On a historical night, black women in music broke records and boundaries like never before at the 2021 Grammy Awards.
H.E.R took home Song Of The Year for ‘I Can’t Breathe’, an anthem written in response to the killing of George Floyd. Rapper Megan Thee Stallion made history as she became the first female artist to win Best Rap Song, and also took home the award for Best New Artist. Reigning supreme was Queen B winning her 28th Grammy, making Beyonce the most awarded singer of all time, the most awarded female artist and tying only with Quincy Jones as the most awarded living person. Oh, and her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, just won her first Grammy… at nine years old.
Iconically, women won all four of the awards considered as the main awards this year:
Album of the year: Taylor Swift, Folklore
Record of the year: Billie Eilish, Everything I Wanted
Song of the year: H.E.R, I Can’t Breathe
Best New Artist: Megan Thee Stallion
For Taylor Swift, this was her third win of Album of the Year, becoming the first woman to do so.
Representing the UK, winners included Dua Lipa, who was awarded Best Pop Vocal Album for Future Nostalgia. Also making history was London-born singer, multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer, Jacob Collier, who became the first British artist to win Grammys for each of his first four albums – a huge achievement for this genre-melting 26-year-old. This year, he took home the award for Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals for his track, He Won’t Hold You (Feat Rapsody). This track is taken from the third instalment of his groundbreaking DJESSE album series, which he largely wrote, arranged, recorded and produced from his music room in his North London home.
Amongst the disappointed were fans of nominees BTS, who felt the K-pop stars were pipped to the post on a number of awards, whilst still performing remotely from a mock-up Grammys stage in Seoul. Any disappointed faces at the ceremony were largely covered by the sea of face masks worn.
“I know that you haven’t been able to go to a concert in a long time. So tonight, we are bringing the concert to you.”
2021 Grammys host, Trevor Noah, made no understatement, with the 4 hour extravaganza featuring a whole host of artists, from Lionel Richie to Post Malone – 23 performances in total. Opening the extravagant show was the equally as extravagant Harry Styles, who performed his summer hit, Watermelon Sugar, before back-to-back performances from Billie Eilish and Haim.
Later in the ceremony, Styles returned to the stage to accept Best Pop Solo Performance for the song. We also heard from the new power-collaboration between Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, known as Silk Sonic, who, based on their sparklingly nostalgic performances, are likely to be returning to next year’s awards to collect some for themselves.
It was a powerful night for performances, and artists used their platform to speak out on racial inequality and police brutality. Lil Baby performed his track, The Bigger Picture, which used imagery that referenced police brutality, and directly addressed the treatment of black people in the US. Lil Baby was joined by activist Tamika Mallory, who gave a speech saying ‘it’s a state of emergency. It’s been a hell of a year. Hell for over 400 years’.
Country artist Mickey Guyton gave an equally powerful performance of her track, Black Like Me, in a genre that has a history of being unwelcoming to black and female artists.
Winners also spoke out as they accepted their awards. Beyoncé’s record-breaker number 28 was for Best R&B Performance with ‘Black Parade’ – a track that celebrates black power, pride and history, and was released on Juneteenth, the US independence holiday that marks the end of slavery.
“I wanted to uplift, encourage, celebrate all of the beautiful black queens and kings that continue to inspire me and inspire the world.”Beyoncé
As Cardi B recognised in a statement posted on Twitter, the Grammys still have work to do: they continue to be criticised by artists for their opaque awarding process and decades of seemingly overlooking black artistry. However, she reminds us not to forget all the independent artists that were nominated this year, and to not overshadow the current winners.
All in all, the 2021 Grammy Awards ceremony was a beautiful and powerful celebration of culture, community, and the music that has kept us all going through a difficult year. If the 23 performances were anything to go by, live music will be coming back with a vengeance.