When it comes to the Grammys, it should be easy sorting who the winners and losers are. After all, you either win an award at the end of the night, or you don’t. By that metric, the answer is obvious. Adele won. Radiohead lost. Drake won. Kanye lost. But we all know the takeaways at each ceremony run much deeper. This is how a band like Twenty One Pilots can feel like losers even while holding trophies. And it’s why Rihanna didn’t need to get up on stage to steal the show. So, throw out the scorecard and check out the real winners and losers at the 2017 Grammy Awards.
Sure, we could focus on the lack of actual Grammy awards that Anti and “Work” managed to take home on Sunday night. But that wouldn’t really tap into why Riri went home as everyone’s hero. Numerous times throughout the telecast, Rihanna could be seen swigging from a bejeweled flask, turning the woman that was already known for taking her wine to go into a new type of hero. We always wondered how the celebs made it through the nearly four-hour ceremony. With Rihanna, we finally found someone not afraid to get real. –Philip Cosores
Loser: Twenty One Pilots
Been there, done that. Pretty much everything Twenty One Pilots does incites an eye roll (or a dozen), but their acceptance speech for winning Best Pop Duo or Group Performance took the cake. As they exited their seats to receive the award, both members unzipped their pants and left them on the floor, walking onstage with smirks that read equal parts smug and nervous. Fake nudity isn’t funny, being pantless isn’t funny, and shock value stunts aren’t funny — especially when pulled off without enough confidence.
Blink-182 immortalized the humor of stripping down in 1999’s “What’s My Age Again?” music video. The difference? They embrace toilet humor and prepubescent humor without trying to make morals from them. Twenty One Pilots’ actual speech — a throwback to when they watched the Grammys in their underwear with friends, never aware that they would win Grammys themselves in the future, and promised to sport briefs onstage if they did — represents the mishmash of everything they stand for.
They want to be the bullied kids, the ones who step in to break up a fight, and the ones cool enough to start the fight in the first place. They’re a band that lacks genuine sincerity but packs enough gimmicks to, apparently, make up for it. The only good moment was a quick pan to Travis Barker and his kids — shout-out to the person who organizes Grammys seating for putting Erykah Badu, of all people, next to them — to show he couldn’t have cared less. Funny, neither could we. —Nina Corcoran
Winner: Bruno Mars
There were a number of tributes at the Grammys on Sunday. Adele notedly had to restart her George Michael cover after she flubbed it while Demi Lovato lead the charge for a capable medley of Bee Gees tunes. But standing out was the Bruno Mars rendition of “Let’s Go Crazy”, a feverish nod to the fallen purple god, complete with Mars dressed in Prince garb and closing the song with a guitar solo. Getting the right person to fill in for Prince is as tough as casting gets, with Mars quickly revealing himself to be beyond perfect for the role. Many songs during the night got the audience dancing and participating, but this one took the prize of even making James Corden’s elation seem authentic. –Philip Cosores
Loser: Frank Ocean
What’s a starry night if the stars never show up? Well, in general, it’s pretty good. Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Drake, and Frank Ocean boycotted the Grammys this year, despite the first three being nominated and the latter refusing to let his work receive nominations at all. That meant fewer reaction shots on a hair-flipping brat who’s only concerned with his ego, a lack of forced meme-ified dancing, and no chance of an Album of the Year interruption (though, really, Adele took care of that one herself). Instead, other artists got to stand in the spotlight to perform. In the case of Ocean, it also meant a much-deserved fuck-you note to the Grammys via his Tumblr.
But, selfishly, their absence is a negative because of what they could have done with that space. Grammy performances boil down to two deliveries: 1.) It’s either a sincere, riveting, finger-flipping set that get viewers of all types to feel their heartbeat pounding faster than normal, if only by a tiny bit; or it’s 2.) a baiting, drawn-out, mild set that fulfills what Americans have come to expect from the Grammys: that it’s an award show, music was long ago commodified, and fame is relative. When artists do the prior, it’s a reminder that the latter doesn’t have to win if they — and, in turn, we — refuse to let it. It’s a chance to move viewers and a chance to encourage them to do something positive with their time. With Prince’s passing and two incredible albums under his belt, Frank Ocean had endless (ha) fodder to wow viewers. Instead, a Tumblr note stands in its place. It’s certainly not as accessible or powerful as a performance may have been, but as others, including Solange, made clear, its versatility is already handy. —Nina Corcoran
Yes, it was particularly half-baked that the band decided to play Metallica when Megadeth won its first Grammy ever. But let’s look beyond that. Over the course of Dave Mustaine’s career, his band has been nominated for 11 previous Grammys, dating back to 1991, all with losses. This isn’t close to Snoop Dogg’s 17 losses without a win, but Megadeth were due for a win eventually, giving these heavy metal legends some much deserved hardware. They couldn’t care less what music the band was playing. –Philip Cosores
Loser: The Weeknd and Daft Punk
The gap between entertaining performances and boring performances only widened itself as the night went on. Nothing encourages a night of fun and debauchery like Adele’s “Hello”, especially when performed live so every solemn piano chord sinks into its dramatic tone … to start the whole ceremony. Kelsea Ballerini and Lukas Graham sang a live mashup that no one, literally no one, asked for. Pentatonix reminded the world that not only are they still around and not only is their shtick beyond old at this point, but they’re able to still win Grammys for both.
