Taylor Swift made history, SZA gave a moving speech, Miley Cyrus sounded incredible — and Tracy Chapman defined ‘triumphant return’
These days, the Grammy snoozefests of years past are just a distant memory. For a few years now, Music’s Biggest Night has felt like a show made by people who actually love music (imagine that!). This year’s ceremony fell in line with that trend, with more than three hours of heartstring-tugging, vocals-blazing moments from the biggest stars of yesterday and today. There were some puzzling and regrettable moments, too — this is an awards show, after all — but as these things go, we’ll call that a win. Here are the best, worst, and most WTF moments of the 66th annual Grammy Awards.
Best: Taylor Swift Makes History, and Some News
We’re used to Taylor making announcements during awards shows, so we shouldn’t have been surprised by what she pulled off tonight, especially considering that her Best Pop Vocal Album award for Midnights marked her 13th win (her lucky number). While Swifties were absolutely convinced she was going to reveal her re-recording of Reputation, she threw us a curveball instead and announced a new album of completely new material. (The Tortured Poets Department doesn’t arrive until April, though, and two months in Taylor Land is equivalent to five human years. So we won’t be shocked if she magically churns out Reputation in that time.)
Later in the night, Swift casually made history when Midnights won Album of the Year, her fourth time winning the category after Folklore, 1989, and Fearless. But she stayed humble, even bringing her friend and collaborator Lana Del Rey (who had just lost to her in the category) onstage with her to accept the award. You could also see her cheering for Olivia Rodrigo, her supposed frenemy. Rodrigo told us in her Rolling Stone cover story that she “doesn’t have beef with anyone,” and that seemed to be true tonight: She clapped for Swift as she announced her new album, and Swift sang along to Rodrigo’s gorgeous rendition of “Vampire.” Now all we need is for the two star songwriters to collaborate.
Best: Tracy Chapman Defines ‘Triumphant Return’
Tracy Chapman, how we’ve missed you. And judging by the broad smile Chapman had while performing “Fast Car” at the Grammys, it looked like the feeling was mutual. Her appearance with Luke Combs, whose cover version turned new audiences onto the 1988 hit, was a rare Grammy (almost) surprise full of unguarded emotion. Chapman — who hadn’t sung live on TV in nearly a decade — seemed genuinely thrilled to be there, while Combs couldn’t hide his excitement at getting to duet with the singer of his favorite childhood song. And us watching at home? Fully in our feels, reveling in the triumphant return of an artist we’ve waited to hear again for far too long.
Best: Joni Mitchell’s Golden Wisdom
Tonight wasn’t exactly Mitchell’s return to the stage, but it sure felt like a crowning moment for a top-tier legend. After nearly dying from a brain aneurysm in 2015, she performed her first full set in 20 years at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival, followed by a 2023 concert at the Gorge Amphitheater; she won a Grammy tonight for a live album of that stunning Newport set. But somehow neither felt quite as spine-chilling as watching her make her Grammys performance debut — especially with “Both Sides Now,” a song from the album that won her her first Grammy 54 years ago. Her voice sounded powerful, and so did her words. “Well something’s lost, but something’s gained/In living every day” — it could hardly have been a more tear-inducing performance.
Best: SZA Tries To Spare Us an Ugly Cry
In true SZA fashion, the Best R&B Song winner gave the night’s most endearing speech — a bit of a mess and a whole lot of heart. After her best friend and four-time Grammy winner, Lizzo, announced that she had won, it took so long for SZA to make it to the mic that it seemed like she might not. But she had performed a theatrical rendition of “Kill Bill” earlier and was changing (and taking a shot, she admitted) right before her name was called. She came sprinting — as much as one could when swaddled in a tight dress — and ran full force into Lizzo’s arms, phone still in hand. SZA struggled to address and contextualize the moment in between sobs that were trying their best to break out of her. Some highlights: “You don’t really understand, I came really really far. This feels very, very fake. Hi, Taylor [Swift]! I’m not an attractive crier. Have a good evening.”
