At the 2024 Grammys, a show full of surprises and safe bets

By Hazel Cills and Anastasia Tsioulcas
During Taylor Swift's acceptance speech for the best pop vocal album Grammy for her album Midnights, the singer announced the release of her next album, The Tortured Poets Department.
During Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for the best pop vocal album Grammy for her album Midnights, the singer announced the release of her next album, The Tortured Poets Department.
Updated February 5, 2024 at 1:00 AM ET

From blockbuster concert events like Beyoncé’s RENAISSANCE and Taylor Swift’s Eras tour, to the massive hit in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, 2023 was “the year of the girl.” That streak continued at the 66th annual Grammy Awards, with young women artists who made their mark on the pop charts this past year winning in all of the major categories.

Taylor Swift took home both album of the year and the award for best pop vocal album for Midnights, bringing her lifetime tally of Grammy wins to 14. She also broke the record for the most career wins in the album of the year category — it was her fourth time winning the award. “I would love to tell you that this is the best moment of my life, but I feel this happy when I finish a song or crack the code to a bridge…” she said, accepting the last award of the night. “For me, the award is the work. All I want to do is keep being able to do this.”

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Earlier in the night, while accepting the award for best pop vocal album, Swift also let the audience and her fans in on a secret: She has a new album on the way: The Tortured Poets Department, dropping April 19.

Miley Cyrus won her first ever Grammy awards, for record of the year and best pop solo performance for her song “Flowers.” In her raucous performance of the hit, Cyrus took full advantage of the spotlight during the performance, ribbing the audience for not singing along to the song more at the start, and throwing her mic down at its end.

No single artist dominated the Grammys this year, but all nine of the televised awards went to women artists. A few men collecting awards in the major categories were their collaborators, including Finneas O’Connell and Jack Antonoff — who made contributions to the music. And for much of the awards show, women were in the spotlight, from a performance from Joni Mitchell, to riveting medleys from artists including SZA and Dua Lipa, and a Luke Combs performance that was really more about Tracy Chapman than the contemporary country star who covered her signature hit.

That trend had seemed evident in the nominations for the awards. Seven out of eight artists nominated for the album of the year category were for albums by women artists under the age of 40: the rock group boygenius, Miley Cyrus, Lana Del Rey, Janelle Monáe, Olivia Rodrigo, Taylor Swift and SZA. The outlier in that group was five-time Grammy winner Jon Batiste, who was nominated for six awards. The category’s inclusion of women artists across the pop and R&B spectrum stood in stark contrast to candidates nominated last year, which included Latin pop star Bad Bunny, rock band Coldplay and a win by Harry Styles’ Harry’s House over Beyoncé’s RENAISSANCE.

But no one artist — not even Taylor Swift — dominated this year’s awards, with wins in the major categories spread evenly across a handful of artists.

A show full of captivating performances

The main event this year, hosted by comedian Trevor Noah, opened with a medley of two new songs performed by Dua Lipa — her recent single “Houdini” and the unreleased “Training Season,” both from her forthcoming studio album — sandwiching a snippet from her song from the Barbie soundtrack, “Dance the Night.”

SZA, who took home three awards overall, performed a duet of two of her hits: “Snooze” and “Kill Bill,” the first with a stage set featuring a literal dumpster fire, and the second with sword-heavy choreography that referenced the Quentin Tarantino’s films that inspired its name. Later, while accepting the Grammy for best R&B song for “Snooze,” she broke down while thanking her family and team. “You don’t understand, I came really, really far, and it feels very fake,” she said during her emotional speech. “I’m not a very attractive crier.”

The Grammys are notable (or infamous) for their unlikely live collaborations, but one of the most hotly anticipated joint performances of this year was Luke Combs and Tracy Chapman’s duet on Chapman’s song “Fast Car,” which Combs has brought back into the public eye. Chapman, who performed the song at the Grammys 35 years ago, when it was nominated for record and song of the year and she won best new artist along with two other prizes, was not announced as a performer.

Another veteran received a reverent response: Before this ceremony, Joni Mitchell had never performed on the Grammys stage — a fact that Noah announced as if it deserved congratulation. Her tender performance of “Both Sides Now” was introduced by her friend and collaborator Brandi Carlile, who also performed with Mitchell, alongside a tight cluster of younger musicians that included Lucius, SistaStrings, Blake Mills and more.

In her introduction, Carlile noted Mitchell’s health struggles, saying that Mitchell has had to learn to walk three times in her life: as a baby, while overcoming polio and then again after suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015. Earlier in the day, Mitchell won best folk music album for Joni Mitchell at Newport, recorded live at the Newport Folk Festival in 2022. Although Mitchell is a music legend now, it’s not so surprising she was never given the opportunity to sing during the telecast before; the Recording Academy and its broadcast partner usually defer to pop music performers over artists from more “niche” genres.

Billie Eilish performed her song “What Was I Made For?” from the Mark Ronson-produced Barbie soundtrack, which beat out three other cuts from the soundtrack (Dua Lipa’s “Dance the Night,” Ryan Gosling’s “I’m Just Ken” and Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice’s “Barbie World”) to win the Grammy for best song written for visual media earlier in the night.

