LOS ANGELES — L.A.-based singer/songwriter Billie Eilish put an exclamation point on what was a break-out year in 2019 by winning album of the year for “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go” as well as best new artist, record and song of the year.
It was a sweep of the major categories for Eilish, who scored six nominations, tying with fellow Gen Z phenom Lil Nas X for the second-most nominations after Lizzo’s eight.
“Wow, wow, wow, wow,” Eilish began her song of the year acceptance speech for “Bad Guy.” “So many other songs deserved this, I’m sorry.”
While typically a celebratory night for the music industry, tragedy still seeped into the 62nd Grammy Awards ceremony Sunday in Los Angeles, prompting a community to shift gears toward reflection, sympathy and consolation.
Just hours before the event began, L.A. Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died along with seven others in a helicopter crash about 30 miles from Staples Center downtown, the sports arena in which the Grammy Awards show played out and which for two decades had been the home court for Bryant’s stellar career.
“Tonight is for Kobe!” hip-hop soul singer Lizzo as the show began, belting out the opening line, “I’m crying!” from her nominated song “Cuz I Love You” to get the evening started.
Later, while picking up the award for pop solo performance for her self-love anthem “Truth Hurts,” the singer-songwriter got emotional, saluting her fellow musicians and alluding to the death of Bryant.
“This whole week, I’ve been lost in my problems, stressed out, and then in an instant, all of that can go away and your priorities really shift,” she said. “Today, all of my little problems I thought were the biggest in the world were gone, and I realized that there’s people hurting right now.”
Lizzo also scored wins for urban contemporary album and traditional R&B performance.
Host Alicia Keys promptly acknowledged the effect of the news on the best-laid plans of Grammy show organizers, stating upon taking the stage, “Here we are together on music’s biggest night celebrating the artists who do it best.
“But to be honest with you,” she added, “we’re all feeling crazy sadness right now, because early today, Los Angeles, America and the whole wide world lost a hero. I’m literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built.”
“I know how much Kobe loved music,” she continued. “We’ve got to make this a celebration in his honor. He would want us to keep the vibrations high.”
The proximity of tragedy and celebration elicited memories of the 2012 Grammy Awards show that transpired a day after the death of pop-R&B superstar Whitney Houston, prompting that show’s host, rapper-actor LL Cool J, to deliver an opening prayer to address the grim reality.
Two other deaths inspired performances Sunday, including a multi-artist salute to slain rapper, entrepreneur and community activist Nipsey Hussle that featured John Legend, DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, Roddy Rich, Kirk Franklin & YG.
Another medley fronted by singer Usher commemorated the 40th anniversary of the arrival of musical polyglot Prince, who died at 57 nearly four years ago of an opioid overdose.
Rapper Tyler the Creator collected the rap album Grammy for “Igor,” a work many in the music community considered worthy of an overall album of the year nomination. In accepting the award, he thanked his mother, managers, friends and fans “for trusting my crazy ideas and putting up with my hyperactive energy.”
The Grammy awards, both during the evening telecast and the afternoon so-called Premiere Ceremony, at which the vast majority of winners in this year’s 84 categories were announced, were heavy on musicians saluting parents and other family members.
Eilish’s brother and collaborator, Finneas O’Connell, who produced and engineered her album as well as writing or co-writing many of the songs, paid homage to the family environment in L.A.’s Highland Park neighborhood, out of which her hit low-fi, homemade album emerged.
“This award belongs to my sister Billie for her trust and her vision,” Finneas said while picking up his non-classical producer of the year Grammy earlier in the day. He also expressed thanks to “My mom and dad [who] never told me to shut up while I played music in my room late at night while I learned how to master a kick drum.”
The show brought the first public performance of pop singer Demi Lovato’s new song “Anyone,” a stark cry for help that grew out of her struggle with alcohol abuse. After a false start from the mid-arena small stage, accompanied only by a pianist, Lovato took a second stab at her song that gives voice to a cry for help from one feeling powerless and alone: “I feel stupid when I pray/So, why am I praying anyway?/If nobody’s listening,” sounding like a sister in need to Lady Gaga’s character in “A Star Is Born.”
