Grammys are Taylor Swift’s world on a night when women like Cyrus, Mitchell and Chapman also shine
It’s Taylor Swift’s world, and she just allows us to live in it.
After weeks where she attracted endless attention for her football star boyfriend and a mystifying right-wing campaign against her, the Grammy Awards put the focus squarely back on her art. “Midnights” earned Swift her fourth career Grammy for album of the year on Sunday, an achievement no one can match.
It breaks a tie with Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder, who each won the honor three times.
“For me, the award is the work,” she said. “All I want to do is keep doing it.”
And she will (more on that later). Swift was the last example of an action-packed show where women earned the biggest honors and had the majority of the most memorable performances. Miley Cyrus powerfully belted “Flowers, which won record of the year. Billie Eilish’s ballad from “Barbie,” “What Was I Made For?” was song of the year for her and co-writer Finneas O’Connell, her brother. Singer-songwriter Victoria Monét is best new artist.
There were so many riches that rock supergroup boygenius, with Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, won three Grammys and didn’t even make it onto the CBS portion of the show.
Making the best pop vocal solo performance the televised show’s first award — where all five nominees were women — was a savvy hint to what was coming.
Bringing the reclusive Tracy Chapman on to duet with country singer Luke Combs, who had a massive hit covering her “Fast Car” this past summer, was spine-tingling. In a pre-taped segment leading into it, Combs eloquently described what the song meant to him growing up. Clearly moved, Chapman’s eyes glistened when the crowd roared as she played the 1988 song’s unforgettable guitar riff. She’s kept to the background as Combs brought the song to a new generation, and chose a wise place to reemerge.
SOME FLOWERS FOR MILEY
Not to diss more elaborately-staged affairs, but there was a certain power to Cyrus’ performance of “Flowers.” It was just her and the song, essentially. There was no question she could carry it, and she even inserted a couple of ad-libs: “I just won my first Grammy!” Her acceptance speeches were packed with personality. “I don’t think I’ve forgotten anyone,” she said, after a requisite list of thank-yous, “but I may have forgotten underwear.”
JAY-Z NEVER FORGETS
In accepting the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award, Jay-Z proved he has a long memory. He recalled the times that rap artists were outspoken about not getting enough attention from the Grammys commensurate with music sales, even boycotting a show — although “they went to a hotel to watch the Grammys,” he said. “It wasn’t a great boycott.” Jay-Z considers it an injustice that his wife, Beyoncé, has never won album of the year despite her astonishing haul of 32 Grammys. “When I get nervous,” he said, “I tell the truth.”
Joni Mitchell’s return to the stage earned her a Grammy and her performance Sunday was another emotional highlight. Surrounded by musical friends like Brandi Carlile, the 80-year-old Mitchell sat in an easy chair that resembled a throne, tapping her cane as she sang “Both Sides Now.” Her voice, which she had to recover after suffering a brain aneurysm, brought a richness and perspective to the song that could only be hinted at in the original. Like Chapman, she was visibly moved by the audience’s reception, betrayed by laughter after she finished.
Let’s be honest, those “in memoriam” tributes to people who died in the past year usually signal that it’s time for a bathroom break. Not so here. Stevie Wonder honored Tony Bennett on a chilling “duet” with a filmed Bennett on Wonder’s “For Once in My Life,” then sang Bennett’s “The Best is Yet to Come.” Annie Lennox, saluting Sinead O’Connor, sang “Nothing Compares 2 U,” with two of the late songwriter Prince’s accompanists. And Fantasia Barrino shook the walls with “Proud Mary” to honor Tina Turner.
The Grammys no doubt intended Billy Joel’s performance of his first new song in 30 years, “Turn the Lights Back On,” to be a big show-capper. But the Grammys’ previous three hours were a hard act to top.
To the public, it sometimes seems that stars arrive suddenly, but Monét and SZA offered charming reminders of all the hard work and dreams that go into success. After disarmingly thanking “the champagne servers of tonight,” Monét described the 15-year journey that took her to a best new artist award. “My roots have been growing underneath the ground for so long — and I feel like today I’m sprouting,” she said. There was a brief pause before SZA accepted an award for best R&B song, since she was changing backstage. But she was overwhelmed after recalling, with the trophy presented by Lizzo, the days a decade ago when they opened shows in small clubs. She hustled offstage when the tears flowed. “I’m not an attractive crier,” she said.
Yes, we understand that artists are always on the lookout to promote their work. But when Swift took time in accepting an award to announce that her new album would come out in April, and said she would share cover art on social media, it felt … cheap. Like she was hijacking the event for her own purposes, with news she knew would overshadow much of what was happening. U2, beamed in from a concert at their Las Vegas residency, felt like they were promoting an arena instead of their own work, lost as they were in the razzle-dazzle. Two forgettable moments for two big stars.
Props to Trevor Noah for his job as host. His enthusiasm for the music world can seem puppy dog-like, but it beats insult comics and ironists Opening the show from the arena’s floor, walking around to point out the stars, Noah built spirit for people there and at home alike. He got in some good lines, too, like when he noted Universal Music was removing its artists from TikTok. “How dare you rip off all the artists,” he said. “Shame on you. That’s Spotify’s job.” As Swift arrived late, he said that as she walked in the room, “the economy around these tables improve. Lionel Richie becomes Lionel Wealthy.”
Unlike her glares that torpedoed Jo Koy at the Golden Globes, Swift appeared to be enjoying Noah.
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