2021 Grammy Awards: Billie Eilish, Beyonce, Taylor Swift all made history on a night of huge surprises

The 63rd Annual Grammy Awards were held on Sunday night, March 14, during a ceremony hosted by Trevor Noah, the star of “The Daily Show” and a Grammy nominee in his own right: he contended last year for his comedy album “Son of Patricia.” So who were the big winners, who (if anyone) made history, and how did the awards handle these unusual pandemic circumstances? Follow along for our analysis below, and check out the complete list of winners here.

Most of the 84 categories were announced during the afternoon Premiere Ceremony that streamed online, leaving fewer than a dozen awards for the main event: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Best New Artist, Song of the Year, Best Pop Solo Performance, Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Country Album, Best Melodic Rap Performance, Best Rap Song, Best R&B Performance and Best Latin Pop or Urban Album. Beyonce came into these awards with the most nominations overall (nine), followed by Taylor Swift, Roddy Ricch and Dua Lipa with six apiece.

There was a possibility for Megan Thee Stallion to make history as a rare hip-hop winner for Best New Artist and Record of the Year (“Savage”), while Swift had the potential to become the first woman to win Album of the Year three times thanks to her critically acclaimed surprise album from last summer, “Folklore.” Meanwhile, Billie Eilish and her brother/co-writer Finneas were hoping to become the first ever to win Song of the Year in back-to-back years; this year they were up for “Everything I Wanted,” following last year’s victory for “Bad Guy.”

Follow along below as we break down the memorable, landmark moments from the broadcast.

8:00pm — The night is underway, and Trevor Noah is outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles. It’ll be especially interesting to see how these awards handle the pandemic. Some awards shows have adapted quite well, like the VMAs and Emmys, while others have been pretty awkward, like the Golden Globes. The Premiere Ceremony earlier this afternoon was a smooth, streamlined affair that did a great job of celebrating the music and giving the winners time to speak (and only one of them was accidentally on mute). Trevor Noah’s monologue got us off to a good start, delivering jokes while simultaneously walking us through the logistics of the evening — literally walking from the outdoor tent to the indoor performance venue.

8:06pm — The opening performance of Harry Styles doing “Watermelon Sugar” is understated. I wouldn’t mind more pared down performances like this, especially when you’re as charismatic as Styles and know how to rock a green boa.

8:10pmBillie Eilish performing “Everything I Wanted” immediately after Styles, and I’m already liking this setup because you could see Eilish grooving to Styles in that same performance space, and Styles and HAIM bopping to Eilish. And the spare is such a good fit for the melancholy, longing tone of that song.

8:16pmHAIM killed it performing “The Sreps,” and the setup of the performance venue started to feel a little awkward with artists either waiting their turn to perform. It’s definitely not the energy of a live audience, but I still think this is a promising format, a modest, scrappy show focusing on the music instead of the overblown production we sometimes get from the Grammys.

8:21pm — Took 20 minutes to get to the first award of the night, but it’s Best New Artist with Lizzo presenting and still living her best life a year after her big Grammy breakthrough. I kinda want her to host next year. She presents the award to Megan Thee Stallion, who was the front-runner in our odds, but still seemed like a question mark since the Grammys have long been biased against hip-hop. Megan is the first female rapper to win, not counting Lauryn Hill, who was predominantly categorized as an R&B artist when she prevailed in 1999. This is Megan’s second win of the night already following her Best Rap Performance win during the Premiere Ceremony.

8:30pmBlack Pumas doing a great rendition of the Record of the Year-nominated “Colors” after a brief short film highlighting the song, which is a nice addition. Extraneous awards show segments don’t always work, but when they highlight the nominated music I’m down. Though I’m starting to think someone should get Harry Styles a stool because he’s been standing there for like 20 minutes now.

8:39pmDaBaby and Roddy Ricch‘s background singers are giving me vibes, like RBG and Professor McGonagall at a super hip church service. Then Bad Bunny ups the production values with a big glowing eye in the middle of the stage, but Dua Lipa scales it back, going “from Kosovo to the Grammys stage” with a performance of “Levitating” where the most glowing is coming from her sequins. Bu then she brings all the disco excess as she transitions into “Don’t Start Now.” Maybe the best performance of the night so far. I was already hoping she’d upset to win Album of the Year for “Future Nostalgia,” and now even more so.

8:59pm — Grammys 2022 preview? Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak teaming up as Silk Sonic for a new album. Mars swept the Grammys for his R&B throwback album “24K Magic,” and this performance of “Leave the Door Open” is throwing it back even farther to the ’70s. Those suits, those sunglasses! Between this and Dua Lipa, what’s old is new again on Grammy night.

9:03pm — Ooh, another Grammy category, only 42 minutes after the first. Best Country Album goes to “Wildcard” by Miranda Lambert. This is her second win in this category and her third win overall. It was looking a little shaky earlier during the Premiere Ceremony where Lambert lost her two other nominations for Best Country Solo Performance and Best Country Song for “Bluebird.”

9:09pmTaylor Swift bringing forest sprite realness for her performance of “Cardigan,” then into the amber glow of a cabin for “August,” but then she does the lead single from “Evermore,” “Willow.” I kinda thought she’s wrap up that “Folklore” young-love trilogy with “Betty.” And speaking of the 1970s, while this isn’t an especially nostalgic performance, I could totally see Stevie Nicks rocking that same dress.

9:19pmBest Pop Solo Performance goes to … Harry Styles for “Watermelon Sugar,” a big surprise in a category with Record of the Year nominees “Don’t Start Now” (Dua Lipa), “Say So” (Doja Cat), and “Everything I Wanted” (Billie Eilish) and Song of the Year nominee “Cardigan” (Taylor Swift). Styles was snubbed in the general field, but now he’s the first One Direction alum to win a Grammy. Perhaps he also has a shot at Best Pop Vocal Album for “Fine Line.”