The Snoozefest headliner was undoubtedly The Weeknd‘s stint with Daft Punk, a highly anticipated collaboration that put itself to sleep. On its own, “Starboy” isn’t the most rowdy song, but the promise of Daft Punk’s first live performance in three years suggested there was plenty to be excited for and, in a live setting, could amp it up. Their walkout fulfilled its sci-fi wants (Was that a glowing pink sword?!), but once they were stationed behind their synths, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter looked like two children who were so excited to wear DIY Darth Vader outfits in a school play that they forgot their lines by the time they took the stage.
A couple head nods and overdramatized pushing of keys fulfilled the role, but it was hard to imagine they were doing something, if anything, on their instruments. By the time The Weeknd transitioned into “I Feel It Coming”, all attention had faded. Visuals can’t save you if the performance itself is lackluster, and boy did The Weeknd’s bit feel like a performance delivered post-nap. —Nina Corcoran
Winner: Sturgill Simpson
Sturgill Simpson already had the honor of being country music’s coolest contemporary going into Sunday night, but a couple of low-key moments sealed the deal for the Nashville outsider. There was his win for Country Album of the Year, which took place at the pre-telecast, prompting Simpson to proclaim, “The revolution will not be televised.” And as if quoting Gil Scott-Heron wasn’t enough, there was his performance during the ceremony, which doubled as a performance of his original “All Around You” and a tribute to the late Sharon Jones. Jones’ band, the Dap-Kings, joined Simpson in what might have been the best-sounding musical moment of the night, an honor that is rarely appreciated on a show built on spectacle. –Philip Cosores
Loser: Forced Politics
It’s near impossible to not discuss politics when our President makes it a point to take a jackhammer to our country every damn day. When a timer ticks in front of you, though, you better make your point quick; otherwise, it gets lost in the mess.
Unfortunately, nearly every dash of contempt for the POTUS or rally cry felt cheap due to screen time. It began with James Corden’s opening rap, a jumbled mess poking fun at Sturgill Simpson, calling for political resistance, and attempting to remind viewers about the Grammys long-lost ability to make dreams come true — sandwiching the politics in there for trendiness’ sake. J-Lo followed with a passionate speech that quoted Toni Morrison, but, like most early moments, faded in people’s minds mere minutes later. And then came Paris Jackson, dolled up and ready to get dirty. “We could really use this kind of enthusiasm at a pipeline protest, huh?” she said. Cue an uncomfortable shift in mood for those there, which made the blame feel like a scratched fender no one wanted to take claim for and, in turn, makes the damage all the more grueling.
It didn’t stop, and neither did the unsettling feeling of celebrities trying to use their fame for good, but the sentiment of their statements getting shortened by camera pans. Corden made another thin joke about “fake Tweets” that felt like a Jimmy Fallon stint. The president and CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Neil Portnow, called for Congress reform in a speech where monotonous delivery and a crawling pace lost people minutes before he actually got to that point. Oh, and let’s not forget Joy Villa’s gaudy MAGA dress with Trump spelled out across the train, which is, like all of these moments, best left forgotten. —Nina Corcoran
Winner: Carly Rae Jepsen and Lil Yachty
Who knew a three-minute commercial was the break we needed for a million-hour-long ceremony? Target teamed up with Carly Rae Jepsen and Lil Yachty to rework “It Takes Two”, the party anthem of 1988 by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, to get thousands of viewers to swoon in the process. The unlikely duo make their vocals work seamlessly together, in part thanks to Mike WiLL Made-It, using Jepsen’s ’80s pop to capitalize on a classic hip-hop sound. Buy a hoverboard! Lay on emoji pillows! Reel in some Swedish Fish! Honestly, do whatever it takes to twirl in a shopping cart while this song plays on repeat forever. Now repeat after us: I love capitalism! —Nina Corcoran
Loser: Metallica and Lady Gaga
No matter how many times you rehearse — and, trust us, the dozen-plus people onstage during this performance looked like they rehearsed quite a bit — sometimes everything will go wrong. Perhaps the most cringe-worthy bit of the Grammys was watching Lady Gaga and Metallica’s performance of “Moth into Flame”. Fires were blazing and both acts dramatized their moves, but the moment James Hetfield leaned into his microphone to sing, awkwardness ensued. The mic was off … and remained off for the entire performance. Nothing lets air out of a balloon as quickly as an over-the-top set losing its edginess because of a technical error. As if to prep us for the whole ordeal, the performance’s introducer, Laverne Cox, prefaced it by mentioning how many times Gaga and Metallica won Grammys, but failed to actually say Metallica’s name.
