Best and Worst Moments From the 2023 Grammys

The big news at the 65th annual Grammy Awards: Beyoncé broke the record for most wins in the event’s history. But her four victories didn’t come in the major, all-genre categories — album, record and song of the year. (Those went to Harry Styles, Lizzo and Bonnie Raitt.) Beyoncé, who led the night with nine nominations, did not perform; neither did Kendrick Lamar (eight nods) or Adele (seven). So how did the show fill nearly four hours of airtime? With some spectacular performances, bizarre fan moments and powerful speeches. Here are the show’s highlights and lowlights as we saw them.

Best Opening Salvo: Bad Bunny

Bad Bunny earned his spot at the start of the telecast by making the commercial juggernaut of 2022: “Un Verano Sin Ti,” the year’s most streamed album and a Billboard No. 1 album for 13 nonconsecutive weeks. His performance — a medley of “El Apagón” (“The Blackout”), a tribute to Puerto Rican culture amid adversity, and “Después de la Playa” (“After the Beach”), a come-on — was a carnival and a dance party. Over Afro-Caribbean bomba drumming, Bad Bunny paraded through the Arena aisle with a troupe of dancers, some carrying oversized heads of Puerto Rican figures including the songwriters Andy Montañez and Tego Calderón. When he brought his forces onstage, “Después de la Playa” was transformed from electronic pop to a brassy, galloping merengue that left the celebrities upfront no choice but to dance. JON PARELES

Best Acceptance: Kim Petras’s Moving Speech About Trans Existence

In her speech for best pop duo/group performance, Kim Petras thanked Sophie, a trans artist who died in 2021.Credit…Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Madonna may have oversold Sam Smith and Kim Petras’s relatively tepid performance of “Unholy” when she promised it would provide “controversy.” But Petras’s moving speech when she and Smith won best pop duo/group performance was far more radical. Smith blew Petras a kiss and graciously ceded the microphone because, as Petras then told the audience in a quivering voice, she had just become the first transgender woman to win this category. She thanked the trans artists who paved the way for her, most poignantly Sophie, the wildly creative electronic producer and artist who died two years ago, at 34: “I adore you and your inspiration will forever be in my music.” Petras also thanked her mother, memorably: “I grew up next to a highway in nowhere, Germany,” she said, “and my mother believed me, that I was a girl, and I wouldn’t be here without her and her support.” LINDSAY ZOLADZ

Best History Lesson: The Hip-Hop 50 Tribute

Performers from across the rap universe united for a special segment celebrating the genre’s 50th anniversary.Credit…Valerie Macon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Various chroniclers have agreed that 1973 was the dawn of hip-hop, making it a full 50 years old this year — old enough for the Grammys to finally treat it as a genre rather than an annoyance. That half-century point is also an occasion to start constructing a hip-hop canon. Given the constraints of time (12 minutes) and performer availability, Questlove produced a rough draft of a hip-hop chronology that was a cavalcade of dozens of performers onstage, most spitting a memorable line or verse, and a few — like a forthright Queen Latifah and a speed-tongued Busta Rhymes — getting more valuable seconds to show off. From Grandmaster Flash and Run-DMC to GloRilla and Lil Uzi Vert, it was a hip-hop Cliff’s Notes. (Jay-Z, who belongs in that canon, was reserved for a later appearance with DJ Khaled); it was a great way to start a discussion. And in 12 quick-changing minutes, the Grammys have probably multiplied their number of performing hip-hop acts. PARELES

Worst Three-peat: Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah had some groan-inducing moments as the Grammys host.Credit…Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

For a third consecutive year as Grammys host, Trevor Noah brought an arsenal of groan-worthy dad jokes. If his bits felt stale by the end of the first year, they were, dare we say, unholy the third time around. The Recording Academy needs to switch it up in 2024. Is Cardi B booked? Everyone in the audience seemed to know and like the Rock — why not give him a try? On the bright side, it can’t get much worse. ZOLADZ

Best Fashionably Late Entrance: Beyoncé Smiling and Nodding at Trevor Noah

Beyoncé made it to the Grammys after her first televised win of the night, but in time to accept the honor that gave her the record for the show’s most victories ever.Credit…Chris Pizzello/Invision, via Associated Press

When Noah delivered his cheesy opening remarks, joking about the stars in the room, Beyoncé was nowhere to be found (much to Lizzo’s consternation). Some time later, when Beyoncé won best R&B song, her third of four awards on the night — and first on the televised prime-time show — she still wasn’t in her seat. (The-Dream, one of her fellow writers, spent a few seconds onstage instead.) And when Noah, after blaming Los Angeles traffic, eventually did find Beyoncé at her table, bringing her the trophy she had won, the singer just nodded politely, giving him — and the show that would go on to both celebrate and disrespect her, again — basically nothing. By the time she did step to the microphone for a proper acceptance speech, having taken the all-time Grammy record and also opted not to perform, Beyoncé had made her priorities clear: She posted to Instagram about her Grammy wins before actually showing her face at the Grammys. JOE COSCARELLI

Worst Participation Trophy: The Useless Fan Segments

Superfans of the artists nominated for album of the year shared personal stories about their relationship with their idols’ music.Credit…CBS/Paramount+

Stan service gone wild was on full display during the misleading — and often humiliating — interstitial segments that showed (alleged) superfans of the 10 artists nominated for album of the year spouting P.R. talking points about their faves around a table and in the audience. If the Grammys has an optics problem, it’s that the public does not fully comprehend just who from the industry’s back rooms tends to vote for these peculiar winners, year after year. So acting like an everyday listener’s opinions about Harry Styles’s good looks, Lizzo’s body positivity or Bad Bunny’s domination on streaming services had anything to do with who was going to take home the prize was not only pointless propaganda, it actually hurt the Recording Academy’s cause by further fuzzying how the system works. Hopefully those people got paid. COSCARELLI

