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10 takeaways from a night of strong performances and curveballs at the Grammys

Billie Eilish pays tribute to the late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins during her 2022 Grammy performance.
Rich Fury
Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Billie Eilish pays tribute to the late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins during her 2022 Grammy performance.

This year's Grammy Awards were supposed to take place in January, but they wound up postponed until seven days after a cursed Oscars telecast. So, now that the awards season has mercifully concluded, here's what you need to know about the 2022 Grammys — the lessons, storylines, triumphs and irritations that defined the very long night.

1. Never, ever underestimate the Grammys' love for Bruno Mars.

Some of us — including this writer — decided months ago that song of the year and record of the year were bound to go to Olivia Rodrigo's "drivers license." The song was a massive smash, Rodrigo was 2021's breakout star and the Grammys love to announce the arrival of new A-listers by burying them in trophies. (See Billie Eilish's 2020 Grammy sweep for evidence of this phenomenon.)

But Rodrigo ran into a buzzsaw that prognosticators — again, including this writer — should have seen coming. The Grammys love Bruno Mars with the intensity of 10,000 suns and would prefer not to pass up any opportunity to lavish Grammys on him. Silk Sonic, his collaboration with Anderson .Paak, crafts impeccable throwback soul that's essentially one big sprawling field of fresh-cut catnip for Grammy voters. Silk Sonic's debut album, An Evening With Silk Sonic, wasn't eligible for album of the year consideration, but don't be surprised if it's a frontrunner for the award in 2023; if "Leave the Door Open" could win song and record of the year against this competition, the album is going to be tough to beat once it's finally eligible.

2. The Rodrigopocalypse didn't quite materialize.

She was always a sure thing for best new artist, plus she took home best pop solo performance and best pop vocal album, beating out heavy hitters Eilish, Doja Cat, Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande in the process. But talks of a sweep in the big four categories — song of the year, record of the year, best new artist, album of the year — took a big hit right away. Song of the year went to Silk Sonic early in the telecast, and Rodrigo wound up only batting .250.

That said, she still had a good night: She got to give two speeches during the telecast and her performance of "drivers license" was enormously assured. At 19, she helped further establish herself as a force worthy of music's grandest stage.

3. Those 11 Jon Batiste nominations were no fluke.

Speaking of forces... bandleader, pianist and composer Jon Batiste was nominated across an astounding 11 different Grammy categories Sunday — including album of the year and record of the year, plus genres as far afield as jazz, R&B and contemporary classical. He'd won four trophies before the telecast even began, then locked down a fifth at the end of the night, when We Are won album of the year. Much of the pre-show chatter about this particular category was centered on Rodrigo, Eilish or a dark horse in the form of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga's Love for Sale. But in the end, the year's most decorated nominee took the night's biggest prize.

4. Jazmine Sullivan and Doja Cat broke major winless streaks...

R&B singer-songwriter Jazmine Sullivan was 0-for-12 at the Grammys coming into Sunday — and seemed at serious risk of extending her winless streak to 15, in spite of Heaux Tales' status as one of 2021's best-loved albums. (NPR Music had it at No. 1 for the year.) But Sullivan's "Pick Up Your Feelings" sneaked into a tie with Silk Sonic's "Leave the Door Open" for best R&B performance, and then Heaux Tales beat a powerhouse field — including Batiste's We Are — to take best R&B album.

Later, Doja Cat ended her own winless streak: She would have been 0-for-11 if "Kiss Me More" — her hit with SZA — hadn't taken the prize for best pop duo/group performance. Her emotional speech made it clear that the Grammy validation mattered.

5. ...but there were a few surprising shutouts.

Justin Bieber has never been a runaway Grammy favorite (he's only won twice in 22 nominations) so his 0-for-8 result on the night wasn't a massive surprise. But few saw Eilish's 0-for-7 evening coming — not that the superstar seemed to mind, given that she'd won an Oscar a week earlier and has never seemed to stake her happiness on awards anyway. Lil Nas X and Brandi Carlile each went 0-for-5 and had to console themselves with the knowledge that their live performances were characteristically fantastic.

6. The first hour was pretty mind-blowing.

The Grammys are, first and foremost, a three-and-a-half-hour infomercial for the music industry: They're meant to sweep across as many popular genres as possible, showcase the best those genres have to offer and attract the largest possible audience in the process. As such, it only makes sense that this year's Grammys were front-loaded to an immensely satisfying degree, with a string of superstars operating at the top of their game.

Silk Sonic kicked off the night with "777," a song about Las Vegas befitting the Grammy ceremony's new home, then gave way to five more slam dunks in the show's first hour — namely Rodrigo, J Balvin, BTS, Lil Nas X and Eilish. With six headliners packed into its first hour, the Grammys set the bar extraordinarily high early on.

7. The Grammys did what the Oscars couldn't...

Not only did Questlove get to accept an award for Summer of Soul without it being overshadowed by a violent temper tantrum, but the Grammys also did a far more effective job highlighting the plight of the Ukrainian people. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke via video about music and resilience before John Legend performed "Free" with the aid of musicians Siuzanna Iglidan and Mika Newton, as well as poet Lyuba Yakimchuk. It was an elegant display and a good look for the Grammys.

8. ...but that Louis C.K. win will burn for a while.

The Grammys did so much right Sunday, and offered so many wins worth celebrating, but they couldn't help but step on a rake when it came time to pick a winner for best comedy album. Watching them reward Louis C.K., who has faced allegations of sexual misconduct from multiple women — and admitted that "the stories are true" — really stung. It's hard to make the (already specious) case that cancel culture is running amok and unfairly ruining lives when Louis C.K., of all people, wins a Grammy Award in 2022.

9. The tributes were truly heartwarming.

The "In Memoriam" section of any awards show is bound to unlock a few emotional floodgates: Great entertainers die all the time, after all. But the Grammys did a nice job bookending their tribute with lovely tributes to Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins (who died March 25) and Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim (who died in November). Set to pieces sung by Ben Platt, Cynthia Erivo, Rachel Zegler and Leslie Odom Jr., the segment did justice to its subjects while also reminding viewers about the power of live theater.

As a nice bonus, Eilish performed "Happier Than Ever" while clad in a T-shirt with Hawkins' face on it.

10. The Grammys really need to figure out what to do about hip-hop.

If the Grammys are looking for a note to take into next year, besides maybe "Don't give an award to Louis C.K. next time," they'd do well to assess just how much credibility they've lost in the world of hip-hop. Two of the rap categories (best rap performance and best rap album) had only four nominees because Drake pulled his music from contention between the announcement of nominations and the telecast. Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar's excellent "family ties" was a great choice for best rap performance, but Lamar skipped the ceremony; two more prizes went to Kanye West, who was absent for different reasons.

West picked up the only hip-hop nomination among 10 contenders for album of the year — an award he was pretty clearly never a threat to win — and rap (Nas aside) scarcely turned up amid the dozens of performances throughout the night. The Grammys' relationship with hip-hop has only grown more fraught in recent years, and Sunday night's telecast did nothing to help.

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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.)