Despite its chequered past of institutionalized misogyny — there was #GrammysSoMale, allegations of sexual misconduct, and a weird comment from its former CEO that female artists needed to “step up” — the 2021 ceremony was a transient night alive as an exception to the rule.
As protests against gender violence sweep countries like Britain, Australia, and more, there were historic victories at the 63rd Grammy Awards for an array of women who have been a part of the Global Citizen family for years, including Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Lady Gaga, H.E.R, and more.
The biggest awards of the night — for best album, record, song, and artist — all went to female artists: Swift, Eilish, H.E.R, and Megan Thee Stallion respectively. Indeed, Swift, performing a medley from an imaginary forest, became the first female artist to win the prize for best album three times, joining a club full of Adam's apples: Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, and Stevie Wonder.
Beyoncé became the most-awarded woman in Grammy history, winning best music video, best R&B performance, and featuring on the best rap song, Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” remix — who was the first woman to win in that category.
"As an artist, I believe it's my job to reflect the times, and it's been such a difficult time," Beyoncé said. "So I wanted to uplift, encourage, celebrate all of the beautiful Black queens and kings that continue to inspire me and inspire the world."
Lady Gaga, our partner in joy for One World: Together At Home, came home with the award for best pop collaboration for "Rain On Me", her duet with Ariana Grande. Billie Eilish, who helped launch our 2021 campaign “Recovery Plan for the World” in February, dedicated her best record gong to Megan Thee Stallion, while later winning best song written for visual media too.
Hosted by Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 host Trevor Noah, the Grammys was a night that encapsulated some rare moments of resistance on gender and race. Mickey Guyton, the only Black female country singer signed to a major record label, sang her Grammy-nominated song "Black Like Me", while Lil Baby’s performance of "The Bigger Picture" opened with a sequence that told the story of Rayshard Brooks, a Black man who was shot by Atlanta police in June 2020.
And almost a year on from the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the world, H.E.R — who has performed at Global Citizen Festival, Global Citizen Prize, and Together At Home — won best song for “I Can't Breathe”, a song written over FaceTime, dedicated to George Floyd.
"We are the change that we wish to see and you know that fight that we had in us the summer of 2020, keep that same energy,” H.E.R. said.
It’s notable to add that KAYTRANADA became the first Black artist to win best dance/electronic album, blindsiding commentators online who pointed out that his victory is decades on from the Black community literally inventing dance music. Skrillex has won the award three times.
Internationally, there were also celebrations for Burna Boy and Wizkid — two Nigerian stars who have found stunning global success. Burna Boy performed at One World: Together At Home too, while in 2018, Wizkid opened our first ever concert in Africa, Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100, in Johannesburg.
Elsewhere, Harry Styles brought “big boa energy” as he won best pop solo performance; Dua Lipa said it was “absolutely amazing” to see the “female empowerment” on show as women dominated the biggest awards; while Fiona Apple came out on top in two categories typically dominated by men, for best alternative album and best rock performance. For the first time, the latter category was entirely filled with nominations for female artists.
It might not have stolen the headlines, but this was perhaps the night’s most quietly powerful moment. Apple did not attend the ceremony, saying “I’m just not made for that kind of stuff anymore”. In 2020, she condemned the Grammys for inviting Kesha to sing her confessional survivor anthem “Praying” at the height of the #MeToo movement, while later nominating the music of her accused abuser, Dr. Luke, under a different name.
Apple insisted her absence was a matter of personal safety, not protest. Instead, she wished everyone well, and shared a petition around transparency in the US criminal justice system. At the moment that she won, she was reportedly fast asleep.
On a night that held up women who are making a difference in music, the recognition given to Apple, who did not want it, is telling. As the lights dimmed in Los Angeles, and more candles were lit in London, Apple’s activism continues. Beyond the stardust of the Grammys, how many more nights will belong to women in 2021?