After a one-year stint in New York, the Recording Academy returned to Los Angeles’ Staples Center for Grammys 2019, the 61st annual edition of music’s biggest night.
Still, the Big Apple was represented by New York’s own Alicia Keys helming the festivities as the first female host in 14 years.
And the big winner was country-pop star Kacey Musgraves, who brought home four gramophones, including Album of the Year for “Golden Hour.”
But as always, it was mostly about the performances. (Yes, Janelle! No, Jennifer!)
From moving acceptance speeches to rousing live sets, here are the best and worst moments of the night.
BEST MOMENT: Girl power!
Just seeing Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Jada Pinkett Smith taking the stage with host Alicia Keys, looking both beautiful and badass, was the early OMG moment that had us all screaming at the screen. I mean, is the former first lady — getting the biggest round of applause of all — a rock star or what? Taking a cue from Beyoncé, Keys asked, “Who runs the world?” Girls, no doubt.
BEST MOMENT: The return of Ricky Martin
Ricky Martin burning up the Grammy stage in 1999 with “The Cup of Life” was one of the all-time best Grammy moments. So it was great to see the mustachioed bon-bon shaker, resplendent in white, bringing some heat to Sunday’s star-studded Grammy opener featuring Camila Cabello singing — and dancing to — “Havana” with Young Thug, J Balvin and Arturo Sandoval. With recent Latin music mega-hits such as “Despacito” and Cardi B’s “I Like It,” it was cool to see the Grammys honoring Martin as one of the pioneering artists for the genre that he was.
BEST: Lady Gaga’s acceptance speech
While accepting the Best Pop/Duo Group Performance trophy for her and Bradley Cooper — who was across the pond at the BAFTAs — a teary Lady Gaga took the chance to address the mental health issues at the heart of Jackson Maine’s story in “A Star Is Born.” She very poignantly pointed out that mental heath issues are even more pervasive within the music industry. “If you see somebody that’s hurting, don’t look away,” she said. Gaga took that award for “Shallow” and turned it into something really deep.
WORST: Childish Gambino’s no-show
Before Song of the Year was presented, it was cool to hear Alicia Keys reveal that John Mayer broke the SOTY trophy he won for Daughters” in 2005 — beating out A-Keys for her far superior “If I Ain’t Got You” — before Mayer himself joined her onstage to call it the “coolest joint custody agreement in show-business history.” But all that stage patter led to a big womp-womp when the actual Song of the Year winner they were announcing — Childish Gambino and posse for “This Is America” — turned out to be a no-show. Keys and Mayer didn’t seem to know what the hell to do afterward. And it’s a real shame when top nominees such as Childish Gambino, who also won Record of the Year, just stop showing up to the ceremony.
WORST: Post Malone and Red Hot Chili Peppers
The connection between Post Malone and the Chili Peppers makes sense: RHCP were one of the first white acts to incorporate hip-hop back in the day, when Anthony Kiedis rapped much more than he sang. But while the Grammys are known for their memorable cross-generational and cross-genre collaborations, this one fell flat. After Post Malone did his “Rockstar” and “Stay,” it ended with the Chili Peppers doing their “Dark Necessity,” a single off of 2016’s “The Getaway” that is no “Give It Away.” But damn, that Kiedis still looks good shirtless.
BEST: Janelle Monae made us ‘Feel’
For sheer all-around performance, it was hard to beat Janelle Monae giving us all the feels with “Make Me Feel.” Looking like a queer-positive Catwoman in her black latex getup, the singer, who came out as pansexual last year, led an all-girl gang as she showcased her skills as a singer, instrumentalist and dancer while channeling her idol Prince — especially when she began writhing and humping on the floor in girl-on-girl ecstasy.
WORST: Cardi B’s song choice
As the dramatic piano set the stage for Cardi B’s Grammy debut, the anticipation was on fleek. And when she arrived looking every bit the hip-hop sexy symbol that she is, we were all ready to worship the new queen of the rap game. But in a curious move, she performed the entirety of “Money” — a single that wasn’t even included on her Grammy-nominated debut “Invasion of Privacy” — instead of her monster smash “I Like It,” “Be Careful” or any of the other singles that earned her this Grammy moment.
BEST: Diamond Diana
After an adorable introduction from her ridiculously cute 9-year-old grandson, Diana Ross took the stage looking radiant in red. How can this woman possibly be turning 75 next month? She sounded stronger than ever singing “The Best Years of My Life” — although there are many bigger hits that she could have sung — but when she did “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” she had everybody in the Staples Center holding hands and singing along in what was one of the emotional highlights of the night.
BEST: Brandi Carlile is no joke
It’s not easy to get up on the Grammy stage and, about three hours into the show, sell a song that most of the people watching have never heard. But that’s exactly what veteran singer-songwriter Carlile did when she performed “The Joke,” nominated for both Record and Song of the Year. No bells or whistles necessary, this was the kind of pure artistry that brought home what the Grammys are supposed to be all about. A real musician’s musician moment.
WORST: J.Lo in the Motown tribute
Sorry, but Jennifer Lopez is not exactly who you think of when Motown comes to mind. And with so many legends of the label still alive, it’s hard to understand why Grammy producers would pick J.Lo to salute Motown for its 60th anniversary. It felt like even more of a slap in the face after Diana Ross had taken the stage earlier. But there Lopez was, putting her Vegas-schmaltz spin on everything from “Dancing in the Streets” and “Please Mr. Postman’ to “ABC” and “Square Biz.” (Teena Marie must have been cringing up in heaven.) It was a tribute only Alex Rodriguez could love.