By Terrance Turner
With millions (including me) still reeling from the shocking, tragic death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter in a helicopter crash yesterday, the Grammys were a welcome distraction. But they were also cathartic.
The ceremony was held in L.A.’s Staples Center, the venue where Bryant played virtually all of his legendary 20-year career. Host Alicia Keys noted that during her opening monologue before bringing out Boyz II Men for a group rendition of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”. It was an painfully poignant moment — a brilliant song choice that epitomized everyone’s collective grief.
But Keys also lifted our spirits with an original song she’d written for the occasion. In thoughtful, funny lyrics — set to the tune of Lewis Capauldi’s “Someone You Loved” — Keys referenced some of the nominees. “Ariana went next/Tyler brought us Igor/Lil Nas X rode that road till he couldn’t no more…It’s the Grammys/Gonna have a ball/And here’s Alicia Keys to get you through it all,” she sang. But she also touched on politics. After a pointed reference to the impeachment trial, Keys added: “It’s just too many lies, too much hate, too much spin. It’s when good people do nothing that the bad guys win.”
Keys reminded the crowd that the ceremony was about the celebration of music — the one thing that bring us all together. “Music is a language that we all can speak,” she said. Indeed, the night presented a plethora of great music.
The problem with the Grammys, of course, is that they cram 1500 musical performances by galaxy of stars into one ceremony. That was the case Sunday night. The ceremony ran for nearly four hours. There were so many musical performances that I found it nearly impossible to pick a top 5. But here are some of the most memorable moments.
5. Lizzo, “‘Cuz I Love You”/”Truth Hurts”
Lizzo opened the ceremony with two of her biggest hits. She began with the title track of her nominated album ‘Cuz I Love You. “Tonight is for Kobe!” she yelled, before belting out the title line: “I’m cryin’… ’cause I looooooove youuuu”. The dedication made an already wrenching song even more moving. Lizzo belted out the lyrics with incredible heart, her voice soaring to operatic heights on the high notes. Then she shed the dramatics (and her polka-dotted black gown) for “Truth Hurts”. Surrounded by black ballerinas, Lizzo sang, rapped and even played the flute (impressively). It was sassy, exuberant fun — exactly what viewers needed after such a dark day.
4. Camila Cabello, “First Man”
Cabello’s gently pretty vocals shone on this tender song dedicated to her father. (She even walked into the audience to sing it to him.) The lyrics speak of finding love with a great guy (presumably Cabello’s boyfriend Shawn Mendes) and telling Dad all about him. Cabello’s father was in tears during the performance and hugged her afterward. It was a sweet, genuine moment. (This may sound cynical, but it was the perfect PR move for Cabello given her recent race-related scandals.)
3. Demi Lovato, “Anyone”
Lovato wrote this song just four days before a near-fatal overdose in 2018. It’s hard to hear the lyrics as anything but a cry for help. She was in tears before she even began and had to start the song over after a few bars. After some hushed, slightly shaky vocals on the chorus, Lovato began to crescendo. “Nobody’s listening,” she sang, although that couldn’t have been further from the truth. She belted out each chorus at the top of her lungs, conveying her anguish with raw vocal power. It wasn’t technically perfect, but Lovato’s performance was arguably the most powerful of the night — both vocally and emotionally.
2. Usher feat. Sheila E. and FKA Twigs, “Little Red Corvette”; “When Doves Cry”; “Kiss” (Prince tribute): Usher has a great voice and even better moves. But he also has a nimble falsetto and major sex appeal — both crucial for a tribute to Prince. All three songs were good fits for him, and he had help from a great band (including musician Sheila E., Prince’s longtime friend and collaborator.
1. Billie Eilish, “When the Party’s Over”
At first glance, it was hard to take her seriously: the jet-black hair with neon highlights, the inch-long green fingernails wrapped around her mic. But Eilish was a revelation, delivering a haunting, emotive rendition of a song by her brother Finneas. (He played piano on stage and produced Billie’s album.) But it was her remarkable voice — clear, breathy and delicate but capable of surprising power — that made this performance work. Stunning.