This year’s Grammy awards was designed to mirror the surreality we have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic — not for aesthetic reasons, but out of necessity. Isolation, social distancing, face masks, and cowering in fear when we hear a cough, these are all things we have had to deal with in the last year and so we see a reflection of our struggles in the ongoing awards season.
The ceremony was socially distanced in downtown Los Angeles, and Trevor Noah of The Daily Show hosted it. It featured performances by Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, Harry Styles, and others. The winners were the usual suspects: Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish (she’s becoming a usual now), and Megan Thee Stallion, who won Best New Artist. Beyonce set a record for being the female artist with the most amount of Grammy trophies — she can now boast 28 awards under her belt.
Trevor Noah’s speech was as endearing as a speech riddled with corny jokes can be: “Tonight is going to be the biggest outdoor event this year besides the storming of the Capitol.” He had a tough crowd, or probably didn’t have one at all, come to think of it. Despite the difficult circumstances, all the performers delivered their best.
In homage to memorable moments that have happened throughout the years at the Grammys, we decided to take a look at the ten most iconic moments to ever happen at the event.
The 10 most iconic moments in Grammys history
Lady Gaga (2011)
One of the more extravagant entrances happened at the 2011 Grammys when Lady Gaga entered the stage inside an egg. According to Billboard, Gaga said, “Two days before the performances, I changed everything. I felt so bad because Haus of Gaga was red-eyed and up all night.” She came on to perform her anthem for freaks, ‘Born This Way’.
The idea behind her outfits that she and her team of dancers wore, “was inspired by humanoids…alien sex humanoid hybrid woman,” Lady Gaga said. If the master performer has stated anything, it’s that there is still very much a place for theatrics within the realm of performing music.
There is no better place than to do it at the Grammys.
Kendrick Lamar (2016)
The rapper came onto the stage at the 2016 Grammys in an equally awe-inspiring and groundbreaking performance of ‘The Blacker The Berry’ in a chain gang with fellow prison inmates. Lamar’s fulmination of inherent racism being perpetuated through institutional injustice is, as Lamar decants, no different from the slavery of his ancestors.
His next song in the performance was ‘Alright’ and the theatrics (more like a diatribe) took the audience to another spectacle of cultural stereotypes coupled with ancestral heritage, as a tribal setting kicked in. The denouement of the performance culminated in a picture of the map of Africa with the word ‘Compton’ written across it.
It is this kind of blow against the empire — when a performer can express his dissident disobedience to a mass audience — that makes the Grammys more revolutionary and, therefore, evolves the program.
Michael Jackson (1984)
In 1984, Michael Jackson set a record at the Grammys when he won a total of eight Grammys in one night, truly earning the title of ‘King of Pop’. At the time he had also set the record for being the youngest artist to do so. This record would eventually be broken by Adele when she won six Grammys at the age of 23.
Jackson was only 25 at the time. He won Record of the Year for ‘Beat It’, and Album of the Year for Thriller. He also won Best Vocal Performance awards in three fields: Pop with Thriller, Rock with ‘Beat It’, and R&B with ‘Billie Jean’. On top of all that, he shared an award for Producer of the Year with Quincy Jones.
Eminem and Elton John (2001)
In a symbolic act of unification and a pro-active approach to tearing down walls of divisions created by misperception — Elton John, who is openly gay, joined Eminem on stage for a performance of ‘Stan’, the third single of Slim Shady’s third album, The Marshall Mathers LP.
The album had come out in 2000 and propelled Eminem to further stardom. It goes without saying, with that kind of platform, one ought to be cautious of how one delivers a message. The rapper received a lot of pushback when he made seemingly homophobic remarks. Eminem’s performance, whether he was made to or not, was an apology made in good faith and a powerful one at that.
Jethro Tull and Metallica (1989)
Now and then, an act comes in and steals away an award that was supposed to go to someone else. Is that really the case, though? Is someone really that entitled to an award? Either way, it makes for great television when faces of disappointment are drawn on the silver screen.
In 1989, the Grammys introduced a new category: Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Recording. In what was one of the most astounding moves in the history of the Grammys, the progressive rock band, which utilises a flute as its main instrument, Jethro Tull, walked away with the award.
They simultaneously beat out Metallica, Iggy Pop, Jane’s Addiction, and others. Everyone was so sure that Metallica would win that year that the snub has now gone down in history.
Jon Stewart (2002)
Political commentator and host of the 2002 Grammys, Jon Stewart, took it to the extreme when he walked out on stage with nothing but his boxers on. When the event started, Stewart began walking out on stage through a simulation of a metal detector that the TSA uses at airports. This stunt turned into actors strip-searching Stewart. It was an obvious dig at Airport security that had been drastically heightened following the ‘War on Terror’.
“Remember those days when security was tight because Eminem was going to duet with Elton John?” Stewart quipped. He continued, “stop dressing me with your eyes.”
Whether it was slightly uncalled for or not, it didn’t really matter; these were the days when a performance at an event like the Grammys was dramatic, hyperbolic and downright audacious.
Beyonce and Tina Turner (2008)
Sometimes a performance at the Grammys doesn’t have to be outrageous or audacious for it to be iconic. Sometimes, it is just a beautiful pairing of two of the best pop singers in the history of music.
It’s a wonderful thing when a performer as powerful as Beyonce gets to join forces and pay homage to an idol of hers, such as Tina Turner.
It was Tina Turner’s show and invited Beyonce on for a rendition of a song that Turner made completely her own when it first came out, ‘Proud Mary’. They are both powerhouse performers, and it was a celebration of generational and cultural influence.
Bob Dylan (1998)
During the 1998 Grammys, Bob Dylan won three Grammy awards: Best Album of the Year and Best Contemporary Folk Album for his record, Time out of Mind; he also won Best Rock Vocal Performance for his song, ‘Cold Irons Bound’. Dylan performed ‘Love Sick’ that night, but before he finished, he was joined by an extra unexpected guest.
The performance artist, Michael Portnoy, called soy milk “dense, transformational, explosive life,” which was the explanation he gave when he wrote the words ‘Soy Bomb’ on his bare chest.
He interrupted Dylan’s performance by breaking away from the rest of the backing dancers to perform a convulsive, wiggling routine. Dylan, in his usual cold fashion, remained bizarrely indifferent. Portnoy was promptly removed.
In a show of fearlessness and female empowerment, M.I.A took the stage at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards in 2009 along with fellow rappers Jay-Z, Kanye West, T.I, and Lil’ Wayne, when she was due to give birth — that day. Regardless of her being pregnant or not, many thought that M.I.A. stole the show that night.
Her performance had definitely gone down in the history of the Grammys as one of the most iconic moments in the history of the awards show. It was simultaneously bizarre but nevertheless a brilliant performance.
This was another case of a very unexpected win when Beck took home a Grammy for Best Album of the Year, when he beat out a couple of mainstays of the pop dynasty. Both Beyonce or Sam Smith were expected to win that year, instead, Beck’s beautifully haunting, Morning Phase, won.
Beck also won Best Rock Album of the Year. The stand-out track of the album, ‘Blue Moon’ was nominated for Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song. ‘Blue Moon’ ended up topping the ‘Middle of the Road’ charts at number one when it was released.