It’s really not much of a stretch to expect a previous year’s big Grammy winner to repeat the following year, but Billie Eilish certainly was surprised to win the Best Record category at the ceremony on Sunday night: She started off her acceptance speech by going full Adele 2017, saying that Megan Thee Stallion actually deserved to win the award Billie herself had just won.
“This is really embarrassing for me,” Eilish said, taking the stage with her brother and collaborator, Finneas. “Megan, girl, I was going to write a speech about how you deserve this, but then I was like, ‘There’s no way they’re going to choose me.’ I was like, ’It’s hers!’”“You deserve this. You had a year that I think is un-toppable,” Eilish continued. “You are a queen. I want to cry thinking about how much I love you. You’re so beautiful. You’re so talented. You deserve everything in the world. Genuinely, this goes to her.”
Eilish, who swept the 2020 Grammys (and was Variety‘s 2019 Hitmaker of the Year), conceded the stage so completely to Megan — who was already the night’s big winner — that she spent less than half as much time talking about her own win.“But I really do appreciate this,” Eilish concluded. “Thank you to the Academy… I love my team. Thank you to my brother, Finneas. Thanks for doing this. I love you, thank you.” The speech was more than a little reminiscent of Adele trying to give her Album of the Year trophy to Beyonce in 2017.
But even though an Eilish win was not a shock, the song itself — “Everything I Wanted,” which is broadly about Eilish’s breakthrough year that culminated in the 2020 Grammys — is an unlikely song to win Record of the Year. It’s spare, understated, hushed and melancholy. But win it did, and although Eilish only released three new songs in the eligibility period, she won Grammys for two of them: “Everything” and “No Time to Die,” her theme from a James Bond film that still has not been released.
But it was just one of several surprises from the 2021 Grammys. First among them, apart from the fact that Beyonce was actually there, was Megan Thee Stallion (a Variety cover star last summer) leading the wins with three — while many expected her to have a good night, few probably predicted that she would be the top winner, with Best New Artist, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance (the latter two for the remix of “Savage,” featuring Beyonce).
Elsewhere, looking at the Big Four categories, some people also seemed surprised that H.E.R.’s Black Lives Matter anthem, “I Can’t Breathe,” won Song of the Year, but it’s less unlikely in light of the fact that Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” won Best Song and Best Record in 2019.
But the evening’s biggest surprise may have been how evenly split it was, with Beyonce racking up four wins (two of them for her feature “Savage”) and other big nominees — Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, Brittany Howard — taking home a one award each, but not an armload. Justin Bieber, up for four trophies, won one as a featured artist on Dan and Shay’s “10,000 Hours.”
It was also surprising that Anderson .Paak beat out Drake for Best Melodic Rap Performance, and that Fiona Apple racked up two wins for her innovative and challenging album, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters.”
Highwomen was a surprise for best country song, winning over Maren Morris’ smash “The Bones,” and Vince Gill was an unexpected winner for country solo performance. And it was something of a surprise that Andrew Watt — recognized for his work with Dua Lipa, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Miley Cyrus, 5 Seconds of Summer and Ozzy Osbourne — topped Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, The Chicks, FKA Twigs and Sia), but it’s also on point that the Academy recognized Watt’s remarkable versatility.
But the biggest surprise of all may be the fact that the Grammy winners list — which began at noon P.T. with the Premiere Ceremony for all of the awards that are not broadcast during the big show — led off with a pair of victories for Canadian electronic music artist Kaytranada, for Best Dance Recording (for “10%”) and Best Dance/Electronic Album (for “Bubba”).
As always, however, there were snubs — first and most prominently, the fact that the Weeknd, who’d had the kind of year that usually results in four or six Grammy wins, was not even nominated, but we’ve already discussed that.
Coming away without trophies on this night were five-time nominee Roddy Ricch, four-time nominee and Variety cover star Phoebe Bridgers, and four-time nominee DaBaby. Jhene Aiko, who was up for three awards including Album of the Year and also hosted the Premiere ceremony, came away with no trophies as well.
But everyone who is nominated for a Grammy is a winner, and to keep things in perspective, let’s note that veteran singer James Taylor won Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album with “American Standard,” a body of work that shares a name with a toilet brand.
See the full 2021 Grammy winners’ list right here.