The shadow cast by Bryant’s death may also have pushed into the background any comments artists may have had in mind regarding the very public meltdown over the past 10 days between the Recording Academy that bestows the Grammy Awards and its ousted first female President and CEO, Deborah Dugan.
Even as late as Sunday morning, the academy issued a statement about initiatives it would be embracing in the days and weeks ahead at least tacitly responding to criticisms Dugan leveled after being placed on administrative leave and accused by one female academy employee of fomenting a ‘bullying” workplace environment during the five months since she took office on Aug. 1.
On Tuesday, Dugan’s lawyer filed a harassment and retaliation complaint against the academy with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, detailing in the filing her allegations of voting irregularities, financial mismanagement, self-dealing and conflicts of interest among some members of the academy’s board of directors and the powerful committees that select nominations in many Grammy categories.
But during both the evening and afternoon award distribution ceremonies, the music community largely stayed on message, recipients, presenters and performers sidestepping comments about the controversy and instead keeping the focus on their musical achievements.
Earlier, at the Grammy pre-telecast, veteran country singer Tanya Tucker, who collected the first Grammy of her long career for her project with singer-songwriters Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings, “While I’m Livin’,” named country album of the year. Tucker noted her previous 14 Grammy nominations without a win, dating to 1972 when she was first nominated for female country vocal for her breakthrough hit “Delta Dawn,” recorded when she was 13.
Nearly 50 years later, Tucker joined the winners’ circle, accompanied by Carlile and Jennings, who co-produced the album. Carlile also co-wrote the autobiographical closing track, “Bring My Flowers Now,” a song Tucker had started decades ago but never finished until Carlile and songwriters Phil and Tim Hanseroth helped her put the finishing touches on it while working together on the album.
Guitarist-singer-songwriter Gary Clark Jr. received three awards from his album “This Land,” named contemporary blues album of the year, while the title track took honors for both rock song (a songwriting award) and performance. Rapper R&B singer Anderson .Paak also collected two, as did gospel star Kirk Franklin.
No Grammys for Miller, Albany Symphony Orchestra
Conductor David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony Orchestra did not come away with Grammy Awards Sunday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Following are the nominees and winners in the two categories they were nominated in:
CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION:
WINNER: “Higdon: Harp Concerto” - Jennifer Higdon, composer (Yolanda Kondonassis, Ward Stare & The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra)
“Bermel: The Migration Series for Jazz Ensemble & Orchestra” - Derek Bermel, composer (Derek Bermel, Ted Nash, David Alan Miller, Juilliard Jazz Orchestra & Albany Symphony Orchestra)
“Marsalis: Violin Concerto in D Major” - Wynton Marsalis, composer (Nicola Benedetti, Cristian Macelaru & Philadelphia Orchestra)
“Norman: Sustain” - Andrew Norman, composer (Gustavo Dudamel & Los Angeles Philharmonic)
“Shaw: Orange” - Caroline Shaw, composer (Attacca Quartet)
“Wolfe: Fire in My Mouth” - Julia Wolfe, composer (Jaap Van Zweden, Francisco J. Núñez, Donald Nally, The Crossing, Young People’s Chorus Of NY City & New York Philharmonic)
CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO:
WINNER: “Marsalis: Violin Concerto; Fiddle Dance Suite” - Nicola Benedetti; Cristian Macelaru, conductor (Philadelphia Orchestra)
“The Berlin Recital” - Yuja Wang
“Higdon: Harp Concerto” - Yolanda Kondonassis; Ward Stare, conductor (The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra)
“The Orchestral Organ” - Jan Kraybill
“Torke: Sky, Concerto For Violin” - Tessa Lark; David Alan Miller, conductor (Albany Symphony)