. Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter at @pchh. That brings us to the end of our show. Cyrena, thanks so much for being here.

TOUROS: Thank you, Stephen.

THOMPSON: And before we go, we wanted to share some good news. For the first time in POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR history, the podcast is getting a new logo. If you want a sneak peek of the new logo, it'll be in this week's newsletter. You can subscribe to the POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR newsletter at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. Again, you can subscribe to that newsletter at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. New logo - whoo.

And of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. We will see you later today, when we'll be discussing this year's Oscar nominations.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEVITATING")

DUA LIPA: (Singing) I'm levitating. The Milky Way - we're renegading. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

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