9:25pm — Anderson Paak and Bruno Mars paying tribute to Little Richard. Not the first time he’s paid tribute to a legendary musician at the Grammys; he also did the Prince tribute a few years back. I feel like he’s the Tarantino of music: a walking encyclopedia of influences and references. Altogether a good In Memoriam package, with Lionel Richie also paying tribute to Kenny Rogers, and Brandi Carlile covering John Prine, who actually won two awards posthumously today during the Premiere Ceremony. Honestly, if they had Brandi Carlile sing everybody’s songs tonight, I wouldn’t be mad at it.

9:34pm — As it continues with Brittany Howard accompanied by Chris Martin, this might be one of the best produced In Memoriam segments in recent memory, and especially meaningful at the end of a year marked by so much loss.

9:41pm — Trevor Noah introduces Mickey Guyton as the first Black woman ever nominated for a country Grammy, which is one of those statistics that’s simultaneously encouraging and depressing. She’s been getting so much well-deserved exposure over the last year, but it’s also because of how few other prominent Black women there are in country right now. She’s performing “Black Like Me,” which was nominated for Best Country Solo Performance but lost to Vince Gill (“When My Amy Prays”).

9:47pm — Guyton followed by a lovely, understated Miranda Lambert performance of “Bluebird.” And wrapping it up is Maren Morris doing “The Bones” accompanied by John Mayer. Doing these back-to-back-to-back performances works best when the acts share some musical DNA, like this country music trio. I know the performers will be thrilled to be able to perform for large crowds again in the not-too-distant future, but I’ll miss this intimacy if we go back to bombast for next year’s awards.

9:57pm — Cut to the Grammys showing categories presented earlier in the day: Best Melodic Rap Performance to Anderson Paak’s “Lockdown” and Best Latin Pop or Urban Album to Bad Bunny‘s “YHLQMDLG.” Not a great look rushing through those presentations when there are only 11 categories being given out during this whole three-and-a-half-hour show.

10:00pm — Okay, this makes up for those weird rushed categories a little: H.E.R. achieves a major upset to win Song of the Year for the fantastic “I Can’t Breathe” over Taylor Swift (“Cardigan”), Dua Lipa (“Don’t Start Now”), Billie Eilish (“Everything I Wanted”) and Beyonce (“Black Parade”) — which are also good, mind you. These surprises all day suggest to me that the decisions of the nominating panels didn’t really reflect what the academy membership thought about the year’s music.

10:09pm — My favorite thing is Megan Thee Stallion’s performance being introduced with inspirational messages from Megan about following her dreams, then right into “Body” and “Savage” with big twerk energy. Get it! And oh, I was not expecting the tap dance interlude on the medley. More of this confident weirdness, please!

10:18pm — I just love the selective censorship on “WAP,” like, Cardi B can’t say “hard,” but she can rap about putting the big mack truck in her little garage like that’s … um, somehow not clear? Also, I immediately need the gif of Trevor Noah singing “There’s some whores in this house” (also okay to say on CBS apparently).

10:24pmBest Rap Song goes to “Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion and Beyonce, which officially ties Beyonce with Alison Krauss as the most awarded woman in Grammy history. Both women have won 27 times, and I’m loving this Megan Thee Stallion speech about looking up to Beyonce and asking herself throughout her life and career, “What would Beyonce do?”

10:43pmBest Pop Vocal Album goes to “Future Nostalgia” by Dua Lipa over “Cardigan” by Taylor Swift. This could be a very good sign for Dua Lipa going into Album of the Year!

10:51pm — That Lil Baby performance of “The Bigger Picture” was a fantastic production, one of the biggest and boldest of the night, but pointed and direct and unflinching. I think that song deserved more nominations than it got.

10:55pmBest R&B Performance goes to Beyonce for “Black Parade.” You know, I was writing about Beyonce breaking this record before it was cool. As the presenters pointed out, this is her 28th Grammy overall and her fourth tonight. It’s such a weird feast-or-famine thing with Beyonce: voters will back the truck up to her, but whenever she has the most critically acclaimed album of the year, they look the other way.

11:01pm — I’m not sure how I feel about Doja Cat’s rubber cat motif on her “Say So” performance. How much PPE could that have made?

11:09pmAlbum of the Year is the penultimate award of the night, and it’s awarded to … “Folklore” by Taylor Swift, which is actually kinda surprising after she lost literally every other category she was nominated for, including Best Pop Album to Dua Lipa. One of those odd Grammy quirks that Swift has the best album, but Dua Lipa had a better pop album. This, of course, is historic since Swift is now the first woman to win Album of the Year three times.

11:21pm — Grammy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. talking about needing to make changes in the recording academy, but also saying, “Work with us, not against us,” isn’t cutting it. The organization plagued by voting and nomination scandals shouldn’t be asking anybody to meet them halfway. Talk is cheap, and the ball’s in their court, not in any frustrated artists’.

11:26pm — BTS out here performing a half hour to midnight is basically the producers begging the youths not to turn off their TVs early.

11:33pm — Poor Roddy Ricch, performing so late in the show when honestly it feels like Record of the Year is never going to come and all I’m just wondering why he’s not opening an envelope.

11:41pm — On a night full of surprises comes one last one: Billie Eilish wins Record of the Year for “Everything I Wanted.” She’s only the third artist to win Record of the Year two years in a row, following Roberta Flack and U2. Her only other win this year was for her James Bond theme song “No Time to Die.” And she spent her speech paying tribute to the greatness of Megan Thee Stallion, whom she thought had this award in the bag. But such was the weirdness of this year that just when you thought the awards were moving in one direction, they veered in another for the entire night.

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