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Best and Worst Moments From the 2024 Grammys

The most awards at the 66th annual Grammys went to Phoebe Bridgers, who picked up three with her band boygenius and one for a feature on a SZA song. SZA, who came into the night with the most nominations, was shut out of the biggest honors — for album (which went to Taylor Swift’s “Midnights”), record (Miley Cyrus’s “Flowers”) and song (Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?”) — but took home three trophies. Victoria Monét was named best new artist, and Swift’s album win broke a Grammy record for the category. The show was particularly joyous, slick and thoughtful, featuring several striking performances and a few raw acceptance speeches. All in all, it captured pop music as it actually is — centerless, and subject to change at any moment.

Two of the night’s strongest performances came from young women using pianos to accompany the wispy, stratospheric upper reaches of their registers — and to comment on the tyranny of fragility and prettiness. The first was Billie Eilish, stunning the crowd to silence with a sparse, deeply felt reading of “What Was I Made For?,” her “Barbie” ballad that later picked up song of the year. The second was Olivia Rodrigo, who nailed the vertiginous high notes that punctuate her rock-operatic smash “Vampire,” and then riffed on the song’s theme as she smeared herself with spurting fake blood. Each performance, in its own way, felt like a rebuttal to the constricting standards to which so many young women are held. Eilish’s was about the pain of being perceived as an object; Rodrigo’s reimagined the same kind of pressure as a horror movie. Both understood the power of a little theatricality. LINDSAY ZOLADZ

Joni Mitchell, 80, has been singing her prismatic folk ballad “Both Sides Now” since she was 23, and yet every time she performs it, she seems to be interpreting its infinitely wise lyrics anew. The rendition she performed at the Grammys — her first-ever performance on the award show, which makes sense given how underestimated and slighted by the industry Mitchell has felt throughout most of her career — was at once elegiac and nimble, backed by a loose jazz arrangement that allowed her to riff on its familiar melody. Showing off a resonant tone and impressive range that she has worked diligently to strengthen since suffering an aneurysm in 2015, Mitchell’s performance was like a brief, magical visitation from a musical deity. ZOLADZ

Jay-Z (22 wins, 88 nominations) and Beyoncé (32 wins, the most of all time) are Grammy mainstays, having occupied prime camera time at the awards over the past decade-plus, so it wasn’t a shock that the couple appeared as surprise attendees on Sunday night. But as Jay-Z accepted the Dr. Dre global impact award, the rapper excoriated the night’s host — the Recording Academy — for past slights in the rap categories and for repeatedly snubbing Beyoncé in the all-genre album of the year award. “We love y’all. We want you to get it right,” he said, in brash and seemingly extemporaneous remarks. He referred to the math behind Beyoncé’s total wins, amassed largely in R&B and urban contemporary genre categories: “So even by your own metrics, that doesn’t work.” It wasn’t the first time Jay-Z called out the Grammys, having aimed a barbed lyric at the academy after the couple went 0-for-8 at the 2018 event. But his speech was pointed on another night when a Black artist, SZA, garnered the most nominations, but was shut out in the biggest categories. ELENA BERGERON

Last year’s Grammys featured a rollicking tribute to hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, with a truly impressive lineup — LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, Ice-T and Posdnous of De La Soul, up to GloRilla and Lil Uzi Vert — that was momentous enough to mark the occasion. Hip-hop this year? It was mainly represented by Travis Scott, who was joined by Playboi Carti for an oddly bloodless performance of “My Eyes,” “I Know” and “Fein.” The performance built to a climax of flames and some smashing of folding chairs, a scene that looked like a reject from a “Mad Max” movie. If the guys couldn’t bring it, maybe they shoulda had Ice Spice? BEN SISARIO

Accepting the best R&B song award for “Snooze,” SZA, ironically, almost missed her moment: Absent when Lizzo first read her name, she finally emerged from backstage, out of breath. “I was changing, and then I took a shot and I ran here,” she said, beginning an endearingly off-the-cuff speech that showed off her personality more effectively than her busy, over-staged performance. The moment seemed to hit her like a wave halfway through, and she became visibly verklempt. Then, interrupting herself midsentence and cutting her speech short, she got in the best one-liner of the night before rushing off the stage: “I’m not an attractive crier — have a good evening!” ZOLADZ

The In Memoriam segment is always a tricky moment for the Grammys — one that often turns into an embarrassment. This year, it found the right tone with the right performers. Stevie Wonder opened with a tribute to Tony Bennett, whose version of “For Once in My Life” spurred Wonder’s very different hit version; years later, they’d record and perform the song as a duet. Wonder could have simply praised Bennett for his musicianship, but he also spoke warmly about Bennett’s early and lifelong commitment to civil rights.

