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Teen pop phenom Olivia Rodrigo and R&B duo Silk Sonic topped the major categories, and Jon Batiste won album of the year at the 64th annual Grammys — a three-and-a-half-hour mega gig that mostly eschewed politics or the pandemic, except for a virtual message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and a moving tribute to the victims of the Russian invasion.

A week after one of the most chaotic Oscars in recent memory — in which Will Smith slapped Chris Rock onstage — the Grammys seemed to be reveling in his technical mastery and lack of controversy. “We’re going to listen to music, we’re going to dance, we’re going to sing, we’re going to keep people’s names out of our mouths,” host Trevor Noah said in his opening monologue, acknowledging the elephant at the MGM Grand Garden. Arena in Las Vegas.

“Don’t even think of it as an awards show,” said Noah, who returned to the Grammys stage after hosting last year’s Covid ceremony. “It’s a concert where we give awards.”

Indeed, after years of controversy over the recording academy’s lack of diversity, hip-hop recognition, or inclusion of female artists, the 2022 Grammys focused primarily on music, with just nine TV awards in what was essentially a two-year revue in popular music.

Noah acted like a kind and enthusiastic hype-man with a handful of light-hearted jokes about Covid vaccines (last year “people were getting shots, but it was more Moderna and Pfizer”) and NFT (“You know that It’s been tough when your favorite artists go from trying to sell you music to trying to sell you digital monkey pictures.”)

He struck a more serious note halfway through the ceremony, introducing Zelenskiy: “Even in the darkest times, music has the power to lift your spirits and give you hope for a brighter future. There is no one who could use a little hope right now more than the Ukrainian people. »

Ukrainian president appears in video message at Grammys 2022 – video

In a pre-filmed video, a visibly hoarse Zelenskiy presented the music as an embodiment of peace and freedom. “War. What could be more opposed to music?” he said. “The silence of ruined cities and slain people. Our children draw dive rockets, not shooting stars.

“War does not let us choose who survives and who remains in eternal silence,” he continued. “Our musicians wear bulletproof vests instead of tuxedos. They sing for the wounded in the hospitals, even for those who can’t hear them. But the music will break through anyway.

Zelenskiy praised his compatriots (“We defend our freedom. To live. To love. To ring. On our land we fight against Russia which brings horrible silence with its bombs. silence with your music! Fill it in today to tell our story”) and urged Grammy viewers to publicly support Ukraine. “I dream they live,” he said of the people Ukrainian. “And free. Free like you on the Grammy stage.

The message served as an introduction to a performance by Free’s John Legend, along with Ukrainian musicians Mika Newton and Siuzanna Iglidan, and Ukrainian poet Lyuba Yakimchuk.

In his second year as executive producer of the Grammys, taking over after Ken Ehrlich’s 40-year tenure, Ben Winston has mostly allowed individual artists to shine. Rodrigo, who won Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Album for Sour, sang his hit record Drivers License while driving a vintage Mercedes, complete with a full set of American suburban streets.

Brandi Carlile drew a standing ovation for Right on Time, a lyrical ballad of regret and second chances. New York rap legend Nas — “your rapper’s favorite rapper,” as Noah put it — performed a medley of hits (and also drew a standing ovation from the crowd, including Lil Nas X). Lady Gaga has paid tribute to her longtime friend and collaborator, Tony Bennett, who retired from live performances last year at the age of 95 on the orders of a doctor (Bennett lives with the disease of Alzheimer’s for several years, he revealed). Jon Batiste, the night’s most nominated artist with 11 nods, kicked off a light-hearted retro-futuristic performance of Freedom with a dramatic and highly lit piano solo.

Grammy Awards 2022: Olivia Rodrigo wins big and Ukrainian Zelenskiy makes an appearance |  Grammy Awards 2022
Jon Batiste at the Grammys. Photograph: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

In a conscious nod to the Academy’s reputational issues – which has led artists such as The Weeknd and Frank Ocean to snub the awards entirely – new president Harvey Mason Jr promised “to the new Recording Academy, we let’s serve the music” in a video message. The show celebrated live music producers — the behind-the-scenes workers who helped bring live concerts back from pandemic shutdowns — by inviting some to feature their artists. Road tour manager Misha Hedman Mayes introduced her, whom she’s known since the R&B star was just 11. Wardrobe manager Joan Lee introduced her collaborator and boss, Carrie Underwood, who won Best Roots Gospel Album for My Savior. Tour manager Nicole Massey, who shouted out to all ‘women on tour’, set the stage for ‘the best 20-year-old boss in the world’, Billlie Eilish, who performed a rainy rendition of Happier Than Ever. Eilish’s brother/producer Finneas accompanied her on guitar, wearing a shirt honoring Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, who died suddenly aged 50 last week while on tour in Colombia.

Noah also recognized Hawkins, who was supposed to perform with the Foo Fighters at the ceremony. The memory kicked off the night’s In Memoriam segment; Dear Evan Hansen star Ben Platt, Wicked’s Cynthia Erivo, Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr and West Side Story’s Rachel Zegler sang a medley of songs by the late musical theater titan Stephen Sondheim, who died last November at 91.

Grammy Awards 2022: Olivia Rodrigo wins big and Ukrainian Zelenskiy makes an appearance |  Grammy Awards 2022
“It’s a big deal,” said Doja Cat, who won Best Pop Duo Performance with SZA. Photography: Steve Marcus/Reuters

Amidst all the music, there was a handful of light talk. “I’ve never peed so fast in my entire life,” said Doja Cat, who apparently rushed from the bathroom to the stage to accept the award for best pop duo performance with SZA, for Kiss Mr More. “I like to minimize shit,” she tearfully said, “but this is a big deal.”

Silk Sonic, aka Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, took the stage for record and song of the year. “We’re really trying our best to stay humble at this point,” Anderson .Paak joked. “Drinks are on Silk Sonic tonight!”

Jon Batiste closed the evening with a fitting celebration of music for album of the year. “I believe deeply in this: there is no better musician, better artist, better dancer, better actor,” he said. “Creative arts are subjective and they reach people at a time in their lives when they need it most.”

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