Grammys 2024: The highs, lows and why Taylor Swift won album of the year

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SZA was one of the big winners at the 2024 Grammy Award

The 2024 Grammy Awards ended with a bang: Taylor Swift taking home her fourth album of the year trophy.

It cements her position as the one of the greatest songwriters of her era – although she was gracious enough to use her speech to praise fellow nominee Lana Del Rey, calling her “a legend in her prime” who has set the agenda for an entire generation of female artists.

Despite Taylor taking the main title, it was a fairly even-handed night by Grammy standards.

Favoured nominees like Miley Cyrus, Billie Eilish, SZA and Boygenius all went home with multiple prizes, while the best new artist went to R&B star Victoria Monét – the first time a female R&B act has scooped that award since Alicia Keys in 2002.

Along the way, there were plenty of surprise appearances (Celine Dion!) and show-stopping performances (Burna Boy, Dua Lipa).

Here are the highlights, lowlights and takeaways from “music’s biggest night”.

TAKEAWAY: Taylor Swift wasn’t just recognised for her music

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By any metric, it’s an incredible feat: Taylor Swift has won album of the year three times more than The Beatles, two more than Adele and one more than Stevie Wonder.

In fact, she’s won the prize more than anyone. Ever.

Her latest honour is for 2022’s Midnights – a hazy, dream-scrubbed collection of songs about the late-night obsessions.

At the time of release, it was not her best-received album. And for that reason, many people thought R&B star SZA or indie band Boygenius were more likely to win.

But the Grammys aren’t simply about musical merit, and Swift is currently in the middle of an imperial phase. Her Eras tour has broken box office records, boosted local economies, prompted a government inquiry into Ticketmaster and even caused seismic activity.

The singer has also been named Time Magazine’s person of the year, while her romance with Travis Kelce brought new eyes to American football.

It’s hard to argue against her cultural dominance – but it all stems from the music.

That’s a factor the Recording Academy’s 11,000 voters will have been keenly aware of. They take songwriting incredibly seriously, which means they take Swift – who exists at the crossroads of commercial success and sonic innovation – seriously as well.

So her fourth Grammy win was all but inevitable, even if your preferred Taylor Swift album is Folklore (correct answer), 1989 (also acceptable) or Lover (we need to have words).

HIGHLIGHT: A standing ovation for Joni Mitchell

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Joni Mitchell’s music is like a language of its own. It’s raw, magical, almost painfully beautiful.

But over the past 10 years, the singer was almost robbed of language after a life-threatening brain aneurysm.

Following intensive rehabilitation, she returned to the stage in 2022 at the Newport Folk Festival – and a recording of that concert earned the singer the Grammy for best folk album on Sunday night.

Mitchell followed that up with a performance of Both Sides Now, supported by musicians Brandi Carlile and Jacob Collier.

At first, her voice seemed to catch – but as the song continued, she settled into a rich, dusky vocal tone.

They say, Joni, you’ve changed,” she sang, adapting the lyrics to the occasion. “Well something’s lost, but something’s gained / In living every day.”

Rich with experience, and laden with significance, the performance was exceptionally moving. It rightly brought the crowd to their feet.

LOWLIGHT: Travis Scott vs some chairs

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For one of rap’s most physically intense performers, Travis Scott’s set was mystifyingly boring.

The star performed a medley of My Eyes, I Know? and Fein (key lyric: “Fein, fein, fein, fein, fein, fein“) shrouded in shadow, while a dancer wandered around looking for something to do.

There was a brief frisson when Playboi Carti joined him on stage in a burst of pyrotechnics, but it all fizzled out with Scott flinging around plastic chairs like a refugee from a 1980s wrestling match.

HIGHLIGHT: Jay-Z goes off script

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I say off-script, but I’m not sure Jay-Z even prepared a script.

Honoured with something called the Dr Dre Global Impact Award, the rapper used his allotted time to deliver a wide-ranging ramble about the Grammys in general.

