The annual Grammy Awards show is always too long and inevitably has moments of “wait– who just won?”
The 61st Grammys on Sunday night were no different. But what made this show so good, was the plethora of phenomenal women, queer performers and the hosting perfection of Alicia Keys.
There were lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, queer and trans nominees. Janelle Monae. Brandi Carlile. St. Vincent. Dua Lipa. Lady Gaga. Cardi B. Sophie. The whole LGBTQ spectrum was represented fabulously.
It’s been a long time since there’s been an awards-show moment as queer as Madonna kissing Britney Spears at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2003.
St. Vincent’s and Lipa’s hotter-than-hot alt rock tango at the Grammys — the kiss never materialized, but the slow build was spectacular — and it was as queer as could be. The heated mash up of “Masseduction” and “One Kiss” was the story of the night.
Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, began the duet with a languorous intro on a black guitar that matched her outfit. Dressed in strapless black leather body suit and fishnets — no skirt, no pants — her dark hair in a severe bob, she sang the risqué lyrics of her hit song — “…nuns in stress positions/smokin’ Marlboros.”
Soon, she was joined by Lipa wearing a slinky, black-and-white sleeveless dress with gold metal accents. The two women leaned into each other and the crowd was wild for it. There was a little bit of Aretha — the night had been filled with honors for the late icon — “Respect” rippled through the music as the song shifted to Lipa’s “One Kiss” and the two women teased each other and the audience.
In a Feb. 12 interview with Rolling Stone, Clark said, “Those songs are two sides of the same coin. They’re about seduction and sex and all those things. Then we wanted to give a little nod to the late, great Queen of Soul, so it was like, ‘What if we sing R-E-S-P-E-C-T as a sort of fucked up dom-sub thing, like sex.’ I don’t know if that song has ever been sung with that intonation before.”
No — no one has ever done “Respect” as a domination anthem, Clark is right about that.
Clark also told Rolling Stone, her song, “Masseduction” is “a f*cked-up sex song, but it’s also a lot of other things. I’m talking about the power of seduction on every level, whether it’s sexual seduction, political seduction, totalitarianism and this need to get your rocks off. It seemed like there was an unethical parallel between the duality of those things that I wanted to grab at. Seduction is exciting, but it’s also a transference of power; it’s an abdication or an acquisition of power, but then what does power look like?”
In many ways, the duet was emblematic of how this year’s Grammys highlighted women, their strength, their power and their purpose.
Monae was nominated for Album of the Year for her sex-tacular “Dirty Computer” album and her Grammys performance was another stunner.
The out pansexual channeled Prince with a rendition of her “Make Me Feel.” She, too, dressed in a body suit and stockings — hers black latex with a coy white collar. She played guitar as she sang “It’s like I’m powerful with a little bit of tender/An emotional, sexual bender/Mess me up, yeah, but no one does it better.”
Monae had dancers wearing pink pants fashioned to look like vulvas and said, “Let the vagina have a monologue,” which got whistles from the crowd.
Keys gave Carlile a lot of love as she introduced the gay country star. Carlile brought the house down with her Grammy-winning single “The Joke,” about a bullied boy and a woman refugee and everything we are fighting right now with the Trump presidency. The poignant lyrics were laser-scripted across the screen as she sang and hit the notes with her double-octave range. If you didn’t come away weeping as she finished the bravura performance, you were probably wearing a MAGA hat.
In her acceptance speech for winning the Best Americana Album Grammy, Carlile described Americana music — a crossover country genre — as “the island of misfit toys” and herself as a misfit.
“I came out of the closet at 15 years old, when I was in high school,” she said. “And I can assure you that I was never invited to any parties. I never got to attend a dance. To be embraced by this enduring and loving community has been the dance of a lifetime. Thank you for being my island.”
These queer and female moments were everything for an audience that has spent decades watching the mostly male, wholly straight Grammy Awards and wondering when the women and queers would break through.
It was a long night — well over three hours. But the most scintillating highlights were all women, and some — days later headlines were still proclaiming Carlile the night’s winner for her performance and her speech — rocked the house in ways that rippled well after the show ended.