The Grammys. They call it “music’s biggest night,” and every year we tune in and argue about whether that’s actually true or not.
This year, the ceremony looked a little different, as the Recording Academy adapted to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Awards were presented on an outdoor stage across from the Staples Center, and there were no audience members in attendance besides select nominees.
To the Grammys credit, they navigated these challenges fairly well and put together a performance-heavy show that was more entertaining than some of the other ceremonies we’ve seen in recent years. The majority of the performers were relevant and the Academy largely avoided the temptation to bore us with drawn-out collaborations between artists we don’t care about.
Like we’ve come to expect, though, the evening’s highlights were balanced out by head-scratching low points. As it’s become tradition around here, the Complex Music team came together this morning to discuss them all. These are the best and the worst moments of the 2021 Grammys.
BEST: Megan Thee Stallion’s big night
Sunday was a big night for Megan Thee Stallion, as she secured three big Ws: Best New Artist, Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Performance. She became the first female rapper to win Best New Artist in over 20 years, following Lauryn Hill who took the Grammy back in 1999. The evening also represented a full-circle moment when Meg was joined by Beyoncé to accept the award for Best Rap Song for “Savage (Remix).” During her acceptance speech, Megan thanked Bey for being a strong influence in her life and musical career. “If you know me, you have to know ever since I was little, you know that when I grow up I’m going to be like the rap-Beyoncé,” she said. “That was my goal. I love her work ethic, I love how she is, I love the way she carried herself.” Beyoncé also showed love, telling Meg, “I’m proud of you… I have so much respect for you.” After her wildly successful year in 2020, it seems it could be the start to an even greater run, as Megan teased the sequel to “Hot Girl Summer” on the red carpet, telling fans: “Y’all better be ready for Hot Girl Summer part two.” —Jessica McKinney
WORST: The Best Melodic Rap Performance award
It’s as if the Grammy committee looks to find new and creative ways to disrespect rap. First, they put together a Best Rap Album category devoid of genre-bending favorites like Roddy Ricch and Lil Baby (which wasn’t aired on TV). Then the Best Melodic Rap Performance award was announced as they were coming back from a commercial break, with no intro — as if it’s not the primary influence for a good amount of so-called pop music these days. They could’ve gotten by uttering just that one sentence, but they didn’t, treating the category like an also-ran. What made it worse was the sentence they did utter: “The winner is Anderson Paak.” Paak is amazing, but he felt out of place in an award like this. Given that artists like Roddy, Lil Baby, Drake, and Durk were shut out of the other rap album categories, one of them should have won here. The head-scratching moment is yet another instance of the committee proving they just don’t understand rap or hold it in high enough regard. —Andre Gee
BEST: Roddy Ricch debuts new song
Roddy Ricch made the most of his role as the final performer of the night, debuting a new song called “Heartless.” Sitting behind a piano, he ruminated on his come-up, singing, “This life made me heartless, bitch, I came from apartments/ The money turned me to a target, got a Hellcat Dodge it.” When a live version of the song hit streaming services at midnight, it represented the first track Roddy has released of his own since Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial in Dec. 2019. And by transitioning to his mega-hit “The Box” after “Heartless,” the performance served dual purposes: it was both a celebration of his massive breakout year in 2020, and a preview of the next chapter in his career. Effectively a Grammy headlining performance, it was a triumphant moment at a pivotal juncture in the rise of a superstar. —Eric Skelton
WORST: Roddy snubbed of all awards after being most-nominated male artist
Heading into the evening, Roddy was nominated for six awards, leading all male artists. Unfortunately, the voting committees completely dropped the ball by leaving him empty-handed at the end of the night. Roddy had two of the most popular, impactful songs of the year with “The Box” and “Rockstar,” so to see him shut out of awards felt like a major oversight. And that’s without even acknowledging the fact that Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial was robbed of a nomination in the Best Rap Album category. History will show that Roddy had a bigger year than almost any other artist in the world, sitting at the top of the charts for months while delivering the most-streamed song and album of 2020 on Apple Music, but it would have been nice to see him take home at least one award on Sunday night. —Eric Skelton
BEST: Beyoncé’s historic moment
Bow down to the Queen. Beyoncé made history. Her career total of Grammy wins is now at 28, making her the most decorated female artist (and vocalist) in the award show’s history. On Sunday night, Beyoncé earned a total of four Grammys out of nine nominations, including Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for “Savage Remix,” and Best R&B Performance for “Black Parade.” She wasn’t the only one to make history. Beyoncé also won a Grammy with her eldest daughter Blue Ivy for Best Music Video for “Brown Skin Girl.” Blue Ivy became the second youngest Grammy-winner, thanks to her part in “Brown Skin Girl.” Clearly, greatness runs in the Knowles-Carter family. —Jessica McKinney
WORST: Freddie Gibbs snubbed