Best Tribute That Should Never Have Been Necessary: Quavo Remembering Takeoff

Quavo paid tribute to his Migos group mate and nephew, Takeoff.Credit…Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

The annual in memoriam segment is never short on tear-jerking moments, given the bonds that fans — and fellow musicians — have with their favorite artists. But seeing Quavo perform “Without You,” a tribute to his nephew and Migos group mate Takeoff, who was killed as an innocent bystander to a shooting in December, was almost too much. Seated at first, wearing a “Phantom of the Opera” mask, in the shadow of a microphone stand holding Takeoff’s glistening rocket chain, Quavo eventually stood up, hoisting the necklace skyward. Seeing him up there alone — even backed by the power of the Maverick City Music collective — only drove home how little we’ve seen the two rappers apart, ever. It will take some getting used to. COSCARELLI

Best Beyoncé Appreciation: Lizzo

Lizzo made her feelings about Beyoncé known during her acceptance speech for record of the year.Credit…Chris Pizzello/Invision, via Associated Press

In 2017, when Adele’s “25” triumphed over Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” for album of the year, the British musician announced, “I can’t possibly accept this award,” because the “artist of my life is Beyoncé.” The moment was both uncomfortably sincere and charged with larger tensions, namely the Grammys’ dire history of overlooking Black excellence in the major categories. It wasn’t quite Macklemore-apologizing-to-Kendrick awkward, but it was awkward nonetheless. Since then, beating Beyoncé has become a minefield. Lizzo managed to traverse it with elegance and flair, though, when her uplifting “About Damn Time” won record of the year. In a speech full of joy and grace, she thanked Beyoncé while also celebrating herself and enjoying her moment. Through tears, Lizzo recalled skipping school in 5th grade to see a Beyoncé concert, addressing her idol directly: “The way you made me feel, I was like, I wanna make people feel this way with my music.” But — whether inadvertently or winkingly — she did end up paraphrasing Adele, saying to Beyoncé what now seem to be the magic words: “You clearly are the artist of our lives.” ZOLADZ

Best Agenda Transcendence: Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder performed three songs during the prime-time Grammy ceremony.Credit…Chris Pizzello/Invision, via Associated Press

Any performance by Stevie Wonder is an occasion, even one that’s overloaded with guests and agendas. Berry Gordy, Motown’s founder, and Smokey Robinson, the songwriter and longtime Motown executive, were the persons of the year at the Grammys’ MusiCares gala this year. So with Grammy logic, Wonder’s segment became a Motown tribute — the first one since all way back in, well, 2019. Add a dynastic element; Wonder’s first guest, WanMor, is a boy band formed by the sons of Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men. They shared a Temptations hit co-written by Robinson, “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” Robinson himself joined Wonder for a song they wrote together (along with Hank Cosby), “The Tears of a Clown”; then Wonder performed his own “Higher Ground” with the country hitmaker Chris Stapleton, and the music finally took off. Stapleton brought a blues-rock earthiness to his vocal and guitar lines, and Wonder tossed a synthesizer counterpoint at him that made him grin and dig in harder — a real jam. PARELES

Best Graceful Shocked Reaction: Bonnie Raitt

Bonnie Raitt told the story of her Grammy-winning track “Just Like That” as she accepted her award for song of the year.Credit…Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

It’s no wonder that Bonnie Raitt, who had just joined a memorial for Christine McVie singing “Songbird,” was surprised when the Grammys chose “Just Like That” as song of the year. She is one of the mature singers and songwriters who have been relegated to formats like “Americana” and “Legacy.” But Raitt had learned from the best — notably John Prine — how to tell a sad but uplifting story with a voice and a small band. Some proportion of Grammy voters — enough to lift her into a plurality above Beyoncé and Adele — obviously recognized the combination of passion and terse craftsmanship. PARELES

Worst Face-Saving Maneuvers: Televised Categories

Bad Bunny won best música urbana album, an award that is not usually televised on the main Grammys show. Credit…Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Like a nervous baseball manager, the Grammys have lately been re-examining their stats — particularly for representation of minorities, women and marginalized groups, who happen to be the loci of innovation in music. It may have seemed odd that some categories usually relegated to Grammy Premiere Ceremony — where the vast majority of awards are presented as a webcast but not as a prime-time telecast — had arrived on the main Grammy stage. But look what they were. One was música urbana album, way down at Category 43; it gave a prime-time award, finally, to Bad Bunny. (But the main telecast should have had English subtitles when he switched to his more comfortable Spanish.) And the dance/electronic music album category? Congratulations to Beyoncé for breaking the Grammy record for most awards. But in the top categories, where she has belonged for multiple releases, she still hasn’t gotten her due. PARELES

Worst Instance of Gravity Holding Him Back: Harry Styles

Harry Styles was a big winner at the podium, but gave a lackluster performance on the Grammys stage.Credit…Valerie Macon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The usually preternaturally spunky Styles was curiously low energy throughout his performance of “As It Was” Sunday night, hardly selling himself as the sort of entertainer who sells out 15 nights at Madison Square Garden. Several singers seemed to be having issues with their in-ear monitors, and Styles visibly adjusted his a few times, but that still doesn’t explain the curious sluggishness of his time onstage. It certainly didn’t help justify his album of the year win to the skeptics, either. ZOLADZ

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