“What Was I Made For?” later landed Eilish and her brother, Finneas O’Connell, the award for song of the year — a songwriting prize. “Thank you to Greta Gerwig for making the best movie of the year,” Eilish said in her acceptance speech, slyly referring to the fact that Gerwig was snubbed from receiving a best director nomination at the upcoming Academy Awards.

Olivia Rodrigo performed her hit “Vampire,” with a set that fit the track’s blood-sucking theme: a wall that began to bleed during the duration of her song. U2 performed from the location of its sold-out Las Vegas residency, the Sphere, for the first-ever broadcast from the venue.

Contemporary rap got one live performance slot at this year’s telecast when Travis Scott performed a medley of “My Eyes,” “I Know?” and “Fein.” (Scott has been nominated 10 times since 2014, but has never won any Grammys.) The telecast also tipped its hat to the global popularity of Afrobeats with a performance by Nigerian megastar Burna Boy, joined by 21 Savage and Brandy — the first time an Afrobeats performer has ever been featured on the televised ceremony. He performed a medley of his songs “On Form,” “City Boys” and “Sittin’ On Top Of The World.”

One more surprising veteran was a late addition to the night’s performances: Billy Joel graced the Grammys stage for the first time since 2002, when he performed “New York State of Mind” with Tony Bennett. Last month, Joel released his first original song in decades, “Turn the Lights Back On,” a piano ballad that nods to the decades in between his last pop hits in its lyrics even as it sounds like a return to his roots.

“A lot of people ask, why did you stop writing?” Joel said in a pre-recorded video segment that led up to his performance. “Because I didn’t want to,” he added. The artist closed out the show with his hit “You May Be Right,” which originally appeared on his album Glass Houses, a nominee for album of the year at the 1981 Grammys.

Several landmark wins for women

Along with Cyrus and Swift, there were also many monumental wins for several other women artists. Colombian singer and songwriter Karol G took home the award for best música urbana album, for her album Mañana Será Bonito. “This is my first time at the Grammys, and this is my first time holding my own,” Karol G said during her acceptance speech.

The award for best new artist went to R&B singer-songwriter Victoria Monét, who worked as a songwriter and producer for artists including Ariana Grande, Fifth Harmony and Chloe x Halle for over a decade before breaking out as a solo artist with her 2023 debut album, Jaguar II, featuring the hit “On My Mama.”

“I just want to say to anybody who has a dream, I want you to look at this as an example,” Monét said during her tearful speech. “This award was a 15-year pursuit … my roots have been growing underneath ground for so long, and I feel like today I am sprouting finally above ground.”

Lainey Wilson took home the award for best country album for Bell Bottom Country, her very first Grammy. “It has truly changed my life,” she said in her speech, shouting out her background as a “fifth-generation farmer’s daughter” as the root of her work ethic.

Gestures toward politics

Artists Stevie Wonder, Annie Lennox, Jon Batiste and Fantasia Barrino led performances for the Grammys’ “In Memoriam” segment, paying tribute to Tony Bennett, Sinéad O’Connor, Clarence Avant and Tina Turner, respectively. At the end of her performance of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Lennox called for a cease-fire and “peace for the world,” in reference to the Israel-Hamas conflict and the organization Artists4Ceasefire — an act that recalled O’Connor’s social activism.

Taking the stage with his daughter Blue Ivy, Jay-Z accepted the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award. “It’s great to have an award for such an icon, how far we’ve come,” Jay-Z said accepting the award, referencing the 1989 Grammy Awards when Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff boycotted the ceremony because the Recording Academy — the organization behind the Grammys — and CBS declined to televise the award for best rap performance in its inaugural year. Referring to his wife, Beyoncé, Jay-Z wryly observed: “This young lady never won album of the year. But we gotta keep showing up.”

In very brief comments, Harvey Mason Jr., the songwriter who is the current CEO of The Recording Academy, spoke in familiar terms about the global reach of the music industry and attempted to tie together various violent attacks that have occurred at live music events worldwide — including at the Bataclan theater in Paris in 2015, during the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas in 2017 and on Oct. 7 at the Nova rave festival in Israel. He then briefly pivoted to highlighting a string quartet playing on the stage. He pointed out that the group, whom he did not identify by name, was made up of “Palestinian, Israeli and Arab” musicians who were performing together, alluding gingerly to the current Israel-Hamas war.

Since there are actually 94 Grammy categories, most awards are presented hours before the televised ceremony. Among the winners in that pre-telecast ceremony were boygenius, the indie supergroup composed of singer-songwriters Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers, who took home three awards for best rock song, best rock performance and best alternative music album for its release of the record.

SZA, nominated for nine Grammys, the most of any artist, earned her first two in the best progressive R&B and best pop duo/group performance categories, the latter for “Ghost In The Machine,” featuring boygenius member Bridgers (bringing her total for the night to four).

Killer Mike’s solo autobiographical album, Michael, and his first in more than a decade, won in three of the four rap categories, taking home best rap performance, best rap song and best rap album. The rapper was handcuffed and escorted out of the venue by police shortly before the televised ceremony, according to a report in Variety. When reached by NPR, the LAPD did not provide more information about reports of the arrest, but later posted on X/Twitter that Mike, whose real name is Michael Render, had been arrested on Sunday following a physical altercation at an address matching Arena, where the awards ceremony was held.

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