LOS ANGELES — The 62nd annual Grammy Awards anointed a new star in Billie Eilish, even as the mood Sunday night, Jan. 26, was darkened by the death earlier that day of basketball great Kobe Bryant, who spent much of his NBA career playing at the Staples Center, the arena where the show was held.
Eilish, an 18-year-old auteur with a moody and idiosyncratic aesthetic, won five awards, including the four most prestigious and competitive prizes — album, record and song of the year, and best new artist. She was the first artist to sweep the top awards since Christopher Cross in 1981, besting competition from Lizzo, Lil Nas X, Ariana Grande and others.
“Bad Guy,” a No. 1 hit, took record and song of the year — the latter prize recognizes songwriting — while “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” won album of the year as well as best pop vocal album.
When accepting the award for best new artist, Eilish recognized the fans — even other artists’ fans, who, she said, would surely be dogging her for years.
“I love all fandoms,” she said. “You guys make this worth it.”
Finneas O’Connell, her brother, accepting with her for song of the year, noted that they record together in a bedroom in their family home. “This is to all the kids that are making music in their bedroom today,” he said, holding the trophy. “You’re going to get one of these.”
Finneas, as he is known, also won producer of the year and an engineering award.
Lizzo and Alicia Keys set a mournful and celebratory tone right from the start of the show, with both addressing Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash.
“Tonight is for Kobe,” Lizzo announced as the show began, and went straight into a bold, full-throated medley of her songs “Cuz I Love You” and “Truth Hurts,” backed up by a miniorchestra and surrounded by ballerinas with otherworldly lights in their tutus.
Keys, the host for the night, then walked solemnly to the stage and said softy, “Here we are together, on music’s biggest night, celebrating the artists that do it best, but to be honest with you we’re all feeling crazy sadness right now.”
“We’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built,” Keys went on to say. Keys then invited members of the group Boyz II Men to the stage and sang part of their elegiac song “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” with them.
Lizzo, a charismatic and outspoken performer who had worked in obscurity for almost a decade before her breakout last year, won three awards, but all in lesser categories. “Truth Hurts,” her breakthrough track, won best pop solo performance, while “Jerome” won traditional R&B performance and the deluxe version of her album “Cuz I Love You” took urban contemporary album.
Lil Nas X, a gleeful master of internet memes, won two for his “country-trap” hybrid “Old Town Road”: best pop duo/group performance and best music video.
Well before Bryant’s death, a degree of anxiety had hung over the Grammys, after the recent removal of the head of the Recording Academy, the organization behind the awards — a clash that brought out accusations of vote-rigging and sexual harassment and criticisms of not enough progress on the academy’s stated goals of becoming more diverse and inclusive.
Keys seemed to obliquely allude to those issues — and more — in a speech and piano medley in which she played with the lyrics to Lewis Capaldi’s ballad “Someone You Loved” (a nominee for song of the year). “It’s been a hell of a week, damn,” she said, twinkling chords on the piano. “This is a serious one. Real talk — there’s a lot going on.”
She added, “It’s time for newness. We refuse the negative energy, we refuse the old systems.” She also took aim at President Donald Trump, saying he should be replaced by Bronx singer-rapper Cardi B.
There were other nods to Grammy controversies. After Tyler, the Creator won the trophy for best rap album for “Igor,” an ambitious and genre-defying album, he said he was grateful for the honor but that the categorizing of his music as rap still felt like a “backhanded compliment.”
“Whenever we — and I mean guys that look like me — do anything that’s genre-bending or anything, they always put it in a rap or urban category,” Tyler said backstage. “When I hear that I’m like, ‘Why can’t we just be in pop?’”
Hours before the show, the news of Bryant’s death led to gasps in the press room at the Staples Center, where championship banners Bryant helped the Los Angeles Lakers win hang from the building’s rafters, along with his jerseys. Flags outside the arena were lowered to half-staff as preparations for the event continued.
All but nine of the Grammys’ 84 awards were given out before the broadcast, in a separate “premiere” ceremony that was plagued by celebrity absences — but also featured nonstars celebrating how a Grammy can be a career-defining moment.
Early prizes were sprinkled among Lizzo, Eilish, Lil Nas X, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. Lizzo won two prizes: urban contemporary album for the deluxe version of “Cuz I Love You” and traditional R&B performance in the song “Jerome.” (She won another, best pop solo performance for “Truth Hurts,” during the telecast.) Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” won best pop/duo group performance in its remix with the country star Billy Ray Cyrus.