Straight off the bat, he reminisced about using one of his previous Grammy Awards as a “sippy cup” for his daughter Blue Ivy, who this time accompanied him to the stage.

“Blue’s grown up now,” he added. “She doesn’t take a sippy cup and she has her own Grammys.”

But he didn’t stop there. He joked about boycotting the 1998 Grammys because his friend DMX had been snubbed. And then he went for the jugular – bringing up Beyoncé.

Famously, his wife has more Grammys than anyone in history, with 32 in total. But for all that apparent love, the big prizes have eluded her. Of the 16 times she’s been nominated in the major categories, she has won just once: song of the year for Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) in 2010.

“I don’t want to embarrass this young lady, but she has more Grammys than everyone and never won album of the year,” said Jay-Z. “So even by your own metrics, that doesn’t work. Think about that.”

HIGHLIGHT: Boygenius’s childhood ambitions

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Boygenius (L-R): Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker

Alt-rock supergroup Boygenius were also triple winners, for their debut album The Record, which updates the classic 1970s California rock sound with an emphasis on harmony, friendship and feminism.

“We were all delusional enough as kids to think this might happen to us,” said Lucy Dacus, picking up their first prize – best rock performance for the song Not Strong Enough.

“Phoebe [Bridgers] would sing at the Guitar Center, hoping that she would get discovered. Julien [Baker] wanted to play sold out stadiums. And I would practice writing an acceptance speech, and thank all the people who’d been nice to me – like my bus driver and the guy that held the door at church.

“So I feel kind of like a kid, because that was the last time that something like this felt possible.”

TAKEWAY: Women “stepped up”, but there’s more to do

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Female artists thoroughly dominated this year, taking home all the major prizes and plenty more besides.

Kylie Minogue won best pop dance recording, and South Africa’s Tyla (pictured) picked up the inaugural award for best African performance.

Meanwhile, the formerly testosterone-soaked rock and alternative categories were dominated by Paramore (led by Hayley Williams) and Boygenius.

It’s a reflection of a year in which women were incredibly successful in the charts, and a significant change for the Grammys. As recently as 2018, the ceremony was embroiled in controversy when former chairman Neil Portnow said women needed “to step up” if they wanted a nomination.

So has the gap been closed? Far from it. By some counts, only 20% of artists signed to a major record label are female. Last year, only 19.5% of all songwriters across the Billboard Hot 100 songs were women.

“What we want is to be seen as equals, not just on the creative side but on the business side,” said Dua Lipa on the red carpet. “We’re still figuring that out but it’s getting there slowly.”

HIGHLIGHT: Billy Joel’s brutal honesty

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Billy Joel attended the ceremony with his wife Alexis Roderick

Six-time Grammy winner Billy Joel was back at the ceremony this year to perform Turn The Lights Back On – his first new song in almost two decades.

Speaking on the red carpet, he explained why it had taken so long to put pen to paper.

“I gotta go into my cave and become a caveman,” he told CBS news. “It’s not a fun process for me. It’s very self-centred. It’s very lonely. And sometimes it’s torture. But afterwards, I love having written.”

Joel added that he was surprised to be invited back to the Grammys after his last performance in 1994.

Back then, he stopped his performance of River Of Dreams mid-song in protest at Frank Sinatra’s speech being cut short earlier in the show.

“I looked at my watch and I said, ‘There is a lot of valuable advertising time going by here’,” he recalled. “I stopped for a long time… So they still might be mad at me for that.”

HIGHLIGHT: Tracy Chapman joining Luke Combs

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In a major coup for the Grammys, Tracy Chapman made her return to the stage to duet with country star Luke Combs.

The singer, who had a run of successful albums in the 1980s and 1990s, has largely avoided the spotlight since her last tour in 2009.

But she was tempted back after Combs covered her signature song Fast Car – a haunting folk-rock story about trying to escape poverty – and took it back into the US top 10 last year.

Their performance opened with Chapman picking out the song’s unforgettable riff, then trading verses with Combs before they united on the chorus.

