Grammys 2020: Billie Eilish Sweeps the Top Awards


LOS ANGELES — The 62nd annual Grammy Awards anointed a new star in Billie Eilish, even as the mood Sunday night was darkened by the death earlier that day of the basketball great Kobe Bryant, who spent much of his N.B.A. career playing at the Staples Center, the arena where the show was held.

Eilish, an 18-year-old auteur with a moody and idiosyncratic aesthetic, won five awards, including the four most prestigious and competitive prizes — album, record and song of the year, and best new artist. She was the first artist to sweep the top awards since Christopher Cross in 1981, besting competition from Lizzo, Lil Nas X, Ariana Grande and others.

“Bad Guy,” a No. 1 hit, took record and song of the year — the latter prize recognizes songwriting — while “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” won album of the year as well as best pop vocal album. She is the youngest artist to win album of the year.

When accepting the award for best new artist, Eilish recognized the fans — even other artists’ fans, who, she said, would surely be dogging her for years.

“I love all fandoms,” she said. “You guys make this worth it.”

Finneas O’Connell, her brother, accepting with her for song of the year, noted that they record together in a bedroom in their family home. “This is to all the kids that are making music in their bedroom today,” he said, holding the trophy. “You’re going to get one of these.”

Finneas, as he is known, also won producer of the year and an engineering award.

Lizzo and Alicia Keys set a mournful and celebratory tone right from the start of the show, with both addressing Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash.

“Tonight is for Kobe,” Lizzo announced as the show began, and went straight into a bold, full-throated medley of her songs “Cuz I Love You” and “Truth Hurts,” backed up by a mini orchestra and surrounded by ballerinas with otherworldly lights in their tutus.

Keys, the host for the night, then walked solemnly to the stage and said softy, “Here we are together, on music’s biggest night, celebrating the artists that do it best, but to be honest with you we’re all feeling crazy sadness right now.”

“We’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built,” Keys went on to say. Keys then invited members of the group Boyz II Men to the stage and sang part of their elegiac song “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” with them.

Lizzo, a charismatic and outspoken performer who had worked in obscurity for almost a decade before her breakout last year, won three awards, but all in lesser categories. “Truth Hurts,” her breakthrough track, won best pop solo performance, while “Jerome” won traditional R&B performance and the deluxe version of her album “Cuz I Love You” took urban contemporary album.

Lil Nas X, a gleeful master of internet memes, won two for his “country-trap” hybrid “Old Town Road”: best pop duo/group performance and best music video.

Well before Bryant’s death, a degree of anxiety had hung over the Grammys, following the removal just days ago of the head of the Recording Academy, the organization behind the awards — a clash that brought out accusations of vote-rigging and sexual harassment, and criticisms that the academy had been moving too slowly to reach its stated goals of becoming more diverse and inclusive.

Keys seemed to obliquely allude to those issues — and more — in a speech and piano medley near the start of the show. “It’s been a hell of a week, damn,” she said, as she twinkled chords at the keyboard. “This is a serious one. Real talk — there’s a lot going on.”

She added, “It’s time for newness. We refuse the negative energy, we refuse the old systems.” She also took aim at President Trump, saying he should be replaced by the Bronx singer-rapper Cardi B.

Flags outside the arena were lowered to half-staff as preparations for the event continued, and lights shined on Bryant’s jerseys inside. Harvey Mason Jr., the chairman and interim chief of the Recording Academy, called for a moment of silence.

“Since we are in his house, I would ask you to join me in a moment of silence,” Mason said, The Associated Press reported.

This year’s event, featuring a fresh crop of stars competing for the top awards., was supposed to represent “a new era for the Recording Academy,” one that would be more attuned to pop’s current pulse after years of bruising criticism over the Grammys’ poor record in recognizing women and artists of color in the major categories.

That “new era” statement was made just two months ago, when nominations were announced, by Deborah Dugan, the academy’s new chief executive. She had been telegraphed as the bold new leader the Grammys needed, and came armed with an unsparing critique of the academy’s record on diversity by Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff, the Time’s Up leader Tina Tchen.

But just 10 days ago, Dugan was removed from her position, stunning the industry and plunging the normally cheery pre-Grammys week into mudslinging and chaos that has threatened to overshadow the event itself.

Dugan claimed in a 44-page complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that she had been retaliated against for uncovering misconduct including sexual harassment, vote rigging and rampant conflicts of interest. The academy, in turn, said that an assistant had complained about a toxic and bullying work environment, and that Dugan had demanded a $22 million payoff to leave quietly, a charge Dugan has denied.

Accepting an award at Clive Davis’s glamorous annual pre-Grammys party, the hip-hop mogul Diddy avoided mentioning Dugan by name but criticized the academy for its failure to recognize hip-hop artists of color in the top categories. Over the last decade, for example, just one nonwhite artist — Bruno Mars — has won album of the year.

“Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys; black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be,” Diddy said. “For years, we have allowed institutions that have never had our best interests at heart to judge us. And that stops right now.”

He added: “You’ve got 365 days’ notice to get this [expletive] together.”

The industry was riveted on Friday with reports that Taylor Swift would not appear on the show. Was Swift — always an outspoken backer of women — dropping out in protest, or was she simply unprepared or uninterested? Everyone, including fans and the most powerful people in music, was left to guess.

Tyler, the Creator’s two-song segment began with Boyz II Men and the R&B singer Charlie Wilson harmonizing to Tyler’s song “Earfquake,” done as an old-fashioned doo-wop set piece, complete with the singers surrounding a burning barrel. For “New Magic Wand,” Tyler shifted into a surrealistic scene in which a troupe of dancers — all dressed like him, in asymmetric suits and platinum pageboy wigs — walked to the stage and moshed violently as Tyler screamed with distortion, a set of picturesque homes burning down behind him.

As Bryant’s fans mourned him and his 13-year-old daugher Gianna, who also died in the helicopter crash, the father-daughter relationship found poignant expression in Camila Cabello’s song “First Man.” First singing it while home videos showed her as a young girl with her father, Alejandro, Cabello then walked to him in the front row, serenading him as he dabbed away tears.

Eilish, whose debut album is filled with creeping noises, booming electronics and dentist’s drills, performed her song “When the Party’s Over” in the most Grammy format of all — a delicate piano ballad, played with her brother.

The Spanish singer Rosalía performed her songs “Juro Que” and “Malamente” with a mixture of flamenco touches — acoustic guitar and claps — and booming beats and hip-hop dance moves.

Ariana Grande, who did not perform last year after a public clash with the show’s producer, Ken Ehrlich, put on an elaborate segment. She went from a straight concert performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” with a small orchestra, to a staged version of her hit “7 Rings” — which is based on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic — with a boudoir-striptease theme. At the end, she smiled with relief, as if she had finally gotten the chance to do it.

The show had plenty of reverent tributes. Hussle was feted in a segment with Legend, DJ Khaled, Roddy Ricch, Meek Mill, YG and the gospel star Kirk Franklin. From New Orleans, Trombone Shorty and members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band closed the annual “in memoriam” segment.

In classic Grammy fashion, the show also dripped with nostalgia, much of it with little explanation to a viewer from outside the music business. Aerosmith played “Walk This Way” with Run-DMC. (Aerosmith had headlined a Grammy charity event two nights before.) Prince was celebrated by Usher, Sheila E. and FKA Twigs in a Vegas-like spectacle. (CBS is taping a Prince special on Tuesday.)

And near the end came a recreation of the ensemble song “I Sing the Body Electric” from the 1980 movie “Fame.” Ehrlich, the producer, began his association with the show that year, and this year is to be his farewell.


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