Music

A Guide to the 2021 Grammys

Grammy Awards season is, at last, in full swing. Delayed from its January date, the 2021 Grammy Awards take place this Sunday, March 14. As schedules are finalized, statuettes buffed, and performers prep their socially distanced stage shows, Pitchfork is here with your one-stop shop compiling everything to look out for. Keep scrolling for all the controversies, snubs, and prospective landmarks that could go down on Sunday.

What will the show look like?

Good question. The Recording Academy has kept things vague with regard to COVID-safe staging and presentation, saying artists would “be coming together, while still safely apart, to play music for each other as a community.” In practice, this means that, with the gala operating at reduced capacity, there will be a mix of live, in-person and pre-taped, video-linked appearances.

A recent Rolling Stone article featuring Ben Winston (who is executive-producing his first Grammys telecast) revealed that the show will not take place at STAPLES Center, as it did last year. Instead, the Grammys will be filmed at “an undisclosed building in Los Angeles.” The ceremony will feature four stages for performances and another for presenters, according to RS.

“People will perform while the other three or four artists watch, applaud, and enjoy” from their own stages, Winston said. “As soon as that one finishes, the next one goes, the next one goes, and the next one goes. Every 45 minutes, you change out those stages, and you bring another four megastars into the room.”

There’s a giant slate of performers for the evening, including (deep breath) Cardi B, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, HAIM, Megan Thee Stallion, Harry Styles, Bad Bunny, DaBaby, Dua Lipa, Post Malone, BTS, Brandi Carlile, Doja Cat, Brittany Howard, Miranda Lambert, Lil Baby, Chris Martin of Coldplay, John Mayer, Maren Morris, Mickey Guyton, and Roddy Ricch

Some late additions to the bill were Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, who just formed the group Silk Sonic. Their playful campaign, #LetSilkSonicThrive, aimed to get a last-minute invite to the show. It was successful.

In recognition of financial hardship in the pandemic-struck live music industry, host Trevor Noah will also introduce workers from various independent venues to present awards.

History in the making

The 2021 Grammys could feature several landmark achievements, including one for Mickey Guyton, who has already made history as the first Black woman nominated as a solo country artist. Victory in the Best Country Solo Performance category would help “Black Like Me” correct an unwritten rule, she has said, whereby woman are “only allowed to sing about heartbreak and cute, fun songs, but God forbid we have other feelings.”

If she picks up enough victories in one day, Beyoncé could break some records, too. With four wins, she would top Alison Krauss for most Grammys won by a female artist. If she wins five, she bests Quincy Jones’ record as the living artist with the most Grammys. She’ll need eight if she wants to take the record for most Grammys ever, which is held by the late classical conductor Sir Georg Solti.

Elsewhere, an illustrious slate of artists are up for their very first Grammy: Travis Scott, Tame Impala, the Strokes (who had never even been nominated), Harry Styles, Jay Electronica, and Freddie Gibbs all stand to take home their first trophy. The stakes are doubly high for BTS: Triumph for “Dynamite” in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category would make them the first K-pop group to win a Grammy.

Controversies

A blemish on the Record of the Year shortlist was the nomination of Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, who worked on Doja Cat’s “Say So” under his Tyson Trax pseudonym. As fellow nominee Fiona Apple noted, the 2018 Grammys invited Kesha—who has alleged sexual abuse by Gottwald—to perform a song about surviving abuse at the ceremony. (The producer has denied Kesha’s allegations and sued for defamation.) Apple spoke in a Guardian interview about her wish to smash any award she might win in protest, before “inviting all the ladies up” on-stage to share it. “My second thought,” she added, “was I wonder if I can get all these ladies to boycott this shit because of Dr. Luke.”

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