The 63rd annual Grammy Awards went on amid the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday with a planned combination of live and taped performances by blockbuster stars such as Taylor Swift, Cardi B, Billie Eilish and BTS. Already, popular rapper Megan Thee Stallion and acclaimed singer-songwriters Fiona Apple and the late John Prine scored early wins during the pre-televised portion of the awards ceremony.

During the televised ceremony, performances will take place on five stages that face each other. On the schedule are performances from Bad Bunny, Dua Lipa, Haim and Black country-music artist Mickey Guyton. This year’s host is comedian Trevor Noah from “The Daily Show.”

Harry Styles performing during the beginning of the Grammys.



Photo:

Kevin Winter/Recording Academy/EPA/Shutterstock

Among the early, lower-profile awards given out: Megan Thee Stallion won best rap performance for “Savage,” which features Beyoncé. Fiona Apple won best rock performance for her song “Shameika” and best alternative music album for “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” one of last year’s most critically-adored albums. Meanwhile, the late John Prine won two American roots awards for his last recorded song, “I Remember Everything,” along with a lifetime achievement award.

It is possible this year’s Grammys could offer more surprises than usual given a large number of unexpected snubs and nods: Pop-R&B star The Weeknd didn’t receive a single nomination despite releasing one of 2020’s most praised albums, yet little-known names like British music prodigy Jacob Collier and retro-soul duo Black Pumas garnered high-profile album of the year nominations.

The Grammys, which were originally scheduled for January, come at a difficult time for the music industry. For a year now, nearly all major concerts have been canceled or postponed—slamming concert promoters, mothballing music venues, throwing artists in limbo and eliminating the livelihood of thousands of workers, from bartenders in clubs to festival food-truck employees. As vaccinations pick up pace, live-music executives now expect a gradual return—with outdoor amphitheater shows in mid-summer—but routing large tours could still prove tricky.

In a salute to struggling live-music industry workers, the Grammys will have staffers from various venues such as the Apollo Theater in New York present awards. “Better days lie ahead,” Harvey Mason Jr., the interim CEO and president of the Recording Academy, which runs the Grammys, said in remarks during the night’s pre-show proceedings.

There were some sound issues online in the pre-telecast portion, when many of the night’s awards are doled out. However, this sometimes prompted moments of levity, such as when the rock band The Strokes asked “Did we win?” a few times after winning best rock album for their record “The New Abnormal.” After a funny delay, they celebrated. “I feel like we could have won based on the name [of the album] alone,” singer Julian Casablancas quipped.

HAIM perform onstage Sunday night.



Photo:

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

But all has not been light with the Grammys: Recently, the music-industry awards show faced renewed criticism that its voting practices disadvantage Black artists, especially in hip-hop R&B.

The Weeknd said this past week that he would no longer submit his music for consideration because of the Grammys’ nomination-review committees. These committees narrow the initial votes by the Recording Academy’s more than 11,000 voting members—musicians, producers and the like—down to five or eight nominees for the majority of awards. Committee members are kept secret to protect them from being lobbied—but this has fueled speculation about voting improprieties.

On Sunday, Taylor Swift’s album “Folklore” was considered the front-runner for the show’s most coveted prize, album of the year. Beyoncé, meanwhile, had the most nominations overall—nine. But she has lost multiple awards so far and has two competing nods in the same category—record of the year—for her song “Black Parade” and her appearance on Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage.” A win for either record of the year or song of the year (where she is nominated for “Black Parade”) would give Beyoncé her first major award since 2010.

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Write to Neil Shah at neil.shah@wsj.com

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