Both singers looked delighted. Chapman grinned throughout, and Combs sang along off-mic during her solos.

In a video clip ahead of the performance, Combs said: “Just to be associated with her in any way is super humbling for me.”

In the audience, Taylor Swift and country star Jelly Roll sang along at the tops of their voices. A simple, but emotional, pleasure.

LOWLIGHT: U2 in Las Vegas

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Look, I’m fond of U2. I’m from Ireland, where it’s practically a requirement. But sometimes… oh, man.

The band beamed in live from The Sphere, the insane globular Las Vegas venue that’s made of 66ft LED screens and was built at a cost of $2.3bn (£1.83bn).

U2 are playing a residency there, and if you dream of a gig where you spend more time watching TV screens than watching the band, then you’re welcome to the $750 ticket price.

Their performance was basically a huge advert for the venue, set to Atomic City – an underwhelming single they put out to coincide with their opening night last year.

Fair enough that the Grammys should highlight innovation in concert technology, but everything about this was disappointingly mediocre. If only they’d played Mysterious Ways.

HIGHLIGHT: Practically every other performer

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The Grammys is always a mixed bag, but this year’s hit rate was high. Dua Lipa bravely opened the show with a brand new song, the pneumatic Training Season, while gyrating on metal scaffolding, and SZA recreated the Crazy 88 swordfight from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.

Billie Eilish’s rendition of song-of-the-year-winner What Was I Made For? was suitably tear-jerking; and Burna Boy oozed charisma during his medley of On Form, City Boys and Sittin’ On Top Of The World.

The In Memoriam section was particularly strong: Stevie Wonder paid touching tribute to his friend Tony Bennett, before Annie Lennox gave a stirring rendition of Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2U – backed by Prince’s musical foils Wendy and Lisa.

But it was Fantasia Barrino who stole the show, racing through an electric performance of Tina Turner’s Proud Mary before walking into the audience and shimmying with Dua Lipa.

The Queen of Rock ‘N’ Roll would have been proud.

LOWLIGHT: That one weird photo everyone’s forced to do

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It’s Grammy law. If you win a trophy, you have to pose awkwardly with it backstage. Bonus points if you kiss it. Double bonus points if you have an armful of the things.

Who knows why at this stage? It’s probably some Illuminati thing.

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Multiple award winners Boygenius, Taylor Swift and Jack Antonoff

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Victoria Monét won best new artist, best R&B album and best engineered album

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Karol G became the first woman to win the award for best musica urbana album

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Jay-Z has won 24 Grammy Awards over the course of his career

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Kylie Minogue picked up her second Grammy, for Padam Padam, 20 years after winning best dance recording for Come Into My World

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Shankar Mahadevan of the band Shakti won the best global music album award for This Moment

HIGHLIGHT: Miley Cyrus vindicated

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In her 17-year music career, Miley Cyrus has had dozens of hits – from Wrecking Ball and The Climb to Nothing Breaks Like A Heart and Midnight Sky.

But she’d never won a Grammy… until now.

The singer won two prizes: song of the year and best pop solo performance, both for the instant-classic break-up ballad Flowers.

Cyrus marked the moment with a brilliantly tortured metaphor.

“There’s a story I want to tell that sums up this moment,” she explained.

“There was a little boy and all he wanted for his birthday was a butterfly. And so his parents gave him a butterfly net and he was so excited. He just went outside, out in the sun, and started swinging and swinging, but with no luck.

“Then he sat down on the ground, and he finally let go and he surrendered. He was OK that he wasn’t going to capture this beautiful butterfly.

“And right when he did, is when the butterfly came and landed right on the tip of his nose. And this song, Flowers, is my butterfly.”

Later, Cyrus performed the song live for the first time, adding some parenthetical asides to the lyrics.

“I didn’t want to leave you (but I did) / I didn’t want to fight (but we did) / Started to cry but then remembered… I just won my very first Grammy!

She ended with a mic drop. And rightly so.

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