Beyoncé’s concert special “Homecoming” won best music film. Michelle Obama won best spoken word album for the audio version of her book “Becoming.”
Gary Clark Jr., a guitarist adored by critics and rock and blues purists, won three awards. His album “This Land” took best contemporary blues album, while the title track from that release won best rock song and best rock performance.
The early ceremony featured some landmarks. Gloria Gaynor, the disco diva who won in 1980 for her anthem “I Will Survive,” took home her first award since then — best roots gospel album, for “Testimony.”
Tracy Young became the first woman to win the best remixed recording category for a version of Madonna’s “I Rise.” “We’ve shattered the glass ceiling together,” Young said when accepting the award. “I proudly accept this on behalf of all female producers who have been overlooked.”
Tanya Tucker, the 61-year-old country singer, won the first Grammys of her career, taking best country album for “While I’m Livin’,” her first release in a decade, and best country song for “Bring My Flowers Now.”
Nipsey Hussle, the rapper who died last March at 33, won his first Grammy for “Racks in the Middle,” which took best rap performance. Family members spoke, including his grandmother, who said: “I wanted to thank all of you for showing all the love that I have felt for him all of his life and will always live in my heart. So thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Hussle was celebrated during the telecast in a performance segment that included Kirk Franklin, DJ Khaled, John Legend, Meek Mill, Roddy Ricch and YG.
This year’s event, featuring a fresh crop of stars competing for the top awards, was supposed to represent “a new era for the Recording Academy,” one that would be more attuned to pop’s current pulse after years of bruising criticism over the Grammys’ poor record in recognizing women and artists of color in the major categories.
That “new era” statement was made just two months ago, when nominations were announced, by Deborah Dugan, the academy’s new chief executive. She had been telegraphed as the bold new leader the Grammys needed, and came armed with an unsparing critique of the academy’s record on diversity by Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff, the Time’s Up leader Tina Tchen.
But just 10 days ago, Dugan was removed from her position, stunning the industry and plunging the normally cheery pre-Grammys week into mudslinging and chaos that threatened to overshadow the event itself.
Dugan claimed in a 44-page complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that she had been retaliated against for uncovering misconduct including sexual harassment, vote rigging and rampant conflicts of interest. The academy, in turn, said that an assistant had complained about a toxic and bullying work environment, and that Dugan had demanded a $22 million payoff to leave quietly, a charge Dugan has denied.
Before the statement from Keys during the show, one of the few public comments from a major industry figure came Saturday night from hip-hop mogul Diddy.
Accepting an award at Clive Davis’ glamorous annual pre-Grammys party, Diddy avoided mentioning Dugan by name but criticized the academy for its failure to recognize hip-hop artists of color in the top categories. Over the past decade, for example, just one nonwhite artist — Bruno Mars — has won album of the year.
“Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys; black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be,” Diddy said.
He added, “You’ve got 365 days’ notice to get this (expletive) together.”
Tyler, the Creator’s two-song segment began with Boyz II Men and R&B singer Charlie Wilson harmonizing to Tyler’s song “Earfquake,” done as an old-fashioned doo-wop set piece, complete with the singers surrounding a burning barrel. For “New Magic Wand,” Tyler shifted into a surrealistic scene in which a troupe of dancers — all dressed like him, in asymmetric suits and platinum pageboy wigs — walked to the stage and moshed violently as Tyler screamed with distortion.
As Bryant’s fans mourned him and his 13-year-old daughter, the father-daughter relationship found poignant expression in Camila Cabello’s song “First Man.” First singing it while home videos showed her as a young girl with her father, Alejandro, Cabello then walked to him in the front row, serenading him as he dabbed away tears.
In classic Grammy fashion, the show also dripped with nostalgia, much of it with little explanation to a viewer from outside the music business. Aerosmith played “Walk This Way” with Run-DMC. (Aerosmith had headlined a Grammy charity event two nights before.) Prince was celebrated by Usher, Sheila E. and FKA Twigs in a Vegas-like spectacle. (CBS is taping a Prince special on Tuesday.) And the show stretched past its scheduled running time with a re-creation of the ensemble song “I Sing the Body Electric” from the 1980 movie “Fame.” Ehrlich, the producer, began his association with the show that year, and this year is to be his farewell.