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Harry Styles, Lizzo take top Grammys as Beyoncé makes history

Bonnie Raitt pulls off a shocker, and LGBTQ artists shine at a heated moment in the culture wars


Harry Styles and Lizzo split the biggest spoils as Beyoncé made history — but went home empty-handed in the major categories yet again — at the 65th Grammy Awards Sunday night.  

Styles won the biggest prize of the night — Album of the Year — for Harry’s House, besting heavy favorites Beyoncé and Adele. Lizzo took home Record of the Year for “Special,” and in the most surprising win of the night, Bonnie Raitt won Song of the Year for “Just Like That.” The winner of the other major category, Best New Artist, was up-and-coming jazz vocalist Samara Joy.

These big winners at the 2023 Grammys were both somewhat sensible and somewhat surprising (except for maybe Raitt, who was just plain surprising). That’s because up until the final 30 minutes of the show, the theme of the night really did seem to be Beyoncé.

Heading into Sunday, the superstar was on the verge of becoming the most decorated artist in Grammy history — a feat she did achieve. With wins for Best Dance/Electronic Album, Best R&B Song, Best Traditional R&B Performance, and Best Dance/Electronic Recording, Beyoncé brought her total Grammy tally to 32 as she surpassed Hungarian conductor Georg Solti. Riding that wave, it seemed Beyoncé was finally going to pick up another long-awaited major prize (she’s only won one, Song of the Year in 2010 for “Single Ladies”), if not all three. 

Instead, Recording Academy voters proved they are still, well, Recording Academy voters, selecting a pioneering torchbearer and two of pop’s biggest young stars. All three seemed taken aback to a certain degree, or at least extremely aware of whom they’d just bested. Raitt called the moment “unreal” in her speech, while Lizzo pointedly thanked Beyoncé, recalling how she skipped school to watch her perform as a kid: “You clearly are the artist of our lives,” Lizzo said.

And Styles started his speech with an emphatic, “Shit. Well, shit.” He then added, “I’ve been so, so inspired by every artist in this category with me. At a lot of different times in my life, I’ve listened to everyone in this category when I’m alone. I think on nights like tonight; it’s obviously so important to remember that there is no such thing as ‘Best’ in music.”

As for the show itself, there was much at the 65th Grammy Awards that felt like a righteous culture war salvo from the left amidst a rising tide of bigoted, regressive bills and speech from conservatives on LGBTQ rights. Brandi Carlile’s tear-the-house-down performance of “Broken Horses” featured an introduction from her wife, Catherine Shepherd, and their two children. And arguably, the most moving moment of the night belonged to Kim Petras, who became the first trans woman to win Best Pop Duo/Group Collaboration for her smash with Sam Smith, “Unholy.” 

After paying tribute to “transgender legends” who came before her, like Sophie, as well as LGBTQ advocates like Madonna, Petras said, “I grew up next to a highway in Germany,” she said. “And my mother believed me that I was a girl, and I wouldn’t be here without her and her support and everyone who believed in me to this point.” (Madonna also introduced Petras’ and Smith’s delightfully diabolical performance of “Unholy” later in the show.)

Even Beyoncé nodded to all this, sharing her big night with a community that’s inspired so much of her music. Upon accepting the award for Best Dance/Electronic Music Album, she said, “I’d like to thank the queer community for your love and for inventing this genre.”

(That’s not to say there weren’t some bad vibes lurking somewhere: Dave Chappelle won Best Comedy Album for The Closer, his controversial Netflix special, which featured numerous transphobic jokes. At least Recording Academy voters didn’t give the award to Louis C.K. for the second year in a row, though?)

Presiding over the evening for the third year in a row was Trevor Noah, who seemed very much at ease as he sauntered through the crowd during his opening monologue. Amidst jokes about Styles and the dearly departed green M&M, he took the opportunity to introduce Adele to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and joked that Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” was the reason he quit The Daily Show.

In many ways, this year’s Grammys were also extremely online (even if the winners didn’t always line up with the way the show presented itself). Sure the music industry is starting to question whether TikTok is as big a driver of popular music as it was just a few years ago, but that didn’t stop Noah from quipping in his monologue, “Every song on TikTok that you hear? There are people who made them. This is them!” 