Worst: Rap Gets Disrespected (As Usual)
The first time the Recording Academy acknowledged rap music in 1989, it didn’t bother televising the newly created Best Rap Performance award, leading inaugural winners Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff to boycott the ceremony. The Grammys now include four rap categories, plus another for spoken-word poetry — but none of them apparently merited inclusion in the 2024 TV broadcast. Grammy history may not always repeat, but it sure rhymes.
Rap wasn’t the only genre to be snubbed this way; the categories for rock, electronic, and African music were all similarly relegated to the preshow. Still, it’s a bad look when you consider the Grammys’ checkered history with hip-hop, which is rarely given top honors in the general categories. Couldn’t the Grammys find room for even one rap award on the biggest stage after 35 years? (When you add in the fact that Killer Mike, who swept three of the night’s four rap categories, got walked out of the arena in LAPD shackles minutes before the show, the optics are even uglier.)
Leave it to Jay-Z to put it most eloquently. “We love y’all — we want y’all to get it right,” he told the Recording Academy during his riotously real acceptance speech for a lifetime achievement-type award later in the night. “At least get it close to right.”
Best: Miley Cyrus Sounds Amazing
Miley Cyrus hasn’t felt like touring for a while, but there was absolutely nothing rusty about her immaculate, casually masterful performance of “Flowers,” which surged at the end into something akin to Tina Turner’s version of “Proud Mary.” Everything from her hairstyle to her preposterous level of confidence seemed beamed in from some older, more polished showbiz world — and she didn’t let the pressure of a Grammy night keep her from urging the stars in the crowd to get off their asses: “Why are you acting like you all don’t know this song?” Turns out everyone from Oprah to Taylor knew it quite well.
Best: Dua Lipa Gets the Party Started
“Training Season” was over as soon as the Grammys kicked off with Dua Lipa showing how all her preparation has paid off. The singer climbed on a giant jungle-gym cube, wrapping her legs around the bars as it tilted and shook her around, never missing a beat, and she entered a towering pyramid of light as she both teased her new music and sang her hit “Houdini.” It was a magical, upbeat disco moment that set the right tone for the show.
WTF: Music’s Noisiest Night
From the Grammys’ start, the sound quality was not what one would expect of an award show of this caliber and age. There was static. There were weird levels between singers and their bands. And when people like Trevor Noah and Mariah Carey addressed the crowd, a cringey echo projected, too, and their mics picked up so much of the chatter in the Crypto.com Arena. The chatter-pick up was particularly unfortunate as Billie Eilish sang one of the year’s most devastating songs, “What Was I Made For?” Quiet moments where her voice should have soared were plagued by hideous background noise.
Best: Fantasia Keeps Tina Turner’s Memory Burning
Fantasia Barrino was a refreshing choice of artist to lead the Grammys’ Tina Turner tribute. She seemed to acknowledge that she may not have been at the top of everyone’s mind for the job as she began her “Proud Mary” cover with a humble introduction — one that might have been unnecessary, given her months in the spotlight as the star of winter blockbuster The Color Purple. Her Purple predecessor and producer of the new film, Oprah Winfrey, spoke about advice she’d personally received from Turner (always dress up for dinner for a confidence boost, even if you’re dining alone) before Barrino took the stage and sang down, flanked in glitter and tassels like the pack of dancers that surrounded her. Though Barrino herself isn’t known as a dancer like Tina, she’s always been an emphatic performer whose incredible voice seemed to break out from every inch of her body, and that alone places her in Turner’s lineage.
Best: Annie Lennox Honors Sinead O’Connor with Wendy and Lisa
Annie Lennox retired from the road back in 2007, leaving her former Eurythmics partner Dave Stewart to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” on tour with guest singers this year, but she still comes out for special events like the Grammys. And as she proved with her performance of “Nothing Compares 2 U” to honor Sinead O’Connor, she still has incredible pipes at age 69. The song was written by Prince, and Lennox was joined by his proteges Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman. (Melvoin played on the original recording of “Nothing Compares 2 U” back in 1985 when her short-lived group the Family recorded it.) It was a genuinely moving moment.
