The 65th Grammy Awards: Best & Worst Moments

As much as people seem to dislike the Grammys and distrust their perpetually scandal-plagued decision-making body, there’s no doubting the authority the awards body holds. Even as viewership remains far below the 20 million+ it once regularly enjoyed, the performances still have the power to make waves, who wins still makes headlines and who loses at least makes for a few viral Twitter rants every year. Below are the best and worst moments from the 65th installment of The Grammys – and everything in between.

The Best 

Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

The reliably great Brandi Carlile: Some may dismiss the music of Highwomen-member Brandi Carlile as Grammy-bait – self-written, Joni-referential Americana music from someone who plays her own instruments and works with producers to John Prine and Sturgill Simpson. But Carlile is simply too charming a performer, too dynamic a singer, and too evocative a lyricist to be so easily written off. Her performance of her epic “Broken Horses” was every bit the tour-de-force to be expected, and was a deserved winner of two Grammys. Seeing Carlile be introduced by her doting wife and kids was an extra, unexpected delight – as important as grand artistic displays of queerness in music are – like Sam Smith and Kim Petra’s performance of “Unholy” (more on that later) – so are these small, normalized moments of charming mundanity. A win for representation and an even bigger win for undeniably fantastic music. 

Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Bonnie Raitt gets her flowers…again: Was Bonnie Raitt’s “Just Like That” the most innovative or bold song nominated for Song of the Year? Certainly not – and Raitt’s much-memed shocked face upon winning is a testament to how unexpected her victory was. But her winning number, “Just Like That” is a feat of Americana excellency – a lyrically dense and affecting number about a man finding the mother of a deceased child whose heart he received in a transplant. This twist arrives at the end of the second verse, where Raitt sings from the man’s perspective, “It was your son’s heart that saved me, and a life you gave us both”. It’s an immensely powerful moment shortly followed by another immensely powerful moment – as Raitt intones from the mother’s perspective. “I lay my head upon his chest and I was with my boy again.”

Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

A touching tribute to stars departed: Remember when the Grammy’s invited the family of the late Mac Miller to their ceremony, promising that if Ariana Grande won they had a video tribute to the deceased rapper prepared – only then for Grande to lose and the video to go unseen. Yeah, I’d rather not remember too, but at least this time they managed something altogether more tasteful. Christine McVie was memorialized by Bonnie Raitt and former bandmate Mick Fleetwood via a cover of “Songbird”, while Maverick City Music joined Quavo in memorializing the assassinated Takeoff. For many, however, the tears had already begun to flow when Kacey Musgraves stepped out with Loretta Lynn’s classic guitar and dutifully performed a rendition of Lynn’s biggest hit, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

The Worst

Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

The Grammys continue to do Beyoncé dirty: Don’t let Beyoncé’s newly record-breaking Grammy haul distract you from all the ways the academy continues to snub the (Alien) Superstar. In just under a decade, Beyoncé has performed a phenomenal hat-trick with her self-titled LP in 2013, Lemonade in 2016, and most recently, Renaissance in 2022. All three have lost the prestigious AOTY award to, respectively, Beck’s Morning Phase, Adele’s 25 and Harry Styles’ Harry’s House. All three of those albums range from pleasant enough to pretty good but certainly, none of them will go on to enjoy the legacy that Beyoncé’s trio of excellence will. That Beyoncé hasn’t won a ‘big three’ award since 2010 (“Single Ladies”) and has instead been consigned to genre-specific categories for music that increasingly centers on Black and, with Renaissance, queer identities is embarrassing at best and shameful at worst. 

Photo Credit: Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

The Grammy’s troubled relationship with Rap continues: Thanks to the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Lil Nas X, and Drake, rap has become one of the most dominant – if not the most dominant – genre in popular music over recent years. Yet, most of the awards for the genre are still confined to the less-watched pre-show – in what can only be described as yet another L for the Grammy’s when it comes to diversity. But hey, at least Kendrick beat Jack Harlow for Best Rap Album – saving us from another infamous 2014 Macklemore moment. 

The Rest

Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Sonja Flemming Getty Images for The Recording Academy

The Academy plays it safe: The nominations made it clear that the Grammy’s weren’t looking to go bold this year. Whereas in 2021, the rock category was filled with exciting, cutting-edge female talent (Fiona Apple, Haim, Phoebe Bridgers), this year the spaces were largely saved for legacy acts like Muse and Ozzy Osbourne – both of whom have failed to make truly essential music for many years. In the few places where Academy voters had a chance to reward exciting, innovative talent (Idles, Muse, Domi and JD Beck), they refused. Of course, it’s nice seeing genre legends rewarded decades into their career, but the Grammy’s tendency to actively run away from the cutting edge is precisely what’s responsible for their dwindling viewership. 

Photo Credit: JC Olivera/WireImage for The Recording Academy

An unsurprisingly inept tribute to Hip-Hop past and present: Featuring everyone from The Roots, Run-DMC, and Missy Elliott to Salt-N-Pepa, GloRilla, and Lil Uzi Vert, the Grammy’s 3-dozen performer strong tribute to 50 years of Hip-Hop was more impressive as a feat of organization, and as an exercise in nostalgia, than it was in terms of sheer musicality. Beyond the jarring sight of seeing Queen Latifah perform the feminist anthem “U.N.I.T.Y” on stage with multiple deeply problematic men, the 20-second-or-so snippets we got from each featured artist were hardly an effective encapsulation of their greatness.

Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Sam Smith and Kim Petras don’t hold back: The theatrics of Sam Smith and Kim Petras’s performance of “Unholy” was thrilling – Petras dramatically rattling her prison bars, Smith in their camp devil-garb, the crowded presence of backup dancers. It also had the added benefit of triggering all the right people, and the song itself earned a Grammy – a history-making win for a trans-woman and nonbinary chart-topper. But none of that could distract from a simple fact: outside of the chorus, the song simply isn’t good and it forces Sam’s voice into an unnatural and plainly unpleasant place

Written by: Tom Williams

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