2021 Grammys post-mortem: Reflecting on bizarre upsets and why voters can’t resist Anderson Paak and Brandi Carlile

Like seemingly all the awards shows this season, the 63rd Grammy Awards were filled with surprises, ranging from unprecedented record-breaking splits to a significant number of upsets. Not only that, we also saw a lot of solid trends broken this year, much like we saw in the nominations earlier in the season. Let’s take a dive into the biggest and weirdest moments of the night.

Splits everywhere

The Grammys are infamously known for sweeps, so to see Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, Harry Styles, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, and Brittany Howard all leave with one Grammy apiece was definitely odd. It was especially weird because Styles edged out Lipa for Pop Solo, yet Lipa defeated him and Taylor Swift for Pop Vocal Album, and then Swift beat Lipa for Album of the Year despite not winning anything else.

Another seemingly random split was between Howard and Fiona Apple in the rock field. For the first time ever, there was a clean split where both were nominated in both rock categories, but the categories went different ways. It even seemed like the wrong split. Apple’s known for her lyricism, so you’d think she’d win Rock Song while Howard, who’s a little more dependent on the sound and mood, would win Rock Performance. But in a surprising turn of events, Howard ended up winning Rock Song for composing “Stay High” while voters deemed Apple’s performance in “Shameika” more deserving of a Grammy.

Album of the Year?

Swift fans were probably feeling let down by the time the main show started. During the afternoon Premiere Ceremony, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s “Rain On Me” pulled an upset for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance over Swift’s Bon Iver collab “Exile,” which had been favored to win, and “Folklore” producer Jack Antonoff lost Producer of the Year. The “Folklore” under-performance continued when Styles achieved his aforementioned upset for Pop Solo Performance and Lipa took Pop Vocal Album, both awards which “Folklore” had a strong chance of winning.

Then “Cardigan” also lost Song of the Year, which seemed like Swift’s to lose (H.E.R. surprised by winning for her Black Lives Matter anthem “I Can’t Breathe”). So you’d think “Folklore’s” chances would have been dead in the water by then; after all, no album has ever won Album of the Year after losing Pop Vocal Album, especially not to another album nominated in AOTY. Yet, surprisingly, Swift was able to pull through, making her one of the few acts to win only Album of the Year with no other wins elsewhere.

R&B does it again

H.E.R.’s “I Can’t Breathe” was also kind of a shocking win in Song of the Year, though absolutely deserved. The powerful protest anthem had already scored victories at the EMAs, VMAs, and Soul Train Awards, but it didn’t seem like a big enough hit to win in the top Grammy categories; after all, it’s the first SOTY in the 21st century to win without even charting on the Billboard Hot 100 when the usual trend is for top-10 hits to claim that title.

H.E.R also managed an upset victory in the R&B categories, where her Robert Glasper collab “Better Than I Imagined” won against hits Tiana Major9‘s “Collide,” Beyonce’s “Black Parade,” Skip Marley‘s “Slow Down” (which she also performed on and co-wrote) and Chloe x Halle‘s “Do It” for Best R&B Song.

Also in the R&B categories, it was strange to see Thundercat’s “It Is What It Is” beat Jhené Aiko‘s Album of the Year nominee “Chilombo” for Best Progressive R&B Album. That category had strictly skewed commercial until now, and Aiko seemed like she was finally getting her big Grammy moment, even hosting the Premiere Ceremony. It’s bizarre to see such a disconnect where most Album of the Year nominees were persona non grata in their own genre categories.

Never doubt the Grammy darlings

Finally, a couple of people solidified themselves as Grammy darlings whom we should never underestimate again. Billie Eilish pulled a big surprise win with her second consecutive Record of the Year trophy, beating favorites Dua Lipa (“Don’t Start Now”) and Megan Thee Stallion (“Savage” featuring Beyonce). Eilish now has a 7-out-of-10 Grammy track record, which is quite impressive, as is her brother Finneas’s eight-out-of-nine record.

Another genre darling who won was Anderson Paak. Yet again, he beat more commercially successful favorites in the rap field. His “Bubblin'” won two years ago in a tie with Kendrick Lamar‘s “King’s Dead” over Travis Scott and two big Drake number-one hits. And this year, with his song “Lockdown,” he won Best Melodic Rap Performance over Drake (“Laugh Now Cry Later”) and Scott (“Highest in the Room”) again, as well as Roddy Rich (“The Box”) and DaBaby (“Rockstar”). All of those songs reached number-two or number-one on the charts, while “Lockdown” didn’t even make the Hot 100, a testament to Grammy voters’ devotion to him.

Brandi Carlile also shocked people by winning Best Country Song for co-writing The Highwomen‘s “Crowded Table” against presumed favorite Maren Morris’s “The Bones,” a certified smash hit, and Miranda Lambert’s “Bluebird.” Carlile has now won six Grammys in just the last three years. So for her, Paak, and Eilish, it seems like everything they touch these days turns to gold.

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