Pop Culture

The 2023 Grammys Highlights: An Incredible Hip-Hop Tribute, Every Ben Affleck Reaction Shot, Beyoncé’s Record-Breaking Moment and More

Beyonc accepts Best DanceElectronic Music Album for Renaissance onstage during the 65th Grammy Awards at Crypto.com...

Beyoncé accepts Best Dance/Electronic Music Album for Renaissance onstage during the 65th Grammy Awards at Crypto.com Arena on February 05, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.Courtesy of Michael Kovac via Getty Images
Beyoncé may have been robbed, but at least the broadcast got some other things right.

Hopefully Harry’s House has some extra shelf space, because the domicile of Harry Styles is now home to an Album of the Year trophy. The 65th Grammy Awards took place on February 5, and as always, the show was a wide-ranging celebration of music’s past and present, a place where Bad Bunny’s “El Apagón” was played on the same stage as Smokey Robinson’s “The Tears of a Clown.”

Hosted by Trevor Noah for the third consecutive year, the show was characteristically eclectic and had an off-kilter energy that was both endearing and odd, capped by Beyoncé missing one of her award wins because she was apparently stuck in L.A. traffic. 

Even though the Queen eventually made it to the crypto.com arena, she didn’t get the award we all wanted her to win for Album of the Year. Still, the show was punctuated by plenty of memorable moments, from Beyoncé becoming the most decorated Grammy winner ever (and, rightly, being called “the artist of our lives” by Lizzo) to moving tributes for late musicians like Takeoff and Christine McVie (though woefully missing Gangsta Boo), to a powerful tribute to hip-hop’s longevity. Here are the big moments worth knowing about from the 2023 Grammys.

Future finally gets on the board.

It’s hardly surprising for a rapper to dominate the zeitgeist and not receive commensurate acknowledgment from the Recording Academy, but it’s always a pleasant surprise to see one of hip-hop’s most influential stars earn a trophy. Future won his first Grammy as a lead artist in the Best Melodic Rap Performance category for his Drake and Tems collaboration “Wait for U.”  (In 2019, his Black Panther single “King’s Dead” tied with Anderson .Paak’s “Bubblin” for Best Rap Performance.)

Future’s received a handful of nominations, dating back to a 2017 Album of the Year nod for his work on Drake’s Views, but his discography hasn’t earned much love til this year. (Seriously, how did Hndrxx not get any R&B statues?)

2023 proved to be something of a Grammy breakthrough for Future, as he received nods for Best Rap Performance (“Pushin P” with Gunna and Young Thug), as well as two nominations apiece for Best Rap Song (“Pushin P” and “Wait for U”), and Best Melodic Rap Performance (“Wait for U,” “Beautiful” with SZA and DJ Khaled), though he lost Best Rap Album to Kendrick Lamar.

Chris Brown was not gracious in defeat.

Best R&B album is a tricky category as it straddles pop-leaning contemporary chart-toppers, longtime legends in the genre, and more heady, jazz inflected work. The 2023 award went to legend Robert Glasper’s ambitious, sprawling Black Radio III over nominees including Chris Brown’s Breezy. Brown, upset with the loss, took to Instagram during the award show to vent. “Who the fuck is Robert Glasper,” he wrote, while joking, “I gotta get my skills up…I’ma start playing the harmonica.”

Brown’s bitter reaction became a massive topic on social media, with some pointing out their disparity in Grammy victories–Glasper has five wins in 12 nominations, Brown has just one despite 20 nods–and others criticizing Brown’s lack of musical evolution in recent years. (Brown won Best R&B Album in 2012 for F.A.M.E.)

Glasper had a little fun at Brown’s expense, reposting the “Who the fuck is Robert Glasper” graphic on his Instagram and writing, “It’s been brought to my attention that y’all have questions about ‘Who [the fuck] is Robert Glasper!’ If y’all have questions, I have answers,” while sharing a myriad of congratulatory messages on his story.

Beyoncé reached the Grammy mountaintop with the most wins ever.

Beyoncé won her first Grammy in 2001 for Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name,” and has made a home on the award show stage ever since. With her 32nd victory, she vaulted past the late Hungarian-British conductor Georg Solti, claiming sole possession of the most trophies in the Grammys’ 60-plus year history.

Beyoncé officially broke the record with her win in the Best Dance/Electronic Music Album, her first nomination in that category, and the gravity of the moment clearly moved her during Bey’s first opportunity to speak at the show. (Two of her victories were given before the televised portion of the Grammys, and she was apparently stuck in traffic when she tied the record with her win for Best R&B Song.)

“I’m trying not to be too emotional. I’m trying just to receive this night. I want to thank God for protecting me. Thank you, God. I’d like to thank my uncle Johnny, who’s not here, but he’s here in spirit. I’d like to thank my parents, my father, my mother, for loving me and pushing me,” she said. “I’d like to thank my beautiful husband, my beautiful three children who are at home watching. I’d like to thank the queer community for your love and for inventing this genre. God bless you and thank you so much to the Grammys.” And yet, the show’s biggest award still eludes her…

An ambitious rap tribute was among the evening’s highlights.

Hip-hop and the Grammys have always had a complicated relationship, but the Recording Academy deserves its flowers for its gargantuan 50th anniversary tribute to rap. Beginning with seminal tracks from Grandmaster Flash, Run-DMC, and Salt-N-Pepa, the well paced medley took us through ‘90s staples (Geto Boys “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” Outkast’s “ATLiens”), seminal hits of the ‘00s (“Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” Missy Elliott’s “Lose Control”) before dropping us off in the present day with Lil’s Baby and Uzi Vert. The selection of tracks managed to honor rap’s roots, its role as a medium for fiery political and social commentary, and its evolution into the preeminent force in popular culture.

