I watched the Grammys 2021

I may have mentioned before that despite everything, I love watching awards shows. So of course, when the Grammys were on last night, I sat myself down and watched the entire thing.

I was especially interested to see how they would do the Grammys in the age of COVID. Most awards shows have been very zoom heavy, including varying levels of sound, video quality, and formality from the nominees. Those with performances have taken a variety of approaches, from not being held at all, to using at home performances, to being a combination of at home and performances filmed in other venues and countries.

When it came down to making the show feel like an actual awards show, I think the Grammys have been the most successful (so far) in terms of shows with performances. All the performers were in the same venue–including some performances that were pre-taped in that same venue earlier in the week–and they circled in performers to be each others audiences. This meant that several performances were held in the same space, with their fellow artists watching and enjoying. The stages weren’t massive for these performances, but it didn’t seem to matter. The covid precautions weren’t perfect–there was rather a lot of hugging considering people were in masks and sitting spaced out, for example, but I think the quality of performances were really high overall and it made for a more enjoyable awards show.

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to the Grammys. I watched the entire red carpet (which was strangely quiet) and I do have some scattered fashion opinions. There are the awards themselves; I won’t go step by step but I will say I’m generally happy for everyone who won! There has also been some controversy and discourse surrounding the awards themselves that you may have heard about. If not, I will direct you to this YouTube video here (its forty minutes long, so you may want to come back to that later). But the part I was most looking forward to? The performances. I love music of all kinds, I love pop, I love dancing, I love spectacle. Often even if I don’t listen to an artist regularly, I will enjoy a solid live performance. There were a lot of solid live performances last night, and a lot of interesting choices.

And so, the Grammys performances in order:

“Watermelon Sugar” by Harry Styles: I’m not even going to pretend to not be biased here. I’ve been a big fan of Harry for a long time, so I was never going to dislike this performance. It was on the more minimal end of the night stage set-up wise, but still a great way to open the show. His vocals were fantastic, his outfit was great, the backing musicians were super talented. He’s generally a very charismatic performer who clearly has fun and loves what he’s doing, and it’s so much fun to watch as an audience member.

“Everything I Wanted” by Billie Eilish: Another song and artist I already know and love. I’m glad she kept this performance very close to the original recording, because the music and minimal production paired with her vocals is what gives this song such a beautiful, haunting feeling. She performed this on a car submerged in fog–a reference to the music video–with low lighting, matching the tone of the song perfectly. Sometimes that kind of simplicity is all you need. Loved it.

“The Steps” by HAIM: You know it’s a good performance when it makes you want to listen more to an artist you don’t listen to very often. This was another simpler performance, just three sisters jamming out on their instruments in the middle of the room. And it worked. I felt, in the best way, like I was in a small indie music venue in the late nineties. I need to listen to more HAIM and so do you, probably.

“Colors” by Black Pumas: After this performance, I saw so many tweets from people saying “I need to look up Black Pumas now” and I get it. I had never heard of them before the Grammy nominations came out, but they absolutely delivered during this performance. Another simple set up, but the performance was so impassioned and soulful and the song was fantastic. I was really into this and will definitely be looking up more of their music.

“Rockstar” by Dababy and Roddy Rich: This is an example of when a performance can elevate a song for me. I don’t dislike this song; I’ll keep it on when it’s on or starts playing, but I don’t make an active effort to listen to it. However, for this live performance, they added violins. They added a gospel choir. I love both of those things, and they meshed perfectly with this rap song. I also really enjoyed Dababy as a performer, from his amazing bedazzled outfit to his commitment and intensity. Very good.

“Dakiti” by Bad Bunny and Jhay Cortez: There was nothing inherently wrong with this performance. I thought the lighting in the shape of an eye was cool, I think both performers are obviously talented. But I didn’t connect to the song enough to connect to the performance. If this is a style of music you really enjoy you would probably like it, but it didn’t really hold my interest.

“Levitating/Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa ft DaBaby: More songs I already love! Dua Lipa is always committed to spectacle in her performances and I love that. Her album was disco pop, how could she not marry those songs with over the top performances?? There were costume changes!! There was choreography!! There were sets!! What’s not to love? This was one of those performances I kind of wished I was in, which is always fun.

