Beyoncé and Taylor Swift Set Records as Women Sweep Grammys
Beyonce is the female artist with the most Grammy wins. (Picture Courtesy: Recording Academy Instagram Account)

Beyoncé and Taylor Swift Set Records as Women Sweep Grammys

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Beyoncé and Taylor Swift broke records at the Grammys Sunday and four different female artists swept the top prizes, marking one of the biggest nights yet for women at the music industry’s annual award show.

Swift won album of the year for her 2020 release “Folklore,” becoming the first woman to get that prize three times. She joins three male performers -- Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder -- in that distinction. Beyoncé set the record for most prizes ever won by a female act with 28, eclipsing Alison Krauss. Her Grammys on Sunday included best R&B performance.

“As an artist, I believe it’s my job -- and all of our jobs -- to reflect the times,” Beyoncé said when receiving the award for best R&B performance for her song “Black Parade.” “I wanted to uplift, encourage and celebrate all the beautiful Black kings and queens that continue to inspire me.”

The 63rd annual Grammys, held in Los Angeles by the Recording Academy and broadcast on CBS, had to reinvent the format to account for health and safety protocols. Emcee Trevor Noah hosted the event from a podium outside the Staples Center, the show’s usual site, while artists performed in an enclosed space nearby.

Like other award shows in the Covid-19 era, the telecast suffered a steep drop in viewer ratings. In fact, its audience was about half what it was last year, falling to a record low, according to Nielsen data. CBS said Monday that the show attracted almost 9 million viewers when streaming is included.

Grammy Award categoryWinner
Album of the yearTaylor Swift, “Folklore”
Song of the yearH.E.R., “I Can’t Breathe”
Record of the yearBillie Eilish, “Everything I Wanted”
Best new artistMegan Thee Stallion

The Recording Academy has struggled in the past to book acts that appealed to the show’s aging audience. The producers made little attempt to do that this year, presenting a who’s who of young and global stars, including BTS, Post Malone and Megan Thee Stallion. They introduced each of the record-of-the-year nominees with brief biographical videos interspersed throughout the show.

Megan Thee Stallion, a rapper from Houston, scored a No. 1 hit with “Savage” last year and won the statuette for best new artist. She also shared a prize with Beyoncé for best rap song.

Much as the Grammys tried to favor the new, the event leaned on familiar ground with its two biggest prizes: record of the year and album of the year. Billie Eilish, the teenager who swept the top four prizes last year, won record of the year for the second time in a row. She promptly dedicated her win to Megan Thee Stallion. “You deserve this,” she said. “You had a year that is untoppable. You are a queen.”

Swift’s latest album, “Folklore,” was a return to form after the tepid critical reception to her previous album, “Lover.” Released in July of last year, the album debuted atop the charts and ended the year as one of the year’s bestsellers. It also earned Swift some of the best reviews of her career.

Swift, 31, has spent recent years advocating for artists’ rights -- specifically, performers’ rights to own their music. She has been locked in a dispute with Big Machine, the record label that signed her as a teenager, over control of her first six albums.

The Recording Academy, meanwhile, has faced criticism in the past for failing to nominate and showcase female talent and people of color. In 2018, the organization nominated just one woman -- Lorde -- for album of the year, and didn’t invite her to perform on her own. When asked about the imbalance, Recording Academy chief Neil Portnow told women to “step up,” further inflaming critics. Portnow has since stepped down.

While the Recording Academy has sought to address these concerns in recent years, a study issued by the University of Southern California last week underscored the music industry’s gender imbalance. Female artists made just 22% of the top 100 songs released each year between 2012 and 2020, and women accounted for a much smaller share of producers and songwriters.

The Grammys took steps this year to make sure it wouldn’t face criticism, seeking more diversity in performances and nominations, which led to a parade of female winners.

“We hear the cries for diversity and pleas for representation,” Harvey Mason Jr., president of the Recording Academy, said during the show.

Beyoncé was the most-nominated act of the night, with nine. Yet for all her success and nominations, the Grammys have never given her the prize for record of the year or album of the year. (She won top song in 2010.) At the 2017 event, Adele dedicated her prize for album of the year to Beyoncé, who she felt was the deserving winner.

Other prominent Black artists have steered clear of the event. In 2019, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino and Drake all opted not to attend the show, where Childish Gambino won both record of the year and song of the year. The Weeknd, who released one of the most popular albums of the past year, said he would boycott the show after the academy didn’t nominate him for any awards.

The event’s Covid-19 accommodations made for some awkward moments Sunday. Because the awards were accepted outside, the sound of a car driving by interrupted Megan Thee Stallion’s acceptance speech. In other categories, Miranda Lambert picked up the Grammy for best country album for “Wildcard” and Harry Styles won best pop solo performance for “Watermelon Sugar.”

Rapper Lil Baby addressed systemic racism during his performance, which began with two police officers pulling over actor Kendrick Sampson, an outspoken activist, and culminated in a protest. R&B singer-songwriter H.E.R. took song-of-the-year honors for “I Can’t Breathe,” the title of which is a callout to one of the defining chants of the modern civil rights movement.

“We are the change we wish to see,” H.E.R. said when accepting the award. “That fight we had in us the summer of 2020, keep that same energy.”

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