Appropriately for an event billed as “Music’s Biggest Night,” the Recording Academy has long gone for size and scale when it comes to the presentation of the Grammys: The biggest artists, the biggest collaborations, the biggest spectacles, even the biggest tributes. Over the years, the results have often been entertaining, and occasionally downright historic — Aretha Franklin singing Pavarotti in 1998, Eminem joining forces with Elton John in 2001, P!nk taking to the skies in 2010 — but just as often, they’ve felt forced, over-indulgent, or simply too much.
“Too much” was never likely to be the case in 2021, when the Recording Academy had to delay their marquee night an additional month and change to March, just to be able to hold the ceremony at all. And not only would this be the first Grammys put on in the socially distanced era of COVID-19, but it would also be the first done under the guidance of new show producer Ben Winston, following the 40-year run of predecessor Ken Ehrlich. Most of the greatest moments in Grammy history were conceptualized or organized by Ehrlich, but a tribute to the departing producer in last year’s ceremony — a star-studded performance of Fame‘s “I Sing the Body Electric” — was also emblematic of the messier parts of his stewardship, particularly the tendency to pursue overstuffed super-teamings that valued star power and novelty over general coherence and relevance.
There were no such unexpected X-meets-Y collaborations at the Grammys on Sunday night (Mar. 14), nor were there any out-of-nowhere mega-homages to past greats (aside from a handful of tasteful mini-tributes interrupting the In Memoriam segment) or where-did-they-come-from appearances by artists without a clear tie to the proceedings. Whether as a result of creative choice, circumstantial necessity or both, you instead got what you might actually expect from the Grammys if you had no previous knowledge of their long-oversized ambitions: the most-nominated artists performing their biggest hits of the year, with awards occasionally given out in between. And the result was the most enjoyable, least exhausting Grammys in ages.