“Leave The Door Open” by Bruno Mars and Anderson.Paak as Silk Sonic: I missed Bruno Mars. He always makes bops and his awards show performances are always fun and cheeky and flawless. This was no exception! I had already heard this song that he has out with Anderson.Paak–like I said, I missed Bruno Mars–and the performance was perfectly suited. I love that they took the 70s lounge energy of the song and leaned all the way into it. They didn’t take themselves too seriously but that doesn’t mean they didn’t perform well. Worth a watch!!

“Cardigan/August/Willow” by Taylor Swift ft. Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff: I loved both of Taylor’s albums last year so yet again, no surprise that I enjoyed this performance. This was likely one of the pre-taped performances, with an elaborate whimsical forest cottage set. The set was really beautiful, and I was happy to hear Taylor sing these songs live, since her vocals really shine through on the songs on these records. A very good and also aesthetically pleasing performance.

In Memoriam Tributes by Bruno Mars ft. Anderson.Paak, Lionel Richie, Brandi Carlile, and Brittany Howard ft. Chris Martin: The in memoriam tribute was longer than I have ever seen it before, which just feels appropriate after a year like 2020. All of these performances were excellent. Not only are each of these artists strong vocalists (definitely recommend Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke” if you have never heard it), but you could tell that each of them had a connection to the song and artist they were honoring. Unsurprisingly, my favourite was Bruno Mars’ tribute to Little Richard. He had the perfect energy for it and it was so much fun.

“Black Like Me” by Mickey Guyton: I was not familiar with this artist before the awards. She’s a country singer, which is not what I would call my favourite genre. Her voice was really beautiful, and I appreciated the meaning behind the song, but it was not my top performance of the night.

“Bluebird” by Miranda Lambert: This really was the country music portion of the night. I went to get myself a snack halfway through this. Again, no disrespect to Miranda Lambert, but this style of music really is not for me the majority of the time and I was not feeling it.

“Bones” by Maren Morris ft. John Mayer: Now this is a country crossover hit which I actually quite like? It’s a sweet song with a really nice message and Maren has a lovely voice. I wished she could have brought over Hozier, who I ADORE and did a duet version of this song with her previously. Not my number one of the night but a pleasant performance.

Body/Savage/Up/WAP” by Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B: When I heard WAP was going to be performed on TV, my first thought was, “how the hell are they going to do that?” The answer is: in the most over the top way possible so the bleeping out doesn’t even matter. I cannot even start to explain this performance. If you don’t watch any other performances from this night, please watch this one.

“Hollywood’s Bleeding” by Post Malone: I think this is a great song and that Post Malone is another one of those artists who is really good live. He goes all out every single time. Every performance I have seen from him is different and perfectly suited to the venue and the event and to the song itself. This performance was really dark and intense and felt almost claustrophobic. Loved the drama of it.

“The Bigger Picture” by Lil Baby: This was a very intense performance. He brought out actors in order to dramatize the song and make the message he wanted to send clear. It was a very powerful and effective performance.

“Say So” by Doja Cat: I have seen multiple performances of this song by Doja Cat, and none of them have been the same. She chooses a different theme and different genre to blend the song with every single time. I really admire that and love the level of creativity. At another show, she did a performance inspired by “Roxie” from the musical Chicago, which is always going to win in my eyes, but this robot themed performance was also very cool.

“Dynamite” by BTS: BTS has a very fervent fan base, to say the least. I would not call myself a “stan” by any means, but I have enjoyed the songs I have heard and I think they are very talented dancers. I think I have seen better awards show performances by them than this one. It was almost too clean and too slick, and I wanted some more edge to it. But overall it was an enjoyable performance, the song is very catchy, they’re excellent dancers, and I enjoyed their matching suits.

The performances were really solid overall, and it made for a really good Grammys night. I appreciate that they tried to find new and different ways to make this awards show work during the pandemic. If you’re going to hold The Grammys during this time (and there are arguments to be made as to whether they should or not), you might as well use this opportunity to make it fresher and brighter.