Worst: Reggae, Indie, and Smash Mouth Downplayed in the Tributes
For its In Memoriam segment, give it up to the Grammys for remembering the passings of not just the obvious giants (Tina Turner, Robbie Robertson, Jimmy Buffett, Gordon Lightfoot, Tony Bennett, Sinéad O’Connor) but also notable losses like De La Soul’s Trugoy the Dove, Astrud Gilberto, the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Gary Rossington, the Smiths’ Andy Rourke, Carla Bley, Melanie, Gangsta Boo, bassist Bill Lee, Rodriguez, the MC5’s Wayne Kramer, Cynthia Weil, and David Lindley, among many. Still, it was startling that the exclusions included Smash Mouth’s Steve Harwell; two classic-rock lyricists (Keith Reid, of Procol Harum, and Peter Brown, who wrote for Jack Bruce for Cream); British soul queen Linda Lewis; and Kinks bassist John Gosling. Classic indie and alt-rock were especially under-appreciated: No mentions of Geordie Walker of Killing Joke, Mark Stewart of the Pop Group, or Luscious Jackson’s Vivian Trimble. And even though he died the day before the ceremony, couldn’t someone have slotted in Aston “Family Man” Barrett, reggae’s greatest bassist?
Best: Victoria Monét Gets Her Moment
“This award was a 15-year pursuit,” Victoria Monét said while accepting her Grammy for Best New Artist. Though Monét has had a full career as a singer and songwriter, in 2023 she finally had the breakout moment she deserved with the release of her major-label debut, Jaguar II, and the smash single “On My Mama.” “I like to liken myself to a plant, and you can look at the music industry as soil,” Monét said in a speech she allowed herself to keep giving into the wrap-it-up music playing. You could look at the soil as dirty, she explained, or instead as source of nutrients, and today she’s sprouting finally above ground.
It’s been a joy to watch Monét inch closer to household-name territory. When she sat with one of her idols, Kelly Rowland, for Rolling Stone’s Musicians on Musicians last year, it was clear how far she’d come. “I always feel like there’s so many levels to your music and when we get that version of you, as a mom, as a writer, as an artist, as a performer — like, ‘She’s the truth,’” Rowland told her.
Worst: Travis Scott Rages Against… Something
Travis Scott stands at the center of a mound of dirt, surrounded by flames and massive speakers. He’s slamming a folding chair into the ground repeatedly as the hook from his sonically abrasive single “Fe!n” repeats itself into oblivion. Scott has made a point during his recent tour in support of his Grammy-nominated album Utopia to perform the track an absurd number of times (he made it to 10 in New York!), perhaps in search of a viral moment to boost ticket sales. The gambit might work for Travis Scott’s die-hard fans, but it certainly doesn’t play well on television, as we saw tonight with just one performance of the track. The song and its performance, like much of Scott’s music in the wake of 10 people losing their lives at his Astroworld Festival in Houston in 2021, feel hollow. Like a magician with only one trick, incapable of recognizing the shift in the room. At one point, Scott even dared to drop a small dose of shade towards the Grammys, ad-libbing: “They slept on me 10 times,” alluding to his many nominations and zero wins at the awards. Unfortunately for him, this performance makes a pretty strong case for that being one of the few things the Grammys have gotten right.
Best: Billy Joel Returns
“Did I wait too long?” Billy Joel pondered in the lyrics to “Turn the Lights Back On,” and Grammys audience responded with a resounding, “No.” The Piano Man performed his first new single in 17 years in the same manner he’s performed every one of his hits, hammering out big, bright, emotional chords on a grand while crooning from the depths of his soul. (And he was clad in sunglasses and a leather jacket, of course.) With Icelandic singer-songwriter Laufey on cello and Joel’s own band backing him up, it made for a perfect comeback moment for the singer. It was a performance worthy of an encore, and after Taylor Swift’s Album of the Year win, he took the stage again to send off the Grammys on a high note with a swinging rendition of “You May Be Right.”