“Music is what we cry to, it’s what we march to, it’s what we rock to, it’s what we make love to,” said host Alicia Keys during her opening remarks at the 61st annual Grammy Awards that took place on Feb. 10 at Staples Centre in Los Angeles.
Keys may well have added, “It’s what we reminisce to,” since the recurring theme of the evening was honouring icons.
There was a protracted segment devoted to 2019 MusiCares person of the year, Dolly Parton. Diana Ross also took the stage and led a sing-along to some of her most memorable songs to celebrate her 75th birthday. Then, Jennifer Lopez performed a medley of Motown hits, bringing Smokey Robinson and Ne-Yo onstage with her. Chloe x Halle sang music by soul icon Donny Hathaway, and Fantasia and Yolanda Adams paid tribute to the late Aretha Franklin.
Looking ahead to the future of music, the Grammys put an emphasis this year on showcasing women in music. Last week, it was announced that the Grammys Task Force was introducing a new initiative that would help expand opportunities for female music producers and engineers, and it was clear that they extended that ethos to the night’s performances. (A February 2019 study by the University of Southern California confirmed, again, that "the gender gap at the Grammys is real," citing numbers that are far from gender parity in the biggest awards categories.)
Many of those performances were by a diverse range of female artists, from country singer Kacey Musgraves to funk/R&B star Janelle Monae to pop star-turned-actress Lady Gaga. The evening also began with a powerful moment where host Keys invited her “sisters” — Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Jennifer Lopez and former First Lady Michelle Obama — onstage to praise women and the power of music.
“Music helps us share ourselves, our dignity, our sorrows, our hopes and joys,” Obama said. “It allows us to hear one another, to invite one another in. Music shows us that all of it matters, every story, every voice, every note, in every song. Is that right, ladies?”
In addition to the more performative moments, when Cardi B won best rap album of the year, she became the first solo woman to do so. Mastering engineer Emily Lazar also made history, as the first woman to ever win a Grammy for best engineered album (non-classical) for Beck's Colors.
It was also an important evening for Canadian musicians. Here's how they fared on music’s biggest night.
Drake went into the Grammys with seven nominations, second only to Kendrick Lamar's eight. The evening produced one award for the Canadian rapper.
He won best rap song for “God’s Plan,” saying during his acceptance speech, “If you have people singing your songs, word for word, if you’re a hero in your hometown ... you don’t need this right here, you’ve already won.” His speech appeared to be cut off by the show’s producer.
Host Alicia Keys also paid tribute to the Toronto rapper in a wide-ranging medley of songs that included his hit single, “In my Feelings.”
Pop star Shawn Mendes arrived on the red carpet saying he was “overwhelmingly grateful, and nervous, also.”
Early in the show, his performance of “In my Blood,” which morphed into a duet with Miley Cyrus, was a highlight. (On the red carpet, Mendes would not confirm rumours that the pair have a song coming out.) The night before the Grammys, the two performed a cover of Parton and Kenny Rogers’ “Islands in the Stream” at the MusiCares gala honouring Parton.
Mendes went into the evening with his first two nominations ever. While he was nominated for song of the year for his single "In my Blood," that Grammy went to Childish Gambino for “This is America.” Mendes was also nominated for pop vocal album of the year for his self-titled third album, but Ariana Grande’s Sweetener won that, leaving Mendes empty-handed for the evening.
Toronto R&B artist Daniel Caesar, who brought his mother as his date, earned his first Grammy Award ever, taking home the best R&B performance award for his H.E.R. collaboration, “Best Part,” which appeared on his 2017 album, Freudian.
Of the five Canadian classical nominees, only James Ehnes converted his into a win. He received the Grammy for best classical instrumental solo for his recording of Aaron Jay Kernis’ Violin Concerto. (Kernis also won the Grammy for best contemporary classical composition for the same work.)
Woohoo! Huge congrats to @LudovicMorlot and @seattlesymphony, and most of all to the amazing and inspiring #aaronjaykernis. I’m so proud and honored to have had the opportunity to bring this masterpiece to life. https://t.co/2UKK3l9sxl— James Ehnes (@JamesEhnes) 10 February 2019
Krall went into the evening with two nominations for her 2018 collaborative album with Tony Bennett, Love is Here to Stay. First, she was up for best traditional pop vocal album, which went to Willie Nelson’s My Way, and then best pop duo/group performance, which ultimately went to Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper for their A Star is Born hit, “Shallow.”
Young Spirit may not have won the Grammy for best regional roots music album, but the Frog Lake, Alberta-based group did a Cree round dance on the red carpet:
Crowd gathers to listen to Frog Lake, Alberta-based group Young Spirit perform what they told me is a Cree round dance. They were nominated for best regional roots album. Said they hope the music inspires Indigenous youth to “stand up and be proud” #Grammy2019 pic.twitter.com/jcvP5Ot1GY— Zulekha Nathoo (@ZulekhaNathoo) February 11, 2019