Billie Eilish cleaned up at the 2020 Grammy Awards, winning five of the six awards she was nominated for, including the night’s four biggest prizes.
Eilish’s night began during the prebroadcast ceremony, where her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? picked up Best Pop Vocal Album. She later won Best New Artist, Album of the Year for When We All Fall Asleep, and Record and Song of the Year for “Bad Guy.” On top of all that, her brother/producer, Finneas, picked up two awards himself: Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical (which he shared with Rob Kinelski); and Producer of the Year, Non-Classical.
By the time Eilish and Finneas closed out the night with their Record of the Year trophy, they had no more words to give, stepping up to the mic and expressing their gratitude one last time then walking offstage.
Although the coronation of one of pop’s most unique rising stars made for a picturesque ending to the Grammys, the night couldn’t have begun in a stranger way. There was an uneasy atmosphere already surrounding the 2020 Grammys thanks to the unexpected dismissal of president and CEO Deborah Dugan just days prior, and the subsequent allegations of sexual harassment, voting irregularities, financial improprieties, and corruption she made in a lawsuit against the Recording Academy.
Then, just hours before the show, news broke that Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter had died in a helicopter crash. As musicians were walking the red carpet, fans gathered outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles to pay tribute to the late basketball player.
That didn’t necessarily stop the 2020 Grammys from opening with gusto: Lizzo took the stage, proclaiming “Tonight is for Kobe,” then launched into renditions of “Cuz I Love You” and “Truth Hurts,” backed by an all-female orchestra and a troupe of dancers. Host Alicia Keys then took the stage and delivered an opening speech that was surely different from the one she’d planned, taking a moment to honor Bryant, then welcoming Boyz II Men to the stage to sing an a cappella rendition of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”
Rather than end things on that tasteful note, though, one Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani duet and a commercial break later, Keys returned to the stage with a piano and began vamping about the healing power of music. She mentioned Bryant again and seemed to allude to Dugan’s framing of the Recording Academy as a “boys’ club” when she said: “It’s time for newness, and we refuse the negative energy. We refuse the old system, we want to be respected in our diversity.” Then, in a move that caused some severe tonal whiplash, Keys started to sing a “parody” of Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved” that name-checked all the 2020 nominees.
Amazingly — or maybe not — Dugan wasn’t mentioned, or even alluded to again, for the rest of the night.
Instead, the Grammys kicked into a familiar gear, chugging along for another three and a half hours, less an awards show than a musical variety spectacle. There were plenty of highlights, such as Lizzo’s opener, and Brandi Carlile and Tanya Tucker’s touching rendition of “Bring My Flowers Now.” H.E.R. and Gary Clark Jr. unleashed the shred during their respective performances of “Sometimes” and “This Land,” while Tyler, the Creator tapped Boyz II Men and Charlie Wilson for an expert take on “Earfquake” before setting the stage on fire as he tore through “New Magic Wand.”
Lil Nas X, who earned two Grammys for “Old Town Road,” saddled up for a trip down remix memory lane, linking with BTS, Mason Ramsey, Diplo, and Billy Ray Cyrus for a supersize version of his massive hit (only Young Thug failed to show up, despite the full slime set made for the occasion). Ariana Grande, one year after feuding with outgoing Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich, took the stage for an elaborate medley of “Imagine,” “7 Rings,” and “Thank U, Next,” while Usher and Sheila E. helmed a dazzling tribute to Prince, which featured a dance cameo from FKA Twigs.
As the Grammys are wont to do, there were plenty of ballads as well. Most notably, Demi Lovato delivered an emotional debut of her new song, “Anyone,” while Eilish — one of the most thrillingly weird pop stars to emerge in a long while — pared things back for a rendition of “When the Party’s Over.” One of the night’s stranger, although still sentimental moments came when comedian Jim Gaffigan introduced Camila Cabello’s performance of “First Man” as a love song for Shawn Mendes, before the singer proceeded to dedicate the track to her father.
Just like the bevy of ballads, the night featured plenty of big collaborations as well. The most powerful was certainly the Nipsey Hussle tribute with John Legend, DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, Roddy Ricch, Kirk Franklin, and YG, who also took the opportunity to pay their respects to Bryant and his daughter.
Other so-called Grammy moments were less remarkable. Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. attempted to dust off their famous remix of “Walk This Way,” although it sounded a bit worse for wear, and the last performance of the night was an over-the-top, head-scratching rendition of Fame‘s “I Sing the Body Electric,” which served as a tribute to Ehrlich and featured a mishmash of artists including Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Camila Cabello, and Gary Clark Jr.
Amid all that there were some awards as well. Of the eight that were televised, outside the big four, Lizzo won Best Pop Solo Performance for “Truth Hurts,” Dan + Shay won Best Country Duo/Group Performance for “Speechless,” an absent Dave Chapelle won Best Comedy Album for Sticks & Stones, and Tyler, the Creator earned his first Grammy for Best Rap Album for Igor. Among the winners for awards handed out preshow, Lady Gaga added two more Grammys to her collection thanks to A Star Is Born, and Vampire Weekend scored their second trophy ever, winning Best Alternative Album for Father of the Bride.
There were plenty of first-time winners, too: 21 Savage won Best Rap Song for “A Lot” (featuring J. Cole); Rosalía took home Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album for El Mal Querer; and Tanya Tucker won the first Grammys of her storied career, Best Country Song for “Bring My Flowers Now” and Best Country Album for While I’m Livin’.
Nipsey Hussle earned two posthumous Grammys, Best Rap Performance for “Racks in the Middle” and Best Rap/Sung Performance for DJ Khaled’s “Higher,” also featuring John Legend. Gary Clark Jr. also quietly picked up three trophies, Best Rock Song and Performance for “This Land” and Best Contemporary Blues Album for his LP of the same name.