Heading up to 63rd annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, most of the buzz had to do with who wasn’t going to perform during the telecast rather than who was. First-time show producer Ben Winston shot down rumours that Beyoncé or Adele might perform. Worse, Canadian superstar the Weeknd, smarting over his bizarre zero nominations this year, accused the Recording Academy of being “corrupt.”

Add to that the logistical issues involved with putting on an extravaganza during a pandemic, and you have a unique telecast to say the least. A downsized (and thankfully Zoom-free) show began with host Trever Noah laying out the ground rules for a physically distanced event and ended nearly fours later with Ringo Starr handing the Record of the Year award to Billie Eilish for Everything I Wanted. What follows are the best and moments and the bad ones, too, along with notable quips and Canadian accomplishments.


Small was better: For once, music’s biggest night was all about the music. Awards were handed out in a garden-party setting, outdoors, against the backdrop of the Staples Center where the event would normally take place. Most artists performed on five small, socially-distanced stages inside the L.A. Convention Center. The show began with Harry Styles (in leathers and a feather boa), Eilish (green haired and bedazzled) and the pop-group sisters of Haim, back to back to back.

But big was fine too: Lil Baby performed the Black Lives Matter anthem The Bigger Picture potently, spectacularly and outdoors.

Black music mattered: Beyoncé won four awards, making her the most-awarded woman in Grammy history. I Can’t Breathe won Song of the Year for songwriters Dernst Emile II, H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas. Rapper Megan Thee Stallion was judged Best New Artist.

A memorable in-memoriam segment: In a year marked by loss, the music business was hit hard. Classy respect was paid to those who passed, whether a spirited tribute to Little Richard by Bruno Mars or Brandi Carlisle’s poignant rendition of I Remember Everything by John Prine (who won two awards posthumously. “How I miss you in the morning light,” she sang, “like roses miss the dew.”

And the winner is…independent venues: Instead of having mismatched celebrities hand out the hardware, some of the awards were presented by people from hard-hit iconic music halls, including Nashville’s Station Inn, New York’s Apollo Theater and L.A.’s Troubadour.

It’s a WAP: The twerktastic, cups-runneth-over performance of the risque hit WAP by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion ended with the two stars in the same bed. It happened after 10 p.m. – perhaps the kids watching at home were in their own beds by that time.


There’s Noah accounting for taste: First-time host Noah said consistently funny things in consistently unfunny ways.

It’s pronounced “boor”: At the online pre-show ceremony in which most of this year’s 84 Grammy winners were revealed, comedy nominee Bill Burr was typically irreverent. “Was I the only one who wanted to kill themself during that piano solo?” he asked, following a performance of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata by Igor Levit. Later, after struggling to pronounce the names of Latino winners, he suggested “feminists” were probably asking “why is this white male doing all this Latino stuff?” It’s a good question. Does the telecast’s executive producer Ben Winston have an answer?

Dua Lipa or do it over?: The British disco-pop sensation razzled but did not dazzle during her charisma-free medley of Levitating and Don’t Start Now.


Record of the Year winner Eilish to nominee Megan Thee Stallion: “You deserve this.”

Director Taika Waititi, after winning for the soundtrack to Jojo Rabbit: “I guess they’re just giving Grammys to anyone now.”

Noah on remote viewing: “This past year has been difficult for us all. We’ve had to do everything over Zoom – weddings, work, colonoscopies.”


Two’s a collaboration, 16 is a convention: The 16 soundboard maestros who worked on Beck’s Hyperspace all won a Grammy when the album won in the Best Engineered, Non-Classical category. One of the engineers was Shawn Everett, the pride of Bragg Creek, Alta., whose recognition Sunday pumped his career Grammy total up to six.

Cue the Meatloaf music: The first two awards to be given out during the afternoon “premiere ceremony” pre-show both went to Montreal’s Kaytranada, who won Best Dance Recording (for 10%, with Kali Uchis) and Best Dance/Electronic Album (for Bubba). The Haitian-Canadian DJ and producer was also up for Best New Artist honours, but failed to win. Still, as the song goes, two out of three ain’t bad.

Mamas, don’t let your Biebers grow up to be babies: Justin Bieber took issue when the Recording Academy nominated him three times in pop categories instead of the R&B categories he preferred. He lost all three. Bieber didn’t complain about his country group/duo nomination with Dan + Shay for the song 10,000 Hours, and ended up taking home that statuette. Maybe there’s a lesson there.

The Globe and Mail, March 15, 2021