The Grammys Succeeded Where Other Awards Shows Failed — By Putting The Fans First

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If you thought the Grammy Awards were going to suck this year, and many, many of you did, then you simply weren’t paying attention. After a year where music has never been more important, as a companion, a comfort, and a communicator, the award show that is meant to celebrate this specific joyful art, finally managed to do just that.

The 63rd Annual Grammy Awards got creative as hell to bring together the biggest names in the music industry (well, minus The Weeknd), with an outdoor stage and tables (not dissimilar to a fancy wedding reception, as noted by host Trevor Noah) for the awards part, and a handful of stages built inside the very roomy LA Convention Center for the performances. And there were many.

Noah was absolutely the right guide for the night, bringing a childlike enthusiasm for all that the evening had to offer, as well as a go-with-the-flow attitude should he need it, but there were no awkward moments anywhere in sight. This night was smooth as hell. Fitting, considering Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s Silk Sonic was a highlight of the event, but also because Zoom was not invited. With the exception of BTS’s performance, which recreated the gorgeous, elaborate gramophone stage in Korea, all the artists were actually present in LA for the event — even Beyonce.

Because now more than ever, it feels as though there is a democratic vibe to the music industry: everyone is in the same boat. They can’t tour (yet!) but still want their music to have an impact, especially at a time when many of us are listening to more of it than ever. And that felt understood at the Grammys. It wasn’t about rivalries or side-eyes, it was about appreciating the fact that everyone could actually be gathered together to celebrate. To perform, finally! Oh, and maybe grab a statue or two — especially if you’re Beyonce, now (appropriately!) the female artist with the most Grammys ever.

The show kicked off, after a brief explanation of the night with a few jokes mixed in from Noah, with a handful of back-to-back performances: Harry Styles and his already legendary boa (one of three he wore throughout the night) singing “Watermelon Sugar,” then Billie Eilish, Haim, and Black Pumas. But instead of a roaring Staples Center crowd, it was refreshing to see the artists simply watching their fellow musicians and nodding along with the music. Watching from home, it felt like observing a communal experience that never lost its energy. There was support and respect and admiration and absolutely zero crowd antics. Oh, and it sounded great! At these types of shows, that can often be sacrificed for a bit of stage dazzle, but that was hardly the case here.

The same goes for the awards portion; even though only one had been handed out within the first hour, the acknowledgment still felt genuine. These ceremonies have become so much more about who stands up and claps for the winner or who the camera catches making a weird face (or even worse, comment) and without that (hey, maybe due to the masks) it felt like there was an opportunity for actual reflection and appreciation for the artist being rewarded.

This ceremony even found a way to make the In Memorium segment…fun? The Silk Sonic duo returned to honor Little Richard, Lionel Richie did the same for Kenny Rogers, and Brandi Carlile was on duty for John Prine, in a way that was done not out of obligation, but with respect and grace for their influences and friends.

There’s never been a year where we could all collectively agree that the Grammys got it right, and despite The Weeknd’s egregious snub, this year felt like at least a step in the right direction, especially for this generation. Women claimed all of the Big 4 categories, Beyonce was honored as the queen that she is, and yes, “WAP” was performed on live television. Not only that: it featured a tap dance interlude and some of the most acrobatically impressive dancing and splits many of us have ever witnessed in our lives. Dua Lipa spiced things up with her disco dancing performance, all the country ladies (plus John Mayer) got their time to shine and did just that, and Taylor Swift gave us a dreamy medley performance of songs from “Folklore” before walking away with Album of the Year. Plus, Lil Baby used his performance to make a powerful statement about police brutality. While nature may not yet be healing, music certainly is.

So after a year of award shows getting it awfully wrong, how did the Grammys get it so right? Much of this is due to Ben Winston, who took over as the show’s new executive producer this year after Ken Ehrlich held the title for 40 years. Winston, quite simply, knows exactly what music fans want — and deserve. He’s also the executive producer of The Late Late Show with James Corden and Carpool Karaoke, as well as music docs such as One Direction: This Is Us and Shawn Mendes: In Wonder, and anyone who’s enjoyed any one of those things, or all of them, shoud’ve been prepared for this ceremony to be as fun and flawless of a production as it proved to be. Glitches were not missed and the only things debated online were who loves Megan Thee Stallion more and who would be marrying Harry Styles. The answers are: we all love her the most, and: me.

This year’s Grammy Awards handed out trophies with respect to the process and the ceremony, but ultimately put the focus on the music: the diversity of music, the joy of music, and the real power of music. It was a show that gave admiration to the legends while embracing the next wave of artists as well. It wasn’t stuffy or overly serious. It didn’t show its age in either direction with awkward technical issues or an over-emphasis on TikTok. It did exactly what it should do, unite us all with music.

The Oscars are still a month away, and we can only hope it to be the last awards show of the pandemic era. If those producers are smart, they are calling Winston today to figure out how to make it remotely watchable — but good luck, as he’s already the busiest guy in the business, gearing up to produce and direct the upcoming Friends reunion (and deserves a nap at this point). But this year’s Grammy Awards proved there is a way to make these shows both entertaining and honorable for those in the room (or, you know, on the outside patio) and at home. And really, all it takes is remembering why you’re a fan.

Stream the 2021 Grammy Awards on Paramount+

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