The two handled it better than most because, after all, they’re acts that know how to perform. They shared a single microphone and amped up their yells without making a show of the compensation. They played into the visuals to mask the sound issues, showing several shots of Lars Ulrich drumming behind flames. Gaga crowd surfed effortlessly but made it back to the stage in time as to not leave Hetfield hanging. Eventually, the mic worked again, but most people didn’t notice. Afterwards, Hetfield practically hurled his guitar at a sound crew member and could be seen yelling, arm extended as if to point blame, what looked like seriously heated words. At that point, maybe it was best his microphone was off. —Nina Corcoran
Winner: Chance the Rapper
Yeah, duh. Obviously the winner of Best Rap Album, Best Rap Performance, and, the biggie, Best New Artist is a winner. But Chance the Rapper‘s victories were bigger than all that. For one, it was the first-ever streaming-only album to win a Grammy. Ever. That’s a huge deal in the year that they changed the rules to allow for this. It was also a win for a person of color in one of the big four categories, which you’d have to go back to 2011 and Esperanza Spalding for the last non-white Best New Artist. And then there was simply the fact that Chance performed a show-stopping medley of Coloring Book material. It was the Chicago rapper reaching more households than ever before and endearing himself to them in the same manner he has been to all of us over the last several years. We’ve known he is a star for a while now. On Sunday, it became a certainty. –Philip Cosores
Loser: James Corden
Sometime around the third or fourth year they had LL Cool J host the Grammys, it felt like literally anyone would be a better host. LL was not only dull; his only reason for hosting seemed to be his affiliation with CBS and his negligible connection to the recording world. (Yeah, we know he started as a musician, but he’s been virtually a full-time actor for decades.) But holy shit, it was two minutes into the first James Corden bit, where he pretended to screw up his dance number, that the audience was begging to have LL Cool J back. Sure, the carpool karaoke bit was expected and not awful (because, does anyone know anything else Corden does besides Carpool Karaoke?), but otherwise it was flat joke after flat joke. Even worse was when he tried to get sentimental, paying tribute to George Michael with feigned emotion over a poorly read teleprompter. The Grammys hasn’t had an interesting host in more than a decade, but James Corden made us long for the days when there wasn’t any host at all. –Philip Cosores
Winner: Katy Perry
Though her use of the first live performance behind new single “Chained to the Rhythm” to make a political statement was viewed as questionable by some, it’s not like Katy Perry woke up yesterday and started to care about her planet. She’s been supporting gay rights ever since she kissed a girl and liked it and was a noted campaigner for Hillary Clinton in the last election. So, her Constitution-touting, “persist”-armbanded, “no hate”-shouting appearance was actually pretty in character, even if it was a kickoff to a new chapter called “purposeful pop.” But beyond that, Perry’s Wilson-from-Home Improvement homage landed in terms of pure spectacle, too. Dancing fences and muted costumes play against Perry’s penchant for extravagance, and it was all presented with the self-aware giddiness that Perry does better than anyone. –Philip Cosores
Winning feels an awful lot like losing when those awards aren’t given to the person who deserved them. Adele is the first to twice sweep the Album, Record, and Song of the Year awards, but this year, her wins didn’t feel so marvelous because of going head-to-head with Beyoncé. After the best performance of the night, a phenomenal full-length and visual album, and, you know, continuing to push society to better itself, Beyoncé lost again and again — and she knew that would happen, evidenced by her giving an AOTY-style speech for winning Urban Contemporary. We know the Grammys don’t represent music, and we know they choose winners incorrectly regularly. It’s what they do best. So why do we expect to see change? Because how blatantly obvious can it get that the cards are stacked against even the most influential, successful, and creative individuals no matter how hard they work — or how flawlessly they pull it off.
