The Best and Worst Moments of the 2021 Grammys

From Beyoncé's historic night to Roddy Ricch and Freddie Gibbs getting snubbed, these are all the best and worst moments of the 2021 Grammys.

Grammys 2021 Roddy Ricch

Image via Getty/Kevin Winter

Grammys 2021 Roddy Ricch

The Grammys. They call it “music’s biggest night,” and every year we tune in and argue about whether that’s actually true or not.

This year, the ceremony looked a little different, as the Recording Academy adapted to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Awards were presented on an outdoor stage across from the Staples Center, and there were no audience members in attendance besides select nominees.

To the Grammys credit, they navigated these challenges fairly well and put together a performance-heavy show that was more entertaining than some of the other ceremonies we’ve seen in recent years. The majority of the performers were relevant and the Academy largely avoided the temptation to bore us with drawn-out collaborations between artists we don’t care about.

Like we’ve come to expect, though, the evening’s highlights were balanced out by head-scratching low points. As it’s become tradition around here, the Complex Music team came together this morning to discuss them all. These are the best and the worst moments of the 2021 Grammys.

BEST: Megan Thee Stallion’s big night

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Sunday was a big night for Megan Thee Stallion, as she secured three big Ws: Best New Artist, Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Performance. She became the first female rapper to win Best New Artist in over 20 years, following Lauryn Hill who took the Grammy back in 1999. The evening also represented a full-circle moment when Meg was joined by Beyoncé to accept the award for Best Rap Song for “Savage (Remix).” During her acceptance speech, Megan thanked Bey for being a strong influence in her life and musical career. “If you know me, you have to know ever since I was little, you know that when I grow up I’m going to be like the rap-Beyoncé,” she said. “That was my goal. I love her work ethic, I love how she is, I love the way she carried herself.” Beyoncé also showed love, telling Meg, “I’m proud of you… I have so much respect for you.” After her wildly successful year in 2020, it seems it could be the start to an even greater run, as Megan teased the sequel to “Hot Girl Summer” on the red carpet, telling fans: “Y’all better be ready for Hot Girl Summer part two.” —Jessica McKinney

WORST: The Best Melodic Rap Performance award

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It’s as if the Grammy committee looks to find new and creative ways to disrespect rap. First, they put together a Best Rap Album category devoid of genre-bending favorites like Roddy Ricch and Lil Baby (which wasn’t aired on TV). Then the Best Melodic Rap Performance award was announced as they were coming back from a commercial break, with no intro — as if it’s not the primary influence for a good amount of so-called pop music these days. They could’ve gotten by uttering just that one sentence, but they didn’t, treating the category like an also-ran. What made it worse was the sentence they did utter: “The winner is Anderson Paak.” Paak is amazing, but he felt out of place in an award like this. Given that artists like Roddy, Lil Baby, Drake, and Durk were shut out of the other rap album categories, one of them should have won here. The head-scratching moment is yet another instance of the committee proving they just don’t understand rap or hold it in high enough regard. —Andre Gee

BEST: Roddy Ricch debuts new song

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Roddy Ricch made the most of his role as the final performer of the night, debuting a new song called “Heartless.” Sitting behind a piano, he ruminated on his come-up, singing, “This life made me heartless, bitch, I came from apartments/ The money turned me to a target, got a Hellcat Dodge it.” When a live version of the song hit streaming services at midnight, it represented the first track Roddy has released of his own since Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial in Dec. 2019. And by transitioning to his mega-hit “The Box” after “Heartless,” the performance served dual purposes: it was both a celebration of his massive breakout year in 2020, and a preview of the next chapter in his career. Effectively a Grammy headlining performance, it was a triumphant moment at a pivotal juncture in the rise of a superstar. —Eric Skelton

WORST: Roddy snubbed of all awards after being most-nominated male artist

Roddy Ricch Grammys

BEST: Beyoncé’s historic moment

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Bow down to the Queen. Beyoncé made history. Her career total of Grammy wins is now at 28, making her the most decorated female artist (and vocalist) in the award show’s history. On Sunday night, Beyoncé earned a total of four Grammys out of nine nominations, including Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for “Savage Remix,” and Best R&B Performance for “Black Parade.” She wasn’t the only one to make history. Beyoncé also won a Grammy with her eldest daughter Blue Ivy for Best Music Video for “Brown Skin Girl.” Blue Ivy became the second youngest Grammy-winner, thanks to her part in “Brown Skin Girl.” Clearly, greatness runs in the Knowles-Carter family. —Jessica McKinney

WORST: Freddie Gibbs snubbed

Freddie Gibbs

BEST: Freddie Gibbs’ hilarious response to snub

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For all the arguing we do about who deserves what award, every win is a good story for a hard-working artist. And even in defeat, there’s the high of the experience, as Freddie Gibbs demonstrated last night. He was open about wanting to win the award for Best Rap Album, but he lost out to Nas (who won his first Grammy). If Gibbs was upset about the circumstance, he didn’t show it, hilariously reminding his team after the announcement that, “I might’ve lost today, but I’m undefeated in court.” The comment was in jest, but when thinking about Gibbs’ journey from a French prison to becoming regarded as one of the best rappers in the world, one could see how even being in the Grammys picture was good enough for him. It was refreshing to see an artist not feeling entitled to a win, moreso excited to be a part of the process. —Andre Gee

