When at the end of show, Swift’s “Midnights” was named album of the year — her fourth time winning the top prize, a record — she brought Lana Del Rey onstage and, in essence, urged the Grammys to recalibrate its relationship to Del Rey’s work: “I think she’s a legacy artist, a legend and in her prime right now.” (Del Rey also works frequently with Jack Antonoff, Swift’s primary producer.)
But perhaps no Grammy winner or performer moved more blithely through the night than Miley Cyrus, pop’s most chameleonic star. When she performed “Flowers,” she razzed the seemingly sleepy audience: “Why are you acting like you don’t know this song?” When “Flowers” won best pop solo performance, Cyrus requested Mariah Carey, who presented the award and is not prone to sharing spotlights, remain beside her for her speech. When “Flowers” won record of the year, Cyrus averred, “This award is amazing, but I really hope that it doesn’t change anything, because my life was beautiful yesterday.” Before she left the stage, she joked about going without underwear.
These are the gestures of performers certain of their place, fully at home, and certain that nothing untoward could displace them. Eilish, by now a Grammy perennial, at least sheepishly drew attention to the awkwardness of her persistent winning, exulting, “Damn, that’s stupid, guys.” Her brother, Finneas, underscored the point with modesty: “We just continue to be just deeply, deeply privileged, lucky people.”
If the chasm between those whom the Grammys embraces and those on less steady footing weren’t clear enough, not long before the beginning of the main telecast, video began circulating on X of the politically outspoken rapper Killer Mike being led away from the ceremony in handcuffs. He was arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery following an apparent altercation after he won his three awards during the preshow. (He has since been released from police custody, his lawyer told Variety.)
In time, Killer Mike’s arrest will likely be remembered as yet another ungainly pressure point on the Grammys’ often toxic relationship with hip-hop — last year’s multi-artist 50th anniversary extravaganza notwithstanding — along with the protests Jay-Z mentioned in his speech, and the outspoken rap stars who have effectively declared that the Grammys aren’t worth their time. Drake, one of those stars, posted on Instagram Sunday night, “Congrats to anybody winning anything for hip-hop but this show doesn’t dictate [expletive] in our world.”
As for Jay-Z, when he returned to his table, he took his all-black statue and reoriented it sideways, giving it a fitting and lightly disrespectful spin as a cup. He poured a couple of fingers of D’ussé cognac into it, and took a few leisurely sips. Last year, he sold his controlling stake in that company to Bacardi for a reported $750 million. Hip-hop made him a superstar, and also a billionaire, and also a high-level agitator, laurels be damned. The ultimate sign of feeling at home in any room is being unafraid to say how it needs to be rearranged.