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Takeaways From a Grammy Night Where Women Reigned Print-ready version

Taylor Swift made history on a night when women took many of the top awards, and Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman and Billy Joel performed.

by Ben Sisario
New York Times
February 4, 2024

Taylor Swift, right, who won best pop vocal album and album of the year for “Midnights,” poses with Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus of boygenius Credit...Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Women thoroughly dominated the 66th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, with a history-making album of the year win by Taylor Swift and victories by Miley Cyrus, Billie Eilish, SZA, Lainey Wilson, the Colombian pop star Karol G and the band boygenius.

The wins capped a year when women were extraordinarily successful in pop music, and also signified a change for the Grammys, which have frequently been criticized - as recently as five years ago - for overlooking female artists on the show.

In addition to the wins, the show featured powerful performances by SZA, Eilish, Dua Lipa, Olivia Rodrigo and even Joni Mitchell and Tracy Chapman - two godmothers of modern songwriting who have made only rare public appearances in recent years.

In taking album of the year for "Midnights," Swift became the first artist to win the Grammys' top prize four times, beating a trio of male legends - Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon - who had three.

"I would love to tell you that this is the best moment of my life," Swift said when accepting the award. "But I feel this happy when I finish a song or when I crack the code to a bridge that I love," she said, and added: "For me the reward is the work."

Other highlights included:

Eilish, along with her brother, Finneas, won song of the year for "What Was I Made For?," a dreamy but haunting meditation from Greta Gerwig's film "Barbie." The song also took best song written for visual media, and the "Barbie" soundtrack took best compilation soundtrack for visual media.

The R&B singer and songwriter Victoria Monét won three prizes, including best new artist. Boygenius, an indie-rock supergroup that sold out venues like Madison Square Garden and the Hollywood Bowl last year, won a total of three awards, and one of its members, Phoebe Bridgers, took a fourth - more than any other artist at this year's ceremony - as part of a collaboration with SZA.

Mitchell, 80, performed at the Grammys for the first time, playing her 1968 song "Both Sides Now" nine years after an aneurysm that at first left her unable to speak. Seated in a plush chair, clasping a cane, she was surrounded by supporters including Brandi Carlile, who has lately been Mitchell's biggest evangelist. After the performance, stars like Beyoncé and Swift clapped wide-eyed.

In another major moment, Chapman made a very rare public appearance, performing her 1988 favorite "Fast Car" in a tender duet with Luke Combs, whose note-for-note cover of Chapman's song became a surprise cross-generational hit last year. Dressed in jeans and a plain button-down shirt, Chapman seemed to have watery eyes as she strummed her acoustic guitar and sang.

Taylor Swift, as always the master of promotion, used the opportunity of accepting the award for best pop vocal album to announce a new album, "The Tortured Poets Department," saying it would come out April 19. Her Instagram page briefly crashed.

Celine Dion, the Canadian diva who announced in 2022 that she has a rare neurological disease that makes it difficult for her to sing, was another rare appearance at the show, announcing the award for album of the year.

It wasn't all just the ladies. Billy Joel, who recently released "Turn the Lights Back On," his first new pop song in nearly 20 years, performed that track and his classic rocker "You May Be Right." U2 performed from its residency at the Sphere, a futuristic new venue in Las Vegas.

During an expanded "in memoriam" segment lasting more than 20 minutes, Stevie Wonder honored Tony Bennett, Annie Lennox paid tribute to Sinéad O'Connor and Fantasia Barrino-Taylor (introduced by Oprah Winfrey) sang "Proud Mary" in honor of Tina Turner.

Political content was scarce on the show, which largely avoided any controversial stances. Harvey Mason Jr., the chief executive of the Recording Academy, recognized the killing of music fans at an Israeli music festival on Oct. 7, and Lennox said, "Artists for cease-fire; peace in the world."

Jay-Z, accepting the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award, called out the Grammys for failing to honor Beyoncé, his wife, with album of the year, despite her 32 awards, mostly in down-ballot genre categories. "When I get nervous I tell the truth," he said.

Killer Mike, a veteran Atlanta rapper and activist, won three rap awards, including best rap album ("Michael"). Shortly after, he was escorted out of the Crypto.com Arena by police officers. Later, the Los Angeles Police Department said that Killer Mike, who was born Michael Render, was booked on a misdemeanor battery charge and that he was being released.

The Grammys added a new category, best African music performance, which was won by Tyla, a South African singer, for the song "Water." The show also featured a performance by Burna Boy, a Nigerian performer who is one of the biggest stars of the Afrobeats genre.

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