The Grammys celebrate music old and new

Tracy Chapman on stage at the 2024 Grammys sings her 1988 hit “Fast Car” with country singer Luke Combs, who recorded a popular cover of the song last year and spoke about his lo. // Photo courtesy of AP Photo

On Sunday night, artists from around the globe gathered together at Arena in Los Angeles to celebrate the best musicians of 2023 at the 66th Grammys. In keeping with the other major awards shows this year, the night was surprisingly seamless, with no major controversies distracting from a year of historic wins.

The headline of the ceremony — shocking no one — was Taylor Swift. Early on, Swift handedly won Best Pop Vocal Album, taking the stage and announcing, “I want to say thank you to the fans by telling you a secret that I’ve been keeping from you the last two years, which is that my brand-new album comes out April 19th. It’s called ‘The Tortured Poets Department.’” It would not be her last time on stage, either. She also won the highly contested Album of the Year award over boygenius and Olivia Rodrigo, making her the record-holder for most career Album of the Year wins. 

Other artists had big nights as well. Victoria Monét won Best New Artist, and Billie Eilish won Song of the Year for “What Was I Made For.” SZA was the night’s most nominated artist with nine nominations, and she won Best R&B Song. Despite her wins, some felt that her Album of the Year loss to Taylor Swift was a snub. 

“I could have left with nothing, and I didn’t, and I’m grateful. My parents got to see it and I didn’t bomb on live television, and that was so scary. And I faced some really big fears and I’m just happy that it all went well, genuinely, and I’m happy for everybody,” SZA said afterwards.

Miley Cyrus, on the other hand, won her first career Grammy, Best Pop Solo Performance for the song “Flowers.” Later in the night, “Flowers” also won
Record of the Year. 

“This award is amazing, but I really hope that it doesn’t change anything — because my life was beautiful yesterday,” Cyrus said. “Thank you all so much. I don’t think I forgot anyone, but I might have forgotten underwear.” Cyrus performed the song live during the show. 

It was the veteran live performers, though, who stole the show. Luke Combs, who recently covered Tracy Chapman’s 1988 hit “Fast Car,” performed the song live with Chapman, who had made very few public appearances since her last tour in 2009. 

It was a palpably emotional rendition, ending with Combs bowing to Chapman and the duo receiving a standing ovation from the crowd. In 1989, Chapman closed the Grammys with the same song. 

Billy Joel took to the stage, too, debuting his first new song in 17 years, “Turn The Lights Back On,” before playing his classic track off the album “Glass Houses,” “You May Be Right.” 

One of the show’s most powerful moments was Joni Mitchell’s first-ever Grammys performance. The 80-year-old folk singer beautifully sang one of her early songs, “Both Sides Now” with Brandi Carlile. It was even more remarkable of a performance given that Mitchell suffered a recent stroke, forcing her to relearn how to walk. 

Yet the live acts weren’t all older artists. Younger stars like Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo gave stirring performances, with Eilish playing her award-winning song “What Was I Made For,” which was nominated for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards, as well. Rodrigo did a memorable rendition of “Vampire,” which lost Song of the Year to Eilish. 

Notably, the vast majority of winners and nominees of the night were women, a stark contrast to years past. Former president of the Recording Academy Neil Portnow said 2017 when the nominees were primarily men that women needed to “step up.” Phoebe Bridgers had choice words for Portnow in the press room.

There was little room for anger at Grammys past, however, as much of the emotion of the night came from the bittersweet In Memoriam. Fantasia Barrino, introduced by Oprah Winfrey, performed a touching tribute to Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder honored legendary singer Tony Bennett and Annie Lennox covered a song by renowned Irish musician Sinead O’Connor. 

The night ended as a success, a rousing celebration of music that honored artists of the past and paved the way forward for the great artists of the future.