Alicia Keys had a surprise guest to open the 2019 Grammy Awards on Sunday night: Michelle Obama.
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Keys delivered a somewhat rambling speech about music being our “global language,” telling the crowd, “Music is what we all love. Music is what it’s all about … Music is what we cry to, it’s what we march to, it’s what we rock to, it’s what we make love to. It’s our shared global language. When you really want to say something, you say it with a song. “
She then brought out Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett Smith, Obama and Jennifer Lopez with the crowd fawning over the former first lady.
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Gaga spoke first of the group, telling the crowd, “They said I was weird, that my look, my choices, my sound, that it wouldn’t work. But music told me not to listen to them. Music took my ears, took my hands, my voice and my soul and it led me to all of you and to my little monsters who I love so much.”
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Lopez was next to reminisce telling the audience, “Back in the Bronx, music gave me a reason to dance,” while Pinkett Smith quipped, “Every voice we hear deserves to be heard and respected.”
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That’s when Obama spoke up, sending the crowd into an uproar. “Amen,” Obama said in response.
“From the Motown records I wore out on the South Side,” she began as the audience stood up and screamed. “Come on, we got a show to do,” she said with a grin. “From the Motown records I wore out on the South Side to the ‘who run the world’ songs of the last decade, music always helped me tell my story. Whether we like country, rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves … it allows us to hear one another to invite each other in it shows us that all of it matters.”
Backstage after the big moment, Lopez told Entertainment Tonight, “That was Alicia’s brainchild. She wanted to show unity, and she wanted to give good energy and great vibes to the night, and it was a great way to do it. I’m very proud to have been a part of it.”
Pinkett Smith added that they had to “keep the secret for Alicia … We had to keep it on the low, especially because our forever first lady was here. So for security purposes, we had to keep it low. It’s beautiful, because that’s what art is about. Listen, that’s what humanity is about, coming together. We all need each other, right? And so it’s just about us treating everybody with respect and coming together and celebrating all the blessings we all have.”
The opening contrasted with last year’s Grammys, where male acts dominated in nominations and the only woman competing for the top award, Lorde, didn’t get a chance to perform onstage.
Before Obama’s show-stopping appearance, Camila Cabello opened the show with a performance of her 2017 hit “Havana” featuring Ricky Martin and J. Balvin.
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Miley Cyrus and Sean Mendes followed with a performance of “In My Blood,” while Kacey Musgraves did a moving rendition of “Rainbow” and Janelle Monae channeled a combination of Prince and Robert Palmer for “The Way You Make Me Feel” — complete with sexual dance moves and dancers wearing vagina pants.
Shortly after, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper won the Grammy Award for best pop duo/group performance for the song “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born.”
A tearful Gaga accepted the award Sunday night, thanking Cooper, who she noted was in England from the British Film Academy Awards known as the BAFTAs.
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“Thank you so much. I got to thank God, thank you for looking out for me. Thank you for my family,” she said. “I wish Bradley was here with my right now.”
It is Gaga’s third Grammy win Sunday. In a pre-telecast ceremony, she was among the winners for best song written for visual media, which was also awarded to “Shallow.” She also won best pop solo performance for “Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Going’?).”
Women have a strong presence in the top categories. Five of the eight album-of-the-year nominees are women, including Carlile’s “By the Way, I Forgive You,” Janelle Monae’s “Dirty Computer,” Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy,” Musgraves’ “Golden Hour,” and H.E.R.’s self-titled album are also in contention.
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Six of the best-new-artist nominees are women, including H.E.R., Chloe x Halle, Margo Price, Dua Lipa, Bebe Rexha and Jorja Smith.
Women were also honored in the night’s tributes: Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves and Little Big Town all performed with MusiCares Person of the Year Dolly Parton.
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When asked about the lack of women in the top categories at the 2018 Grammys, Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow said women need to “step up.” He later acknowledged that it was a “poor choice of words,” and his much-criticized remarks forced the academy to launch a new task force focused on inclusion and diversity.
Ariana Grande won her first Grammy in the same week that she publicly blasted Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich and accused him of lying about why she was no longer performing at the show.
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“I know i’m not there tonight (trust, i tried and still truly wished it had worked out tbh) and i know i said i try not to put too much weight into these things …. but (expletive) ……. this is wild and beautiful. thank you so much,” she tweeted after learning about her win.
Childish Gambino, Tori Kelly and Lauren Daigle won two awards each. Beyonce, Jay-Z, Ella Mai, H.E.R., Pharrell Williams, Hugh Jackman, Sting, Shaggy, Dave Chappelle, “Weird Al” Yankovic, the late Chris Cornell, Greta Van Fleet and even former President Jimmy Carter also picked up early awards ahead of the live show.
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There was a tie for best rap performance, and Drake was surprisingly not one of the winners. Drake’s “Nice for What” lost to Anderson Paak’s “Bubblin'” and Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Future and James Blake’s “King’s Dead,” from the “Black Panther” soundtrack.
Several big stars are not attending the Grammys, including Grande, Childish Gambino (who won Song of the Year for “This Is America”), Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar, the top nominee with eight, and Drake, nominated for seven awards.
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Drama has surrounded the Grammys around its Motown Records tribute: Some people complained when a promo aired on CBS showing Jennifer Lopez as the act set to honor the legendary record label, which launched the careers of the Jackson 5, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and more.
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Some complained that a black artist should be involved in the tribute, while others said stronger vocalists should perform over Lopez. A representative for the Grammys didn’t return an email seeking clarification about the tribute.
Others set to perform Sunday included Post Malone, who took the stage with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as well as Cardi B, Lady Gaga, Travis Scott, Diana Ross, Dan + Shay, H.E.R., Little Big Town and Chloe x Halle. Yolanda Adams, Fantasia and Andra Day will honor the late Aretha Franklin with a performance.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.