The Grammys have definitely been trending younger in recent years, especially since the departure of longtime producer Ken Ehrlich after the 2020 show. (That’s not to say there wasn’t a little cringe along the way, like the superfluous roundtable discussion with “real fans” peppered throughout.) But to the show’s credit, even the classic “Grammys moment”-style performances had their charms, like Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson playing their classic hits with Chris Stapleton or the towering tribute to hip-hop that featured a fantastic mix of pioneers (Rakim, Chuck D, LL Cool J, Queen Latifah) and contemporary stars (Lil Wayne, Glorilla, Lil Baby). 

But before all that, there was Bad Bunny. Arguably the biggest star in the world right now was tasked with opening up the show, and he did so with a vibrant ode to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic with renditions of “El Apagón” and “Después de la Playa.” As Bad Bunny performed, the stage and seat aisles were filled with plena dancers and musicians, as well as cabezudos (characters with large paper maché heads usually seen at festivals) representing a plethora of Puerto Rican legends, from rapper Tego Calderón to poet Lola Rodríguez de Tió to Felisa Rincón de, the former mayor of San Juan and the first woman mayor elected in a capital city of the Americas. 

Though Bad Bunny set the bar high, the night featured plenty of other blockbuster performances. Lizzo tore through some of her most recent hits, including “About Damn Time” and a gospel-tinged rendition of “Special.” And DJ Khaled managed to corral the entire “God Did” crew — Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, John Legend, and Fridayy — to close out the show with a suitably epic outdoor performance of their posse cut.  

Elsewhere, the “In Memoriam” section featured Kacey Musgraves honoring Loretta Lynn with a rendition of “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” while Sheryl Crow, Mick Fleetwood, and Bonnie Raitt gathered to pay tribute to Christine McVie with “Songbird.” But the most poignant moment came when Quavo took the stage with the gospel group/worship collective Maverick City Music to honor his late nephew and Migos bandmate Takeoff with a performance of “Without You.” 

As for the actual awards, Kendrick Lamar dominated the Rap categories this year, winning Best Rap Song and Performance for “The Heart Part 5,” as well as Best Rap Album for Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers. Styles also won Best Pop Vocal Album for Harry’s House, Willie Nelson was awarded Best Country Album for A Beautiful Time (the legend also took home Best Country Solo Performance for “Live Forever”), and Adele picked up Best Pop Solo Performance for “Easy on Me.”

The bulk of the awards, of course, were handed out in the hours before the televised show began. Rosalía — who was arguably snubbed in some of the bigger categories — did win one of the two prizes she was nominated for, Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album for Motomami. Meanwhile, British upstarts Wet Leg bested indie and alt vets like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Björk, Arctic Monkeys, and Florence and the Machine to win their first Grammys, Best Alternative Music Album (Wet Leg) and Alternative Performance (“Chaise Longue”).

Other first-time winners included Steve Lacy (Best Progressive R&B Album for Gemini Rights), Muni Long (Best R&B Performance for “Hrs and Hrs”), and Cody Johnson (Best Country Song for “‘Till You Can’t”). Longtime country favorite Ashley McBryde finally won her first Grammy as well, sharing Best Country Duo/Group Performance for “Never Wanted to Be That Girl” with another first-time winner, Carly Pearce. And Nigerian star Tems picked up her first Grammy, sharing Best Melodic Rap Performance with Future and Drake (who can’t escape the Grammys no matter how hard he tries) for “Wait for U.”

Easily the most notable first-time winner of 2023, however, was Viola Davis. The legendary performer officially completed her EGOT with a Grammy for Best Audio Book, Narration, and Storytelling Recording for her memoir, Finding Me.  

In the rock and metal categories, Brandi Carlile and Ozzy Osbourne split the spoils, with the former winning Best Rock Song and Performance (“Broken Horses”) and the latter winning Best Rock Album (Patient Number 9) and Metal Performance (for “Degradation Rules,” with his old Black Sabbath bandmate Tony Iommi). 

And, of course, “Music’s Biggest Night” wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of Taylor Swift. The superstar was up for four awards Sunday, including Song of the Year for “All Too Well (10 Minute Version).” But while that didn’t go her way, Swift is now able to call herself an “award-winning director” after All Too Well: The Short Film took home Best Music Video. Surely we’ll be seeing a lot more of Swift at the 2024 Grammys when Midnights will be eligible. 

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