The 63rd Annual Grammy Awards ceremony was held in and around the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles on March 14, 2021. It recognized the best recordings, compositions, and artists of the eligibility year, running from September 1, 2019, to August 31, 2020. The nominations were revealed via a virtual livestream on November 24, 2020. The performers for the ceremony were announced on March 7, 2021. South African comedian Trevor Noah hosted the ceremony.
The category Best Musical Theater Album can now only award up to four principal vocalists (previously unlimited) in addition to the album producer and the lyricists/composers (if the album contains at least 51% new material). In the case of an ensemble-driven piece, all vocalists will receive a winner's certificate.
The Recording Academy appointed Ben Winston as the executive producer of the show, his first time working on a Grammy show. Winston, via Rolling Stone, stated that the show would feature multiple stages, but no audience, highlighting the "creative triumphs, social justice movements, as well as COVID-19's impact on the arts". Regarding the venue shift, Winston stated that he does believe Staples is a safe place, but he wanted "to go above and beyond to make even the most-skeptical participants feel undoubtedly safe". The production was overseen by COVID-19 safety officers. To minimize physical contact, artists had their own backstage area, and entered the stages from different directions.
The show involved five equally sized stages arranged in a circle facing inwards; one of the stages was for presenters and the other four for performers. Crew members worked from the center of the circular set. As soon as one performance ended, the next stage would be covered, and so on. Each stage set-up was changed every 45 minutes and replaced with a different performer in the lineup. Winston mentioned that the said concept was inspired by his favorite shows Jools Holland and TFI Friday. The show was a mix of live and pre-recorded performances, as "a fully live show would involve too many crew members moving sets and risking close contact". However, the whole show was planned to feel entirely live.
Joe Alwyn, Jack Antonoff, Aaron Dessner & Taylor Swift, producers; Jack Antonoff, Aaron Dessner, Serban Ghenea, John Hanes, Jonathan Low & Laura Sisk, engineers/mixers; Aaron Dessner & Taylor Swift, songwriters; Randy Merrill, mastering engineer
Amélie – Audrey Brisson, Chris Jared, Caolan McCarthy & Jez Unwin, principal soloists; Michael Fentiman, Sean Patrick Flahaven, Barnaby Race & Nathan Tysen, producers; Nathan Tysen, lyricist; Daniel Messe, composer & lyricist (Original London Cast)
Leonard Slatkin, conductor; Charles Bruffy, Steven Fox & Benedict Sheehan, chorus masters (Joseph Charles Beutel & Anna Dennis; Orchestra Of St. Luke's; Cathedral Choral Society, The Clarion Choir, Kansas City Chorale & The Saint Tikhon Choir)
"Moravec: Sanctuary Road"
Kent Tritle, conductor (Joshua Blue, Raehann Bryce-Davis, Dashon Burton, Malcolm J. Merriweather & Laquita Mitchell; Oratorio Society Of New York Orchestra; Oratorio Society Of New York Chorus)
"Once Upon a Time"
Matthew Guard, conductor (Sarah Walker; Skylark Vocal Ensemble)
Musical artists and industry personnel who had died in 2020 and early 2021 were included in a memorial reel aired during the Grammy telecast. At least 800 individuals were considered by producer Ben Winston for the segment. The Recording Academy was criticized by fans of Naya Rivera, Benny Mardones, Hal Ketchum, Riley Gale, and Frankie Banali for excluding their names from the broadcast, although all of them were included on a longer list of names posted on the Grammys website.
The segment dedicated to Eddie Van Halen was criticized by fans, former bandmates and other figures within the hard rock and heavy metal community who felt that the brief seconds-long tribute was an insult to the guitarist's influence and legacy. Van Halen's son Wolfgang Van Halen revealed that he declined the Academy's offer to play "Eruption" for the segment out of respect for his father, believing that the "In Memoriam" would feature more songs. While disappointed with the brief tribute, Wolfgang was "hurt the most" by Eddie not being mentioned among other late artists remembered at the beginning of the show, attributing the mishap to the declining mainstream popularity in rock music and the Academy's historical lack of interest in the genre. However, Jem Aswad of Variety defended the tribute, opining that longer tributes featuring cover artists still would have failed to meet expectations and praised the subtext behind the segment, which featured a spotlight on Van Halen's signature Frankenstrat guitar with a video of the guitarist playing in the background, that Van Halen's talent could never be replicated.