The only meaningful knock on the performance is a clunky transition from The Lox doing “We Gonna Make It” to Lil Baby’s “Freestyle,” which effectively glossed over the late 2000s and  early 2010s entirely. That era gave us a myriad of iconic singles—surely they could’ve brought out Future, Tyler, the Creator, or Cardi B, although ending the set with GloRilla’s and Lil Uzi Vert’s currently charting hits was an inspired choice.

Still, this was maybe the most high-profile celebration of rap history since XXL’s “A Great Day in Hip-Hop” photoshoot, and with rappers both young and old passing away at an alarming rate, the genre deserves to be celebrated more regularly on the biggest stage possible.

Ben Affleck audience shots were the gift that kept on giving.

Jennifer Lopez presented the night’s first award and from there, took a seat smack dab in the center of the action with her husband, Dunkin Donuts Marketing VP Benjamin Affleck. And though he tried his hardest to convincingly bop along to performances from the likes of Harry Styles and Sam Smith, Boston Ben’s face betrayed the fact that he’d rather be at home listening to the Bill Simmons podcast literally every time the camera cut to him. And it was usually more entertaining than whatever bit was actually happening onstage. 

Quavo paid tribute to Takeoff.

The hip-hop tributes took a somber turn when Quavo took the stage during the in memoriam segment to honor his late collaborator and family member Takeoff. Performing his 2023 track “Without You,” the Migos MC was accompanied by an Atlanta gospel choir called Maverick City Music, who incorporated the tender hook of Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” into the song. Clad in a black Phantom of the Opera-style half mask, there was a palpable solemnity to Quavo’s performance.

Kim Petras gave one of the night’s most moving speeches.

When Sam Smith and Kim Petras took home Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, Smith ceded the spotlight to Petras, who spoke about her journey to one of music’s biggest honors as a transwoman.

“I just want to thank all the incredible transgender legends before me who kicked these doors open for me so I could be here tonight,” Petras said. 

As CNN noted, Petras is not the first trans musician to take home a Grammy, but the massive success of she and Smith’s “Unholy,” which peaked at no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, makes her perhaps the most visible. In her speech, she made a point of honoring  the late producer and DJ Sophie, a Grammy nominee herself in 2019, as well as Madonna for her LGBTQ+ advocacy.

Petras, who grew up in Cologne, Germany, medically transitioned when she was 16 years old, a story that became national news. In her acceptance speech, she made a point of praising her mom for her support, saying, “I grew up next to a highway in nowhere, Germany and my mother believed me that I was a girl and I wouldn’t be here without her.” 

Steve Lacy (and Thundercat) brought the house down with “Bad Habits.”

The rise of Steve Lacy’s “Bad Habit” from cult hit to Tik Tok-fueled-chart topper is one of the most remarkable stories in recent pop music history, and the song absolutely merited a Grammy showcase. Lacy, accompanied by fellow Los Angeles musical maverick Thundercat, delivered one of the most rousing performances of the show, aided by a stellar black leather Saint Laurent fit and his trademark wraparound sunglasses. (“Bad Habit”  was clearly a hit with the A-listers in attendance, as BeyoncéDoja Cat, and Taylor Swift were all spotted vibing in their seats.)

Though Lacy isn’t a stranger to the Grammys–he was nominated in 2016 for his work with The Internet and in 2020 for his solo debut–this certainly felt like a watershed moment thanks to his ace performance and nods for both Record and Song of the Year. Lacy ultimately went home with one award from his five nominations, earning Best Progressive R&B Album for Gemini Rights.

A split in the Big Four kept the show surprising til the very end.

Like any awards show, earlier wins are often a signpost for how the rest of the night is going to shake out–think about the oft-discussed connection between Best Director and Best Picture at the Oscars–but the Grammys kept things spicy with the major awards going to four very different musicians. First, Bonnie Raitt took home Song of the Year for “Just Like That,” a track inspired by a woman donating her late child’s heart to a person in need. Lizzo took home Record of the Year for “About Damn Time,” delivering a charming speech where she honored fellow Minnesotan Prince and spoke about the joy and body positivity she’s worked to bring to pop culture. 23-year-old jazz standout Samara Joy earned Best New Artist, setting up a truly wild finish between the 10 nominees for Album of the Year, which ultimately went to Harry Styles’ Harry’s House.  

Styles, who previously earned Best Pop Vocal Album, seemed genuinely stunned by his win, and stressed that the creative process for he and his peers does not hinge around these kinds of accolades. “I feel like on nights like tonight, there is no such thing as ‘best in music,’” he said. “I don’t think any of us sit in the studio making decisions based on what’s gonna get us one of these.”

A mammoth DJ Khaled performance capped the show.

Jay-Z was probably the artist whose absence was most keenly felt during the hip-hop 50th anniversary performance, but he got his moment on stage as part of a closing rendition of DJ Khaled’s “God Did.” Fellow hip-hop heavyweights Lil Wayne and Rick Ross performed their verses, too, while John Legend and rising vocalist Fridayy crooned. Rapping forcefully through a haze of auto-tune, Wayne, a five-time Grammy Winner, sounded particularly sharp.

The set design was stunning and thematically appropriate, a still life-worthy banquet that stretched well beyond the camera’s frame. Jay rapped his tome of a verse with clarity, precision, and a conversational frankness that has informed his late-career work. On a night where hip-hop’s presence loomed large, it was fitting to end with the Grammys most acclaimed rapper (Hov has 24 wins, tied with Kanye West), delivering a mighty missive about his legacy.

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