The best and worst moments from the 2023 Grammy Awards

The best and worst moments from the 2023 Grammy Awards

Leah Greenblatt

They came, they saw, they wondered where Beyoncé was. The most nominated artist of the night — and now the winningest of all time, if not in the categories where it counts the most — might have been tardy to the party, but she was hardly the only one generating memorable moments at the 65th annual Grammy Awards.

Read on for the highs, lows, and “As It Was” whoas of music’s biggest night.

Whoa: It’s Harry’s house

Best Pop Vocal Album felt like Adele’s prize to lose (she’s already taken it twice before, for turning 21 and 25). But Harry Styles went ahead and made an album that definitely feels like an album — or at least the only one on the nominees list with a bona-fide monster single in “As It Was” — and so he took home the first major prize of the night. Was he as dazzled as his camisole? The “Thank you for this DoorDash delivery” energy of his low-key acceptance speech will never tell. 

High: A historic win (dressed up like a red wedding)

Kim Petras wasn’t the first openly trans artist to be nominated for a Grammy — Wendy Carlos and Jackie Shane, among others, preceded her — but her Best Pop Vocal Duo or Group Performance win for “Unholy” with Sam Smith still marked a major, joyful moment. While Smith stood by in respectful silence, the German-born singer acknowledged the weight of it, tipping her win to “all the incredible transgender legends before me who kicked these doors open,” including her friend the late pop singer and producer SOPHIE; Madonna (“for fighting for LGBTQ rights”); and her mom (who “believed me that I was a girl”). 

High, low, and whoa: An all-star crowd caught on tape

Nelly is living for Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson! Miranda Lambert needs a nap. Man, Shania Twain feels like a woman when Harry’s on stage in his spangles! Beyoncé is… not in the building yet. Is Ben Affleck okay?The cameras dutifully went searching for reaction shots in the room, and sometimes found more (or in the case of Lambert’s shameless yawn, less) than they were looking for. 

High and low: The in memoriam

Impassioned, intimate performances from Kacey Musgraves, Quavo, and Bonnie Raitt? Yay! Letting a handful of late legends (Loretta Lynn, David Crosby) have the courtesy of sustained standalone clips? Very nice. Vaguely grouping the deceased together by genre, age demographic, and/or ethnicity? Not great, Bob. 

High: Beyoncé’s love on top

Plastic off the sofa, passing into Grammy legend: Ask not why James Corden had to be the one to present it; CBS synergy always wins. But Bey didn’t need to hear her name to know that history had just been made, and her brief, gracious acceptance speech for Best Dance/Electronic Album — which officially made her the Recording Academy’s most awarded artist of all time — paid tribute to her late Uncle Johnny, her teary superstar husband Jay-Z standing in the audience, and the queer community “for your love, and for inventing the genre.” (Did also-ran Diplo mouth something shady when her name was announced? Maybe.) 

High: Rapper’s delight

Will Smith may have excused himself from the narrative at the last minute, but the evening’s high-vibe celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop hardly needed the distraction of a conflicted star. Not when it had Missy Elliott, Salt-N-Pepa, LL Cool J, Big Boi, Rakim, Public Enemy, De La Soul, Method Man, Grandmaster Flash, Too $hort, Ice T, Run DMC, and a Busta Rhymes flow so electric it made the Micro-Machines guy sound like a medicated loris. 

Whoa: Bonnie Raitt’s little ballad that could

It takes a village, typically, to pen a Song of the Year; this award hasn’t gone to one written solely by the artist who sang it since Amy Winehouse took the prize in 2008 for “Rehab.” Somehow, though, a 73-year-old roots singer with a silver streak in her hair, 11 Grammys on her mantel, and no charting single since 1995 defeated the likes of Beyoncé, Lizzo, Kendrick, and Adele in one of the night’s biggest categories with “Just Like That,” a gentle rumination about organ donation. 

Whoa: Best New Artist is actually new

And the Esperanza Spalding award for jazzbo bombshells goes to… Samara Joy, the stunned 23-year-old Bronx native whose previous fame stemmed mostly from being named Jazz Times‘ Best New Artist in 2021. Nobody looked more surprised than Joy, who gave a charmingly awed speech to a room full of superstars who fully expected to see Latto, Mäneskin, or Wet Leg taking this trophy home.

Low: a Harry situation

Speaking of upsets, Style’s Album of the Year prize for the perfectly pleasant Harry’s House came as likely confirmation that Beyoncé’s career will always come with an asterisk now: The winningest superstar in pop history who somehow failed to take a single AOTY trophy in an otherwise unparalleled career. (We’d like to say there will be another chance after Renaissance, but those prizes come to pop stars over 40 about as often as an asteroid.) Then again, this kind of chaos also feels exactly on brand for the Recording Academy — a reminder that Grammys gonna Grammy, no matter what the bookies (and the supposed winds of change) say. 

Low: Not the closure we came for

Much like the 2021 Oscars ceremony rearranging itself around the prospect of a posthumous win for Chadwick Boseman, only to have Anthony Hopkins — who wasn’t even in the room — take home the Best Actor prize, the placing of a DJ Khaled performance of “God Did” following Styles’ surprise win felt like a truly unfortunate misreading of where the evening was headed. Jay-Z, doing his obligatory bit alongside Khaled, Rick Ross, Fridayy, John Legend, and Lil Wayne, looked like he wanted to teleport himself right off the stage after his wife’s AOTY loss, and the entire vibe of the performance felt both chaotic and hollow. God giveth, yes, and sometimes He taketh away; but fate did this one dirty. 

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