Following the release of the nominations, Canadian singer The Weeknd accused the Grammys of corruption after he failed to receive any nominations. Based on the success of his album, After Hours, The Weeknd had been expected by many critics and publications to receive a large number of nominations, including Album of the Year as well as several nods for his single "Blinding Lights". Expressing his concerns, The Weeknd tweeted that "the Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency". He further explained that he was expecting nominations due to discussions between his team and the Grammys to perform at the ceremony but it was later reported by Rolling Stone that these discussions broke down due to The Weeknd also performing at the Super Bowl LV halftime show. In response, the Grammys released a statement saying that they "empathized" with The Weeknd's disappointment but that some "deserving" artists miss out every year. Recording Academy president Harvey Mason Jr. later expanded on this by explaining that "we understand that The Weeknd is disappointed at not being nominated. I was surprised and can empathise with what he's feeling. Unfortunately, every year, there are fewer nominations than the number of deserving artists. To be clear, voting in all categories ended well before The Weeknd's performance at the Super Bowl was announced, so in no way could it have affected the nomination process". Several days later, The Weeknd stated that "I personally don't care anymore. I have three Grammys, which mean nothing to me now, obviously. I suck at giving speeches anyways. Forget awards shows. It's not like, 'Oh, I want the Grammy!' It's just that this happened, and I'm down to get in front of the fire, as long as it never happens again".
American singer Halsey spoke out in solidarity with The Weeknd after her 2020 album, Manic, received no nominations. Taking to Instagram, Halsey wrote "The Grammys are an elusive process. It can often be about behind the scenes private performances, knowing the right people, campaigning through the grapevine, with the right handshake and 'bribes' that can be just ambiguous enough to pass as 'not bribes.'" The singer went on to share that speaking out against The Grammys could very well get an artist blacklisted. Halsey, who only has 2 nominations throughout her entire career, was the center of conversation when her song "Without Me", which reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100, was passed up for a nomination at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards.
Justin Bieber expressed his disappointment with the academy following his album Changes receiving nominations in the Pop field rather than the R&B field. He explained that he is "very meticulous and intentional about my music. With that being said I set out to make an R&B album. Changes was and is an R&B album. It is not being acknowledged as an R&B album which is very strange to me". The Grammys later responded to Bieber, stating that "we always want to respect the artist's wishes. Art's a funny thing because it's so subjective, and at the Academy our goal is to honor excellence. At some point, decisions have to be made as to how to compare different things, and it is a very tough process and one I don't think we get right every time. We use our best efforts to get people where they wanna be and where they should be and try to evaluate them as best as we can. If he felt that was that type of a record, then, you know… I'll just leave it at that. We try really hard to make sure people's art is respected and evaluated in the right category".
Five days before the ceremony, British artist Zayn Malik posted a tweet criticizing the Grammys and their voting procedures stating that "unless you shake hands and send gifts, there's no nomination considerations. Next year I'll send you a basket of confectionary". After confusion from fans and the media, who noted that Malik's third album, Nobody Is Listening, was ineligible for the 63rd Grammy Awards as it was released after the eligibility period ended in August, Malik stated his intentions in a follow-up tweet, explaining that his prior post was "not personal or about eligibility but was about the need for inclusion and the lack of transparency of the nomination process and the space that creates and allows favoritism, racism, and networking [sic] politics to influence the voting process".
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During the ceremony, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion performed the song "WAP." Grammys host Trevor Noah prefaced the performance with, "If you have small children in the room, just tell them it's a song about giving a cat a bath", and the chorus "wet and gushy," was changed to "wet, wet, wet".Billboard ranked it as the best performance of the ceremony, commenting that "this had to be one of the most insane television debut performances of all time." Music critic Jon Caramanica called the performance "wildly and charmingly salacious, frisky and genuine in a way that the Grammys has rarely if ever made room for". However, the performance received criticism for being "non-family-friendly".
The broadcast received an average of 8.8 million viewers in the United States, with a 2.1 Nielsen rating among adults aged 18 to 49, marking a more than 50 percent decline from the previous year's ceremony, and making it the least-viewed telecast in the history of the Grammys. Conversely, the live streaming audience for the show was up 83 percent over 2020 and the hashtag, #Grammys trended for 18 hours and peaked in the number one position.