This story is part of Billboard’s 2022 Grammy Preview issue, highlighting the artists, issues and trends that will define awards season. Read our cover story on Halsey, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross here.
After having to reinvent itself under extraordinary circumstances, the 2021 ceremony became one of the Recording Academy’s best-reviewed Grammy programs in recent years (if hardly a ratings success). Here’s what worked — and what should be permanent features post-pandemic.
In lieu of theater-style row seating at Los Angeles’ Staples Center, the Recording Academy sat guests and award hopefuls at two-person tables in a special outdoor space strung up with fairy lights. That led to a more electric atmosphere as A-listers were free to move around and visit with one another, and a sense of anything-can-happen stakes as the city’s ambiance — “Damn, car!” Megan Thee Stallion said as a revving motor interrupted her best new artist acceptance speech — provided its own unexpected soundtrack.
The Grammys have always been one big concert at heart, and without a traditional live audience to entertain, the 2021 telecast leaned all the way in, kicking off the festivities with a string of back-to-back performances taking place in the round. As performers doubled as audiences for their peers, clips of Billie Eilish swaying to Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” and, in turn, Styles mouthing the words to Eilish’s “Everything I Wanted,” translated a rare feeling of intimacy through the screen — lessening the distance between stars onstage and fans at home.
A Hands-On Host
Without the usual revolving door of guests and presenters, Trevor Noah had to take on a bigger role in introducing awards and performances — not to mention dropping tidbits of Grammys history like a Tuesday-night trivia host. The result was not only a showcase for his topical comedic chops but also a reminder of how crucial a strong host is to knitting together the various parts of the Grammys, where collisions between genres and styles aren’t just the norm but part of the show’s appeal.
This story originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2021, issue of Billboard.