He was followed by Annie Lennox, with rhinestone teardrops on her face, singing a deep, wrenching “Nothing Compares 2 U” in tribute to Sinead O’Connor — backed by Wendy and Lisa from Prince’s band the Revolution — and ending by proclaiming, “Artists for cease-fire, peace in the world.” Jon Batiste and the singer Ann Nesby carried Bill Withers songs from a starkly mournful “Ain’t No Sunshine” into full-tilt gospel with “Lean on Me.” And after a verbal tribute from Oprah Winfrey, Fantasia Barrino-Taylor had the lung power and gold-lamé dress — though not quite the high-heeled dance dexterity — to honor Tina Turner with “Proud Mary.” For once, In Memoriam was about the way recorded music preserves a life force: about memories, not endings. PARELES

Hair sprayed and stacked to the heavens, clad in barely there Bob Mackie-like spangles, tossing out ad-libs in a vampy alto — this year’s Grammy telecast was proof that the 31-year-old Miley Cyrus is slowly transforming into Cher, in all the best ways possible. Cyrus accepted two Grammys (the first she’d ever won) during the telecast and charmed with her oddball speeches, but her star turn came when she performed “Flowers,” a relatively staid and straightforward pop tune that she embroidered with vocal runs, antic charisma and hilarious asides. “Why are you acting like you don’t know this song?” she asked the crowd between lyrics, never missing a beat. Hannah Montana is still a consummate entertainer! ZOLADZ

U2 played its rather rote latest single, “Atomic City,” to give the first-ever televised glimpse inside the Sphere, James Dolan’s state-of-the-art, $2.3 billion Las Vegas arena. But the venue’s majesty was difficult to capture on TV, and the director of the pretaped segment tried to make up for it by endless swooping, disorienting camerawork that left me feeling nauseous. They may as well been performing “Vertigo.” ZOLADZ

After a year of Taylor, “Barbie,” SZA, boygenius and Cyrus’s “Flowers,” women were always going to make a strong showing at the Grammys. But they didn’t just show up: They entirely carried the evening. Women won every competitive award given out during the telecast, and the biggest tallies of the night were all for women: three for SZA, Victoria Monét, “Barbie” and boygenius (plus a fourth for that band’s Bridgers). From Eilish’s heart-stopping performance of “What Was I Made For?” — wearing cat’s-eye sunglasses and a 1960s sweater like Peggy Olson from “Mad Men” — to Tracy Chapman’s watery eyes, Mitchell’s joy and Swift’s queenly confidence accepting her fourth album of the year, the narrative of the night was all about the excellence and the empowered voices of women. No offense to Stevie Wonder or Billy Joel, who rocked it. But it was the ladies’ night. And it was about time. SISARIO

An intro and video buildup promoted a performance by Luke Combs, who had a nominated country hit single with his faithful version of Chapman’s 1988 song “Fast Car”: a song about hope, low-wage work, longing for escape and crushing disillusionment. But when the cameras hit the stage, the acoustic guitar was in the hands of Chapman herself, who had long been alienated from the music business and had not toured since 2009. She was smiling, serene and radiant, picking the song’s instantly recognizable introduction and then singing with calm authority, all the melancholy depths of her voice intact. Combs traded verses with her, glancing across the stage as if he couldn’t quite believe she was there, sometimes mouthing along with the words. Although they were side by side, Chapman was the center of everyone’s attention — and rightly so. PARELES

Since her announcement over a year ago that she has stiff-person’s syndrome, a neurological disease, and then canceled all her concert dates, Celine Dion — the Canadian diva who made the “Titanic” soundtrack and rejuvenated the very idea of a Las Vegas concert residency — has remained largely out of sight. But she made a triumphant, and genuinely surprising, return as an unannounced presenter for album of the year. Wrapped in a thick, golden-brown coat, she recalled winning the prize for “Falling Into You” in 1997 and then opened the envelope and called out Taylor Swift’s name. It felt like an appropriately monarchical appearance for the occasion, and Dion’s appearance was a reminder that, even if she is not singing, she’s still here, still a star. SISARIO

Performances by Combs, SZA, Scott, Cyrus and Joel were introduced by elaborately produced interview segments. If they were intended to build anticipation, they didn’t — they felt like stalling. I couldn’t help thinking that with each one, a different musician had lost a slot to perform. PARELES

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