Just as we predicted, the Grammy committee decided to essentially walk back their bold Rap Album of the year choices by making the safe choice with Nas and snubbing Gibbs. Nas’ King’s Disease was a solid album, and the Grammy committee helps their credibility by getting an album on his shelf—but it shouldn’t have been this one. It seemed like a slam dunk consensus that Alfredo was the best album of the selected choices, but the Grammy committee seemed to think otherwise. Seeing Gibbs win would have been powerful for various reasons. The Gary, Indiana artist is one of the most consistent rappers of the past 5-10 years, excluding nobody. The only thing separating him from the rap game’s top artists are sales and accolades like Grammys. He doesn’t need either, but the committee would have done well for themselves to acknowledge the work Gibbs has been putting in. —Andre Gee
BEST: Freddie Gibbs’ hilarious response to snub
For all the arguing we do about who deserves what award, every win is a good story for a hard-working artist. And even in defeat, there’s the high of the experience, as Freddie Gibbs demonstrated last night. He was open about wanting to win the award for Best Rap Album, but he lost out to Nas (who won his first Grammy). If Gibbs was upset about the circumstance, he didn’t show it, hilariously reminding his team after the announcement that, “I might’ve lost today, but I’m undefeated in court.” The comment was in jest, but when thinking about Gibbs’ journey from a French prison to becoming regarded as one of the best rappers in the world, one could see how even being in the Grammys picture was good enough for him. It was refreshing to see an artist not feeling entitled to a win, moreso excited to be a part of the process. —Andre Gee
WORST: Bad pacing of awards
The Academy deserves some credit for booking a better selection of performers this year than they have in the past, but the ceremony still felt tedious at times, thanks to the way it was structured. In the first hour of the night, only one award was given out, and by the end of hour two, we had only seen three Grammys. Then for some reason, in the middle of the ceremony, they decided to shoehorn in a bunch of pre-taped awards back-to-back-to-back, before returning to a long slog of performances. The Grammys stumbled into a nice new format with video segments and creative performances, but everything would have been a lot more watchable if each component of the show was spaced out a little better. —Eric Skelton
BEST: Pop parity
It was a good night for pop music. The artists who deserved to go home with hardware did so. Taylor Swift put on one of the best live performances of her career with a Folklore/Evermore medley. Dua Lipa’s theatrical live set called back her massive hits of last year and she looked incredible doing so. All in all, it felt like there was a lot of parity in who the Recording Academy decided to send home with a trophy. Harry Styles going home with a Pop Solo Performance Grammy for “Watermelon Sugar” was a surprise, sure, but it was nice to see the excellent Fine Line get some awards show love. Maybe you’re tired of seeing Taylor Swift pick up Grammys, but she was the right pick for Album of the Year. Like we told you in our predictions, two titans of pop Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande linking up is fodder for the Recording Academy: them taking home an award for “Rain On Me” surprised no one. And Billie, who actually lost a pop award to Harry Styles (not that she was that mad, y’all see her vibing out to his set?) ended up winning the big Record of the Year award at the end of the night. It’s as if the powers that be made it their mission to keep as many pop fandoms as happy as possible. While the argument could be made that there were some big snubs in other categories and some deserving artists went home empty-handed, it feels like the Recording Academy got it right when it comes to pop music. A small win but a win indeed. —Waiss Aramesh
BEST: “WAP” on national TV
It seems like forever ago that “WAP” was rankling prudes who condemned the song as an obscenity. Megan and Cardi B got together to give the detractors one more listen, complete with some grinding up against each other, which probably saved thousands in power bills thanks to half of middle America turning their TVs off. Those who watched got a provocative rendition of a song beloved for its sex-positivity. The only thing that would’ve pissed conservatives off more than a performance would have been seeing the song be eligible for award nomination and winning a Grammy or two. —Andre Gee
BEST: DaBaby and Roddy Ricch’s “Rockstar” performance
DaBaby and Roddy Ricch were shut out of awards, but they made sure to show everyone how big of a mistake that was during their performance of “Rockstar.” Backed by a violinist and a bunch of backup singers who kind of looked like teachers at Hogwarts, DaBaby clutched the microphone in his two sparkly-gloved hands and delivered one of the best performances of the night. Staring intently into the camera and commanding the stage, he was a star (and the whole thing reminded us how much we’ve missed DaBaby performances over the past year). Accompanied by Roddy, the live version was better than the studio recording—an impressive feat for a song that spent seven weeks at No. 1 last year—and it made the most of the theatrical backdrop of the Grammys. DaBaby started the night by going viral for creating his own red carpet with his daughter, and he outdid himself with this performance. —Eric Skelton
BEST: Silk Sonic’s debut performance
We’re really in for something special with this Silk Sonic album, aren’t we? Coming together for their first performances as an official duo, Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars crushed their rendition of “Leave the Door Open,” followed by a memorable tribute to the late Little Richard. Their performances were two of the most fun, upbeat moments of the night, hinting at very great things to come when the world finally opens back up and these guys go on a celebratory tour together. Good days are ahead. —Eric Skelton