The evening allegedly known as Music Biggest Night has passed. Yes, the 2023 Grammy Awards are in our rearview mirror — between some thrilling, record-breaking wins, performances that ranged from heart-pounding to entirely forgettable, and the wine flowing at the nominees table, the night ultimately felt like another year with the Recording Academy.
Awards shows like this are tough; while it’s always exciting to see people receive well-deserved accolades from peers in the industry, the Grammys also tend to feel a bit narrow when it comes to the incredibly vast scope of work people are doing across the industry. (To paraphrase an observation from Bong Joon-Ho about the Academy Awards, aren’t the Grammys a bit… local?)
Regardless, we dutifully tuned in to this year’s ceremony and have rounded up some of the highs, lows, and head-scratching moments from this year’s event. Check out our full analysis below, and review the list of winners here.
There were quite a few bright spots throughout the very lengthy telecast, with a major moment being the star-studded tribute to hip-hop. Dozens of music legends took the stage just past halfway through the ceremony for a fantastic medley celebrating 2023 as the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. The set, curated by Questlove of The Roots, boasted appearances from rap greats like Rakim, Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel, Run DMC, Salt-N-Pepa, Public Enemy, Scarface, and De La Soul. Queen Latifah has never dropped her crown, and Busta Rhymes had everyone in the audience (and most of us at home) losing their minds with his iconic “Look at Me Now” verse. This actually felt like the kind of “can’t-miss” live television moments that are so rare in the era of streaming these days.
Similarly, Bad Bunny’s electrifying opening had everyone on their feet. If there’s one thing Taylor Swift is going to do at an awards show, it’s dance, but she was far from the only guest unable to remain in their seat as Benito ran through “El Apagon” and “Despues De La Playa.” (If only that energy had stayed up the rest of the night; at one point, Madonna had to nearly beg the crowd to cheer.) Overall, Bad Bunny is doing a lot of things few other entertainers are managing to do in 2023, and he’s crossing cultural and language barriers in the process. The opening number showed off the threshold at which he’s performing right now.
When it came to the awards themselves, the evening ended up a mixed bag, but one of the loveliest surprises of the night was 23-year old jazz artist Samara Joy’s win for Best New Artist. Her incredibly transportive voice and commitment to a bygone era stand out in this day and age, and we can’t wait to see what she does next.
Then, there was the Beyoncé of it all. Let’s start with the good: With her win for Best Dance/Electronic Recording, Beyoncé officially made history by becoming the most decorated artist in Grammy history. That trophy was one of four added to her collection throughout the night — RENNAISSANCE won Best Dance/Electronic Album, while “CUFF IT” nabbed Best R&B Song, “Break My Soul” captured Best Dance/Electronic Recording, and “Plastic Off the Sofa” secured Best Traditional R&B Performance.
Her acceptance speech for the award that tipped her officially into most awarded territory was gracious and heartfelt, nearly making us forget that her arrival to the ceremony was slightly delayed. But, as The Princess Diaries taught us, a queen is never late. Everyone else is simply early.
There are unnecessary awards show segments, and then there’s the new low of whatever the fandom round table bit was. The truth of the matter is that absolutely nobody needed this — the ceremony is already bloated and far too long, and this is also airtime that could have been dedicated to some of the categories that are presented during the pre-show. The super fan clips were sweet in some places, all-out cringe in more, and this segment should absolutely never be included ever again.
Congratulations to the grandma who had the chance to present Harry Styles with his Album of the Year statue, but the concept and structure also revealed something about fandom culture these days. The line of thinking that something being beloved to an individual or a group of die-hard fans equates to making a piece of work award-worthy is becoming more and more prevalent, and the clips of these fans trying to flex various achievements on one another didn’t feel celebratory.
This mindset was put under the spotlight in a different way when Bonnie Raitt was announced as the winner for Song of the Year. Yes, it was absolutely a surprise when the singer-songwriter and guitarist was called to stage for “Just Like That,” beating out folks like Taylor Swift, Lizzo, and Kendrick Lamar in the process, but we need to put some respect on Miss Bonnie’s name. She is already a 14-time Grammy winner, has been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and is widely considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time. The woman is a living legend, and certainly not “someone’s mee-maw,” as the Twitter timeline might lead some to believe. (Let’s be honest, at least it wasn’t “abcdefu.”)
Later, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. appeared to introduce a fever dream of a montage meant to be empowering that instead felt out of place and all-around bizarre. The video even included what appeared to be fabricated news clips, and the message of, “The world doesn’t always respect women now, but what if it did, because… music!” didn’t land. At all. All around, the idea that “so much divides us, but music unites us” was run into the ground so much that it began to feel like a lecture. On that note, n other settings, host Trevor Noah can walk that line of humor and heartfelt insights better, but here, many of the night’s bits felt rushed, too off the cuff, or completely unrehearsed.
Shania is still a queen, and her new album is lots of fun. Sure, her red carpet look (risky fashion, camp) and ceremony styling (villain in a Batman cartoon if they slayed) might have been a bit out there, but very few attendees were having as much fun as Shania throughout the night. The question remains — Shania was platinum blonde mere days ago, and was sporting a vibrant red at the Grammys. Where are these wigs coming from? If this is her hair, how is her scalp feeling? Let us know.
Now, let’s talk a bit about that final category. We all know that Harry’s House is a wonderful place to spend time. (He was our 2022 Artist of the Year — we get it!) He’s a wonderful entertainer and incredibly generous with his fans. He’s a genuine star. Even so, it was a huge surprise to see Styles take home the top award of the night for his 2022 LP. Again, Harry’s House is a really great listen, but it doesn’t make it any less shocking or strange to see it named album of the year considering the competition.
There are a few things that are odd about it, but The Recording Academy certainly didn’t help longtime criticism of the voting procedures when they shared this “fun fact,” revealing Styles’ connection to a producer of the broadcast:
Fun fact: The voice at the beginning of "As It Was" is the daughter of our very own #GRAMMYs producer, @BenWinston!Advertisement
— Recording Academy / GRAMMYs (@RecordingAcad) February 6, 2023
Multiple things can be true at the same time, and in the case of the Grammys, we have Beyoncé now immortalized as the single most-lauded individual in the show’s history, and the same person who has not taken home the night’s “highest honor” at multiple turns. It feels a bit like a transitional time for the voting body; from an outside perspective, we get the sense that those in charge are at least attempting to diversify the makeup of the Academy, but the old guard doesn’t go down easily. For every broken record or risk taken, we have three more examples of the Grammys playing it safe.
In the case of the 2023 ceremony, Harry’s House was the path of least resistance, the median option, a lovely but relatively inoffensive choice. Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti is a record from a tour-de-force artist who has reached the point where these top accolades make sense. RENAISSANCE was, by almost any metric, the cultural touchstone of the year.
At the end of the day, the night was still Queen Bey’s, though; no “fan roundtable” will be able to change our minds on that.
See the full list of 2023 Grammy Award winners here.