With each win, Adele professed her love for Beyoncé and apologized. Was it Adele taking the role of Kanye West and calling out that Beyoncé had the greatest record of the year? Or was it Adele taking the role of Macklemore and verbalizing a text that concedes the win, this time in public air? In the press room afterwards, she took a cue from Cady Heron by snapping the Grammy in two to gift Beyonce the other part, then giving a short speech about why Lemonade deserved to win. “I thought it was her year,” Adele said backstage after admitting she’s a Beyoncé “stan.” “What the fuck does she have to do to win album of the year?” Silence follows her rhetorical question because the truth is too uncomfortable for most Grammy participants to admit. —Nina Corcoran
Winner: A Tribe Called Quest
“We’d like to say to all of those people around the world, all those people who are pushing people who are in power to represent them: Tonight, we represent you.” Q-Tip was barely done saying those words when they sent chills. A Tribe Called Quest gave a political performance that energized with inspiring force. With Anderson .Paak behind the drum kit steering them forward at full speed, they touched on so much (“Award Tour”, “We the People”, honoring Phife Dawg) while quite literally saying so much. “I just want to thank President Agent Orange for perpetuating all of the evil that you’ve been perpetuating throughout the United States,” said Busta Rhymes. “I want to thank President Agent Orange for your unsuccessful attempt at the Muslim ban. When we come together — we the people!”
It wasn’t just their words that sent chills up the spine. A Tribe Called Quest literally punched through a giant wall. They gave the stage up to muslims, indians, people of color, women, LGBTQ — you know, we the people. They threw hands in the air and called to resist. It was the ethos of punk rolled into the poetics of hip-hop to empower everyone. If anyone’s capable of doing that, it’s A Tribe Called Quest, reminding us just how well-timed their return is and, if they take this routine on the road, how they’ll save America from the very real threat of receding activism. —Nina Corcoran
Winner and Loser: David Bowie
Let’s start with the positive: David Bowie took home five posthumous Grammys on Sunday night, his first ever for his actual music making in competitive action. Most were during the pre-telecast, with saxophone player Donny McCaslin using the opportunity to share Bowie memories with the sparse audience. With the Bowie musical tribute taking place last year, it was the best we were gonna get for his big night of wins. They were low-key, humble, and tasteful, exactly what we would have expected from the Thin White Duke himself.
Then came the actual ceremony, where American Idol’s Katharine McPhee and the motherfucking Chainsmokers were tasked with accepting Bowie’s final award of the night on his behalf. The dudes giggled their way through the moment, while McPhee read an emotionless bit of text from her teleprompter. For Bowie’s final Grammy moment, it was about as disrespectful as it gets and shows poor planning on the Grammys behalf to not get someone up there that could have done him justice. –Philip Cosores
The only option Beyoncé knows is to outdo herself — and she does it so damn well. Not a single image of her leaked before the performance, so when she took the stage and a surreal portrayal of holograms, projections, and 3D art unravelled before the crowd, her hypnosis took over. A remake of the Last Supper became a femme-centered artwork in motion. Dozens of women sat in chairs, halos framing their heads, while Beyoncé sang “Sandcastles” and “Love Drought” gracefully from the confines of a reclining chair or on the floor in a bed of flowers. Throughout, she never sought out helping hands. Instead, she expected them, declining a set of stairs at her own pace on her own time because she’s a creator, a mother ready to bear again, and the bonds of love in family ties are stronger than any physical comparison.
As she read out a speech about healing, reconciliation, and womanhood, she choked up at her own words upon landing eyes with Blue Ivy. The beautiful meditation on motherhood was mirrored in the crowd, be it by the symbolism of Tina Knowles herself introducing the performance or the embrace of feminism in family, like Blue Ivy on Jay-Z’s lap and Schoolboy Q’s daughter in his, both in pink suits. Beyoncé’s speech transformed from “Women like her [mother] cannot be contained” to women, in general, cannot be contained. She transformed what it means to pass on traditions, to nurture with care, and imbued it all with strength. That’s what she’s best at. She knows how to use her own power to encourage others to find their own.
Even when carrying life inside her that should wear her out, Beyoncé shows tiredness is a figment of imagination, that strength is endless if you grow it properly. If that wasn’t evident, just look at the song choices. Using a deep cut at an award ceremony is a distinct choice to flex every muscle of your music, lean into the abstract, and remind viewers that creativity, invention, and strength overlap whenever you want them to. If you’re Beyoncé, that just happens to be all the time. —Nina Corcoran