Female artists were front and center throughout the awards ceremony at Los Angeles’ Staples Center Sunday night. Kacey Musgraves — who plays the Bay Area this week — won album of the year honors for “Golden Hour,” and she along with Janelle Monae, Camila Cabello, Lady Gaga, Vallejo’s own H.E.R., Diana Ross and Dolly Parton were highlights of the show.
The evening stood in stark contrast to the 2018 award show, which drew massive criticism for not including enough female artists and downright disdain for Grammy president Neil Portnow suggesting that women need to “step up” in the industry.
Besides the much-deserved spotlight on female artists, the 2019 Grammys have been notable for honoring hip-hop in a way that voters had never done before, as Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” won for both song and record of the year. It marked the first time that a hip-hop song had won in either category.
Here are some of the defining moments of the 61st annual Grammys, which took place Sunday at Staples Center in Los Angeles:
The 61st annual Grammys got off to a strong start as Camila Cabello opened the show with a star-studded version of her mega-hit “Havana.” it was festive, fun and full of fireworks, as Cabello boogied alongside Young Thug, J Balvin, Ricky Martin and, best of all, Arturo Sandoval, the Cuban jazz legend who was the subject of the Andy Garcia-film “For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story.” We just wish that producers would have given Sandoval a little more time to shine with his trumpet during this segment.
Alicia Keys as host
Keys, a multi-Grammy winner herself, turned out to be a great host. She didn’t tell jokes or try to be funny. She didn’t do anything other than be herself. And that was more enough. She deeply loves music and it that was deeply obvious every time she was at the microphone.
“Music is what we cry to. It’s what we march to. It’s what to rock to. It’s what we make love to,” she told the crowd early in the night. “It’s our shared global language. And when you really want to say something, you say it with a song.”
All the stars
Keys had some powerful pals and she proved it as she called out four women — Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jennifer Lopez and Michelle Obama — to join her onstage. Obama, who has been on a sold-out book tour, got the biggest response of the bunch. And, as she’s known to do, she’d use the spotlight to inspire those around here.
“Music has always been the one place we can feel truly free,” she said. “Music has always helped me tell my story. And I know that is true for everyone here. Whether we like country or rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves — our dignity and sorrows, our hopes and joys. It allows us to hear one another — to invite each other in. Music shows us that all of it matters — every story within every voice, every note within every song.”
Gaga gets real
Lady Gaga thanked her duet partner Bradley Cooper — who directed and co-starred with her in “A Star Is Born” — as she accepted the Grammy for best pop duo/group performance for “Shallow.” She then addressed one of the major topics in the song’s parent film “A Star Is Born.”
“If I don’t get another chance to say this, I just want to say that I am so proud to be a part of a movie that addresses mental health issues,” Gaga said. “They are so important. A lot of artists deal with that. And we have got to take care of each other. So, if you see somebody that is hurting, don’t look away. And if you are hurting, even though it might be hard, try to find that bravery within yourself to dive deep and tell somebody and take them up in your head with you.”
What a “Rainbow”
Having already won two Grammys, Musgraves took the Grammy stage and turned in an absolutely stunning version of “Rainbow.” It was like the Earth as come to a standstill as the country singer-songwriter softly crooned the ballad, accompanied solely by piano. It was the latest, and arguably greatest, star turn for this longtime critics’ favorite, who performs Feb. 16 at the Masonic in San Francisco. Musgraves returned to the stage at the end of the show as well — that time to pick up the trophy for album of the year for “Golden Hour.”
We’re still catching our breath after watching the amazing performance by Brandi Carlile, who used the showcase to illustrate exactly why she was the most nominated female artist at this year’s Grammys. No special effects. No gimmicks. No guest stars. Just pure talent, as Carlile delivered what will likely be remembered as the most powerful performance at this year’s Grammys.
Funk it up
The most delightfully funkiest moment came with Monae’s performance of “Make Me Feel,” which also, no surprise, ranked as the steamiest moment of the show. Monae seemed to be channeling the spirit of Prince, writhing about on the floor like the Purple One once did with “Darling Nikki.” The scene was spacey, futuristic and daring, as Monae boogied about with a legion of groovy pals and demanded: “Let the vagina have a monologue.”
Dolly Parton tribute
Everybody loves Dolly, right? So it was hardly a surprise that the tribute to the legendary country star — named this year’s MusiCares Person of the Year — was a definite highlight of this year’s Grammys. The lengthy all-star segment kicked off with the classic “Here You Come Again,” sung by Kacey Musgraves and Katy Perry, who were soon joyed by Parton herself. Then out came Miley Cyrus, who wowed the crowd as she sung a duet with Parton on “Jolene.” The vocal duo soon became a trio as Maren Morris joined the fun for a cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush.” Parton and Little Big Town followed with a stellar “Red Shoes,” then the whole cast reunited for a fun finale of “9 to 5.”
Vallejo in the house! Northern California R&B powerhouse H.E.R. (the stage name for Gabriella Wilson) is still not a household name, having only one album to her credit. But she probably made roughly 5 million new fans on this night as she delivered a head-turning version of her it “Hard Place,” featuring some fine vocals and dynamite guitar licks. She’d later win the Grammy for best R&B album.
Happy birthday Diana
The 61st annual Grammy Awards also doubled as a big birthday bash for the Supremely talented Diana Ross, who showed up to the bash in an amazing red gown and sounded strong as she sang before the star-studded audience. Ross turns 75 in March.
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