WORST: Bad pacing of awards

Grammys 2021

BEST: Pop parity

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It was a good night for pop music. The artists who deserved to go home with hardware did so. Taylor Swift put on one of the best live performances of her career with a Folklore/Evermore medley. Dua Lipa’s theatrical live set called back her massive hits of last year and she looked incredible doing so. All in all, it felt like there was a lot of parity in who the Recording Academy decided to send home with a trophy. Harry Styles going home with a Pop Solo Performance Grammy for “Watermelon Sugar” was a surprise, sure, but it was nice to see the excellent Fine Line get some awards show love. Maybe you’re tired of seeing Taylor Swift pick up Grammys, but she was the right pick for Album of the Year. Like we told you in our predictions, two titans of pop Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande linking up is fodder for the Recording Academy: them taking home an award for “Rain On Me” surprised no one. And Billie, who actually lost a pop award to Harry Styles (not that she was that mad, y’all see her vibing out to his set?) ended up winning the big Record of the Year award at the end of the night. It’s as if the powers that be made it their mission to keep as many pop fandoms as happy as possible. While the argument could be made that there were some big snubs in other categories and some deserving artists went home empty-handed, it feels like the Recording Academy got it right when it comes to pop music. A small win but a win indeed. —Waiss Aramesh

WORST: The Weeknd asterisks

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I know, I know… We should probably move on from all the talk about The Weeknd getting snubbed from the nominations this year, but it did cast a shadow over the credibility of the major awards. How were we supposed to take the Best Song awards seriously without “Blinding Lights”? Can we put any stock in the Best Album awards without After Hours in contention? The Weeknd’s absence was a constant reminder of the waning trust we have in these voting committees. —Eric Skelton

BEST: “WAP” on national TV

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It seems like forever ago that “WAP” was rankling prudes who condemned the song as an obscenity. Megan and Cardi B got together to give the detractors one more listen, complete with some grinding up against each other, which probably saved thousands in power bills thanks to half of middle America turning their TVs off. Those who watched got a provocative rendition of a song beloved for its sex-positivity. The only thing that would’ve pissed conservatives off more than a performance would have been seeing the song be eligible for award nomination and winning a Grammy or two. —Andre Gee

WORST: No rap tribute performances

Pop Smoke

BEST: Lil Baby’s moment on a major stage

Lil Baby

WORST: The shooting

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Many people felt Lil Baby had the best performance of the night with his Killer Mike and Tamika Mallory-featured “The Bigger Picture” rendition. But the jarring start of the performance distracted a good amount of people who couldn’t enjoy it. The scene begins with a depiction of actor/activist Kendrick Sampson in a car stop with the police, which fits the song’s major theme of decrying police brutality. But things go left when Sampson resists the cops’ arrest, and his shooting transitions into the start of LIl Baby’s track. It was as if his dead body was a red carpet rolled out to introduce Lil Baby. Black people see images of our dead bodies every day, so much so that Black suffering feels like a necessity for the state. There are some who believe that such startling scenes are necessary to “wake people up,” but these choices are more psychologically damaging than intellectually stimulating, as studies show. Can artists, directors, and everyone else resolve to not traumatize their audience with such images? —Andre Gee

BEST: DaBaby and Roddy Ricch’s “Rockstar” performance

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DaBaby and Roddy Ricch were shut out of awards, but they made sure to show everyone how big of a mistake that was during their performance of “Rockstar.” Backed by a violinist and a bunch of backup singers who kind of looked like teachers at Hogwarts, DaBaby clutched the microphone in his two sparkly-gloved hands and delivered one of the best performances of the night. Staring intently into the camera and commanding the stage, he was a star (and the whole thing reminded us how much we’ve missed DaBaby performances over the past year). Accompanied by Roddy, the live version was better than the studio recording—an impressive feat for a song that spent seven weeks at No. 1 last year—and it made the most of the theatrical backdrop of the Grammys. DaBaby started the night by going viral for creating his own red carpet with his daughter, and he outdid himself with this performance. —Eric Skelton

WORST: Best Rap Album award not televised during primetime ceremony

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When the nominees were announced this year, the Grammys got some credit for nominating artists like Freddie Gibbs, Jay Electronica, and Nas in the Best Rap Album category, after a long history of completely misunderstanding the genre. But then they took another step backwards by choosing to not televise the award at all, despite the fact that rap is the most popular and influential genre in the world right now. I know they don’t have time to televise every award, but it still felt weird to see Miranda Lambert get airtime for Best Country Album, while Nas’ first-ever win was relegated to the pre-show ceremony. —Eric Skelton

BEST: Silk Sonic's debut performance

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We’re really in for something special with this Silk Sonic album, aren’t we? Coming together for their first performances as an official duo, Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars crushed their rendition of “Leave the Door Open,” followed by a memorable tribute to the late Little Richard. Their performances were two of the most fun, upbeat moments of the night, hinting at very great things to come when the world finally opens back up and these guys go on a celebratory tour together. Good days are ahead. —Eric Skelton

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