The various film and TV awards ceremonies so far this year have been a predictable round; there have been few surprising winners, and the events both on-stage and off have largely been well-behaved and respectable. All hail, then, to the Grammys, which has managed to take conventional expectations of what an awards show should be and has subverted them considerably, combining everything from a transcendental comeback by one of music’s greatest stars to one of the night’s winners being dragged off by police in handcuffs.
First things first though: the Grammys represented yet another victory for Taylor Swift, a woman who, at this rate, is going to become TIME’s person of the year for a second year in a row. Not only did she win a fourth Grammy for Album of the Year for 2023’s Midnights, thereby setting a new record and beating the likes of Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon and Frank Sinatra, but she also casually announced her next album in the process, April 19’s The Tortured Poets Department, something that she described as a “two-year secret.” We can expect its first single in a matter of weeks, amid the usual blizzard of hype, speculation and discussion, as with all things Taylor. As a committed Swiftie, I shall of course be first in line for it, though it is hard not to feel sorry for her one-time duet partner Lana Del Rey, who went home empty-handed and was photographed standing next to Swift at the ceremony glowering; always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
There were other attention-grabbing moments. Jay-Z ranting about the failure of Beyoncé to win Album of the Year as he collected the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award was a moment that veered perilously closely to Kanye West-esque embarrassment, as he declared of his wife that “she has more Grammys than anyone and never won Album of the Year. So even by your own metrics, that doesn’t work.” Yet such is Beyoncé’s continued popularity that what might otherwise have been a cringeworthy public display of uxoriousness landed without further offense. And there was further controversy, too, in the failure of the much-feted Noah Kahan to win Best New Act; he was the odds-on favorite, but instead lost to Victoria Monet, whom he made a point of congratulating on social media after her victory.
There were a couple of highly welcome returns to the stage, in the form of Tracy Chapman duetting with Luke Combs on a performance of her single “Fast Car” and, even more so, the great Joni Mitchell performing “Both Sides Now” — a reminder to Swift, and the rest, that truly iconic status within the industry is not something that can be acquired through a decade’s worth of hits, but instead has to be accumulated through a lifetime’s experience and songwriting genius. There are few truly reclusive stars left in the music industry — Kate Bush is the other obvious example — but Mitchell’s decision to return to live performance, albeit in small doses, is both highly welcome and long overdue.
And from the sublime to the ridiculous, there was also an arrest. Killer Mike may have belied his pugilistic moniker with carefully considered public interventions and activism, but his status as an elder statesman of the rap world — for which he won Grammys for Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance — was knocked when he was arrested for “misdemeanor battery” backstage and led away from the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles in handcuffs. It was a surprising yet also oddly hilarious moment that summed up this most eventful and unpredictable of ceremonies — and a reminder to the Oscars and the like that this level of drama is how you create interest, not simply in watching multi-millionaires applaud as Oppenheimer wins everything in sight.