On a night women were basically shut out of the awards, Bruno Mars and Kendrick Lamar stole the show, and most of the awards, at the 2018 Grammys.
Mars provided the night’s big upset, taking the Album of the Year trophy for 24K Magic that most critics assumed would go to Lamar’s Damn. It seemed that the voters found Mars’s crowd-pleasing and easily dancible R&B more palatable overall, while Lamar dominated in the rap categories.
Alessia Cara won the Grammy for Best New Artist becoming the only female artist to win a major prize. Stars like Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, Lorde and SZA won only 17 awards (out of a total of 86) going to women or female-fronted bands. The imbalance seemed particularly incongruous on a night that highlighted the #TimesUp and #MeToo campaigns. Most performers wore a white rose to symbolize their support for the movements, which address sexual harassment and inequality.
Pop star Ke$ha gave a very powerful, stirring performance of her single Praying, which addresses her own personal experience of surviving abuse, backed by an all-star choir, including Rihanna, Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Bebe Rexha, and others, dressed in white to reflect the white rose campaign.
“We come in peace but we mean business,” said singer and actress Janelle Monae, whose magnificent speech introduced the performance. “To those who would dare try to silence us, we offer two words: Time’s Up… We say Time’s Up for pay inequality, discrimination or harassment of any kind, and the abuse of power… Let’s work together, women and men, as a united music industry committed to creating more safe work environments, equal pay, and access for all women.”
Mars won six Grammys in all, including Album of the Year, Best R&B Album, and Record of the Year for 24K Magic, and Best R&B Performance, Best R&B Song, and Song of the Year for That’s What I Like. In accepting the Record of the Year award in the show’s finale, he told the story of how, as a 15-year-old in Hawai’i, he had performed in a show called The Magic of Polynesia, only later realizing he was singing songs by R&B writers Babyface, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and Teddy Riley.
“I’ll be honest, I was incredible at 15,” he laughed, before explaining how he’d wanted to recapture the sounds of those 80s and 90s hits on his latest album. “Those songs were written with nothing but joy… and that’s all I wanted to bring with this album. Hopefully I could feel that again and see everybody dancing and everybody moving.”
Kendrick Lamar took home five Grammys, for Best Rap Album for Damn, Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance, and Best Music Video for Humble; and Best Rap/Sung Performance for Loyalty (with Rihanna). Lamar had opened the program with a provocative, politically-charged performance that featured contributions from U2 and Dave Chapelle. “I just wanted to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America,” observed Chapelle in the middle of the segment.
The night also saw performances from Lady Gaga, Pink, Childish Gambino, Elton John, and Sam Smith, among others. Jon Batiste, Gary Clark Jr. and Joe Saylor sang Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” and Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” in remembrance of the two artists.
Ed Sheeran, who could not attend the ceremony, won two prizes – best pop vocal performance for Shape Of You and best pop album for Divide. There were also posthumous awards for Leonard Cohen and actress Carrie Fisher, who won best spoken word album for the audio version of her memoirs, The Princess Diarist.