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Grammys 2024: 10 takeaways from music's biggest night (Taylor's version)

Taylor Swift poses with Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus of boygenius after the 66th annual Grammy Awards.
Frederic J. Brown
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AFP via Getty Images
Taylor Swift poses with Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus of boygenius after the 66th annual Grammy Awards.

The Grammys are nothing if not a three-and-a-half-hour infomercial for the music industry: The telecast foregrounds music's biggest stars, programs performances that span many genres and generations, and otherwise assembles a digestible package of major milestones and musical moments. Sunday night's festivities were no different, so here are this year's major storylines and other takeaways, starting with... no, you'll never guess. Wait for it...

1. Somewhere along the way, we have left a world in whichTaylor Swift dominates the cultural conversation and entered a world in which Taylor Swift is the world and we are just tiny specks of flotsam, floating listlessly in a sea consisting of her disembodied essence.

Okay, so we kinda knew, going in, that Swift would be a significant player in Sunday night's Grammys, given that she was nominated for six awards and that, when it comes to music news in 2024, all roads lead back to her red-lipsticked visage. But few could have seen Sunday's onslaught coming. Swift's Midnights won album of the year — her record-breaking fourth win in that category alone — as well as best pop vocal album. And, of course, the singer made a splashy entrance and danced and sang along during performances even when seemingly everyone else was seated. But Swift set aside her headline-grabbingest moment for her first victory speech, in which she announced the imminent arrival of a new album titled The Tortured Poets Department, out April 19. Which means the conversation around Swift is only going to get busier and louder and more all-consuming, with next Sunday's Super Bowl just six Swift-packed days away.

Miley Cyrus accepts the best pop solo performance award for "Flowers" from Mariah Carey on stage during the 66th Annual Grammy Awards.
Valerie Macon / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Miley Cyrus accepts the best pop solo performance award for "Flowers" from Mariah Carey on stage during the 66th Annual Grammy Awards.

2. Saying "women did well" is underselling the degree to which women dominated the night.

Remember the 2018 Grammys, in which men dominated the major categories and the then-head of the Recording Academy later madea boneheaded comment about how women need to "step up"? Six years later, up has been stepped. All nine of the categories represented in Sunday night's telecast were won by women artists, spread across seven different names: Swift (album of the year, best pop vocal album),Miley Cyrus (record of the year, best pop solo performance),Victoria Monét (best new artist),Billie Eilish (song of the year),SZA (best R&B song),Lainey Wilson (best country album) andKarol G (best música urbana album). Elsewhere, bands likeboygenius andParamore won big in categories representing rock and alternative music, while the performances in the telecast's first half were dominated by big names such asDua Lipa,Olivia Rodrigo, Eilish, Cyrus and SZA.

Tracy Chapman performs on stage during the 66th Annual Grammy Awards.
Valerie Macon / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Tracy Chapman performs on stage during the 66th Annual Grammy Awards.

3. Two tear-jerking performances ruled them all. Early on, country starLuke Combs participated in a segment about his hit cover of the 1988Tracy Chapman classic "Fast Car." Then the song's familiar guitar part kicked in, at which point the camera pulled back slowly to reveal that the instrument was being played by... Chapman herself. The two stars then turned the song into a true duet, trading verses and smiles, and it cannot be overstated just how thrilled Combs looked from start to finish. It was a gorgeous moment all around, not to mention a chance for Chapman to take a well-earned victory lap for what is, no exaggeration, one of the best songs ever written by anyone, ever. And, speaking of the best songs ever written,Joni Mitchell performed at the Grammys for the first time (!!!), leading a lovely rendition of "Both Sides Now" with the aid ofBrandi Carlile,Lucius,SistaStrings,Allison Russell,Blake Mills andJacob Collier. There aren't enough flowers to fling in the direction of either performance.

SZA accepts the best R&B song award for "Snooze" on stage during the 66th Annual Grammy Awards.
Valerie Macon / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
SZA accepts the best R&B song award for "Snooze" on stage during the 66th Annual Grammy Awards.

4. Speaking of tear-jerking, the best speeches showed how much the Grammys can mean to the artists who win them. SZA was nominated nine times and won three awards Sunday, and when she took home best R&B song, her emotions flooded out of her; it was clear that the moment represented the culmination of years of hard work. Ditto Victoria Monét, whose long career made a minor mockery of the category "best new artist." (The Grammys would do themselves a huge favor by changing that category's name to something like "breakthrough artist," given how long artists toil en route to newness.) Both speeches presented a firm rebuttal to the idea that these awards mean nothing to the folks who win them.

Honoree Jay-Z accepts the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award with Blue Ivy Carter onstage during the 66th Grammy Awards.
Kevin Winter / Getty Images for The RIAA
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Getty Images for The RIAA
Honoree Jay-Z accepts the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award with Blue Ivy Carter onstage during the 66th Grammy Awards.

