What was already a chaotic week leading up to the Grammys suddenly took a somber turn with the death of NBA star Kobe Bryant, who was beloved in Los Angeles and especially in the Staples Center, where the awards show took place Sunday. The telecast turned into a tribute to LA’s lost heroes, including Bryant and late rapper Nipsey Hussle. Then 18-year-old Billie Eilish swept with five wins, capping off an incredible breakthrough year. Here are the top moments from the 2020 Grammy Awards:
A HARD GOODBYE:
“It’s been a hell of a week,” Grammys host Alicia Keys acknowledged early on in the awards show.
There was a lot of speculation about the show after the Recording Academy ousted its CEO, less than two weeks before the show. In an onslaught of bad press, Deborah Dugan alleged sexual harassment and claimed the awards show was rigged. Artists like Sean Diddy Combs spoke out about black artists being snubbed by the Recording Academy.
But as Lizzo said after winning best pop solo performance, everything she was feeling this week was put in perspective after learning about Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash in California, along with his teenage daughter and seven others.
“Your priorities really shift,” Lizzo said.
The Grammys were lucky to have Keys as host who gave honest, heartfelt and uplifting messages throughout the night and sang a last-minute tribute to Bryant with Boyz II Men on “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye to Yesterday” under Bryant’s jersey numbers illuminated in the arena.
Throughout the night, artists included Bryant’s jersey or his playing number in their performances or mentioned his passing. When there was so much divisiveness heading into the awards show, the artistic community came together in loss.
HUSSLE’S POSTHUMOUS WINS
Los Angeles was really grieving Sunday night for its fallen heroes, gone too soon and too suddenly. Nipsey Hussle was at the Grammys last year as a nominee before the rapper and activist was killed just months later. This year, Hussle won two posthumous awards and his memory and music was honored in a tribute performance by his collaborators and friends.
Meek Mill started with a rap about his reminiscences about his friend. John Legend, behind the piano, sang “Higher” with DJ Khaled surrounded by a chorus of singers and dancers in white and gold. Gospel artist Kirk Franklin showed up to whip the gospel choir into a frenzy toward the end. The performance ended with two arena-sized photos of Hussle and Bryant, two titans of the community that meant so much to so many.
Later in the broadcast, Legend hoisted a trophy in Hussle’s name, surrounded by Hussle’s family on stage as he and DJ Khaled accepted for best rap/sung performance for “Higher.”
“We’ve seen so much tragedy today and last year, but let’s love each other and love our families,” said Legend.
Going into the awards show, three first-time nominees, Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X, dominated the year in music, but 18-year-old Eilish swept with five wins including album, song and record of the year, as well as new artist of the year.
Her bass heavy, gothic pop album — “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” — was created in her bedroom with her brother, Finneas O’Connell. He walked away with six awards as her producer and co-writer. She wowed fans with her live performances, created a unique style of sporty baggy clothes with loud colors and sung with all the angst of an army of teenagers.
“This was my first Grammys and I never thought this would ever happen and I grew up watching them,” said Eilish, after winning song of the year for “Bad Guy.”
“This is to all the kids making music in their bedroom today: You’re gonna get one of these,” added O’Connell.
As each time her name got called to accept an award, she seemed more and more shocked by the recognition. Her last speech was likely one of the shortest in Grammy history: “Thank you, bye.”
SEOUL TOWN ROAD
Just when you thought Lil Nas X had exhausted the never-ending jingle of “Old Town Road,” with its remixes and endless renditions, the Grammys ratcheted it up another level with a spinning stage of guest vocalists, adding what felt like another three verses.
The set felt like a fever dream of the young Atlanta rapper whose song captivated everyone’s attention and brought together the surreal worlds of international Korean pop group BTS, YouTube yodeler Mason Ramsey, electronic wizard Diplo and aging country star Billy Ray Cyrus. But the kicker of the performance was his namesake, rapper Nas, surprising everyone with one more collaboration.
Now maybe this song, which won two Grammys, can finally be retired for a bit.
THE WATER WORKS
If fans weren’t crying at the beginning of the show, they likely found a moment or two by the end of the show that struck at the heart.
Adding to the drama and sadness of the night, Demi Lovato broke down in tears on the Grammy stage singing a song she had written just days before her near fatal overdose in 2018.
Lovato, in a large white Christian Siriano gown, had to start the performance again after faltering slightly, but finished strongly with just a piano to accompany her. She had the crowd on their feet in a true comeback moment for the 27-year-old singer who has been honest and open about her struggles with addiction.
In another performance, Camila Cabello’s father was the one shedding tears as she serenaded him with an ode to her papa, “First Man.” Some others in the audience, including Gwen Stefani, shared in the emotion of the song.
Tyler, the Creator’s mom also deserves a shout-out for being adorably weepy when he won for best rap album for “Igor.”
Boy, did the Grammys need performances like Tyler, the Creator and Gary Clark Jr. to add some excitement and energy to an overly subdued show.
Tyler, the Creator brought in Boyz II Men and Charlie Wilson for a fiery performance of “Earfquake” and then brought out his clones for “New Magic Wand” that had the cameras shaking before he dropped mysteriously off the back of the stage, which appeared to be on fire.
Clark, who won three Grammys in both the blues and rock categories, is a workhorse for Grammy performances, often being called in to collaborate on the stage, but this time he ripped through his song “This Land,” a seething indictment of modern day racism.