5.Jay-Z didn't spare the Recording Academy. The rap superstar won theDr. Dre Global Impact Award, and in his victory speech — for which he brought daughterBlue Ivy onstage — he lightly blistered the Academy for its glass ceilings and other missteps. After chiding voters for never awarding album of the year to his wifeBeyoncé, Jay-Z added a burn that had the crowd tittering nervously ("Some of y'all don't belong in the category") and doubled down with a line that'll get quoted for years to come: "When I get nervous, I tell the truth." (Those words are in competition with SZA's "I'm not a very attractive cryer" for the title of "Grammy quote most likely to get stitched onto throw pillows and sold on Etsy." In third place: Billie Eilish, whose surprise at winning song of the year was expressed via the words, "I'm shocked outta my balls.")

Stevie Wonder performs on stage honoring Tony Bennett during the 66th annual Grammy Awards.
Valerie Macon / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Stevie Wonder performs on stage honoring Tony Bennett during the 66th annual Grammy Awards.

6. The In Memoriam segment went long, but it worked. Twenty minutes is a generous dollop of time to pay tribute to the performers and other music-adjacent figures who'd died in the preceding year. But, wow, we've lost a lot of powerhouses lately.Stevie Wonder gave a warm tribute toTony Bennett,Annie Lennox performed "Nothing Compares 2 U" forSinéad O'Connor (and closed the performance by calling for a ceasefire, a moment that felt true to O'Connor's own activism),Jon Batiste andAnn Nesby played a medley for the music-industry executiveClarence Avant, andFantasia Barrino andAdam Blackstone served up a rollicking cover of "Proud Mary" forTina Turner. What made it work, besides the emotion involved, was the way the performances echoed the energy and spirit of the figures who'd died; Barrino, for example, understood that the best way to honor Turner was to embrace and echo her indefatigable showmanship, rather than merely mourn.

Killer Mike poses in the press room with the Grammys for best rap performance, best rap album and best rap song during the 66th annual Grammy Awards.
Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Killer Mike poses in the press room with the Grammys for best rap performance, best rap album and best rap song during the 66th annual Grammy Awards.

7.Killer Mike won three Grammys... and then got arrested. The powerhouse rapper Killer Mike — perhaps still best known as one-half ofRun the Jewels — absolutely cleaned up in the rap categories (best rap album, best rap song, best rap performance) prior to the telecast. Then, he got into an altercation that ended with him being led away in handcuffs. The story is still developing (Mike didn't address it in a tweet this morning), but it's hard to believe we've heard the last of it.

Billy Joel and Trevor Noah speak onstage during the 66th Grammy Awards.
John Shearer / Getty Images for The RIAA
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Getty Images for The RIAA
Billy Joel and Trevor Noah speak onstage during the 66th Grammy Awards.

8.Billy Joel performed his first new song in 17 years, then came back for an encore. Just a few days ago, Joel's "Turn the Lights Back On" shocked the world — both because it was his first new song in 17 years and because the song itself was actually worth the interminable wait. The singer-songwriter performed the new track late in the Grammys telecast, then returned at the end to play one of his best-known bangers, 1989's "The Downeaster 'Alexa,'" which... [taps earpiece] okay, I'm being told the telecast-closing song was actually "You May Be Right," which is considerably more rousing and thus appropriate for the occasion. Three and a half hours into an awards telecast, Billy Joel performing "The Downeaster 'Alexa'" would have been absolute performance art, and I kinda wish he'd done it just to be a rascal.

9.U2 offered us a look inside Las Vegas' famed Sphere, and the world is still heaving from motion sickness. Actuarially speaking, it'sunlikely that you've seen the new movie Argylle, which is somehow both expensive-looking and cheap-looking, not to mention garish and loud and exhausting, with lots of long and exceedingly silly action set pieces. U2's performance was kinda like Argylle, yet somehow even more abrasive and 20 times as disorienting, with endless swooping drone shots and... I don't know, holograms and floating CGI heads and whatnot? I'm not even entirely sure, because I had to look away after a while. U2 is nothing if not maximalist, and maximalism can be fun, but the visuals made this a truly punishing ordeal.

Coco Jones poses in the press room with the Grammy for best R&B performance for "ICU" during the 66th annual Grammy Awards.
Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Coco Jones poses in the press room with the Grammy for best R&B performance for "ICU" during the 66th annual Grammy Awards.

10. The Grammys mostly resisted the urge to humiliate themselves. In many if not most years, the Recording Academy will locate some far-flung opportunity to step on a rake in the most embarrassing possible way. Perhaps the head of the Academy will say something so catastrophically stupid we're still writing about it six years later (see No. 2), or maybe they'll give best new artist to an act laterdetermined to have been lip-syncing, or maybe they'll give the first-ever Grammy for heavy metal toJethro Tull at the expense ofMetallica, or maybeMacklemore will sweep the rap categories at the expense ofKendrick Lamar... you know the drill by now. But this year, thanks in large part to a pop-heavy but otherwise solid slate of nominees, Sunday was a night mostly free of embarrassment. Did host Trevor Noah addressEd Sheeran as "one of the greatest live performers of all time"? He did. But no one would be cruel enough to close out a summary of this year's Grammys by pointing out the time Trevor Noah did, in fact, address Ed Sheeran as "one of the greatest live performers of all time."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)