Review: Hip-hop and Beyoncé almost saved the show until Grammys botched the ending

A woman in a low-cut dress accepts an award at the 65th Grammy Awards.
Beyoncé accepts the award for best dance/electronic music album at the 65th Grammy Awards.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Fifty years of hip-hop, a record-breaking run by Beyoncé and a massive snub stopped the 65th Grammy Awards ceremony from turning music’s biggest night into its sleepiest during Sunday’s show at L.A.’s Arena.

Despite performances by some of pop’s most vibrant artists, energy and excitement were in short supply during the three-hour-plus show broadcast live on CBS and streaming on Paramount+. The event marked the return of the Grammys to L.A. after a stint in Las Vegas last year, and an intimate, pared-down production in 2021 due to restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The award show’s return to downtown L.A., in a large venue and with a star-studded audience, should have been a coming out of sorts. A jubilant affair where the freedom of finally being able to watch music together again in a concert-like setting was honored with a lively, inventive and well-orchestrated production.


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Instead, the evening was a return to the usual churn of the Before Times Grammys, where big, clunky sets, underwhelming sound, awkward staging and way too much filler were the norm. Ironically, it was the scaled-down Grammys of 2021 at the Los Angeles Convention Center that signaled the awards show had potential to move in a new, fresh direction.

Mid-pandemic, nominees sat at socially distanced tables on an outdoor veranda overlooking the event’s previous home, Staples Center (since renamed the Arena). Overblown dance numbers and an arena packed with half-invested audience members were not an option, and we learned that such an intimate setting was for the better. It was the best celebration thrown by the Recording Academy in recent memory.

This year, organizers brought back former “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah, which was a smart move. He’s a great choice, given his improv experience, impromptu humor and abundant love of popular music and the artists who make the hits.

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But even Noah struggled Sunday to pump life into a flat show. His dialogue between awards and performances felt wooden and rehearsed, sprinkled with the usual scripted fare about the “power of music” and “music bringing people together” in hard times. Stars such as Taylor Swift sat around tables near the stage, a layout that featured stragglers passing in front of Noah as they looked for their seats, and the sight of folks chatting during his introductions.

For the record:

9:25 a.m. Feb. 6, 2023An earlier version of this story listed Rihanna as one of the stars in attendance.

Sets by normally effervescent artists Bad Bunny, Lizzo and Harry Styles were subdued, their momentum interrupted by snoozy, taped interludes of a round-table with fans. They debated which of their favorite artists should win, and it was like watching a social media scroll, but less exciting.

The big boost the ceremony got: A tribute to 50 years of hip-hop, curated by Ahmir Khalib “Questlove” Thompson, that featured a multigenerational performance of rappers on that same stage. Run-DMC, Grandmaster Flash, Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy, Salt-N-Pepa, Ice-T, Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, Method Man and Missy Elliott and Rakim were among the hip-hop luminaries and boundary-breakers performing snippets of their hits from various eras of the genre.

The other high point of the evening was Beyoncé breaking the record for the most Grammy wins ever, when she won for best dance/electronic album. It was a moment everyone seemed to be waiting for, but hopes were dashed for her finally taking home the award for album of the year; it went to Styles. It marked the billionth time the Grammys had snubbed her for the top award.


Aside from those moments, there was more tension and drama on the Ticketmaster site, where Beyoncé fans dangled in suspense on the Renaissance tour waitlist. An ad for Chex Mix, featuring Sir Mix-A-Lot, also proved to have more of a pulse than the run of the show.

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Madonna acknowledged the low energy in the place — “Come on, people. Let’s make some noise. You all are going to sleep over here” — when she took the stage to introduce a steamy performance of “Unholy” by Sam Smith and Kim Petras. They won the award for pop duo/group performance. Other winners included Styles for best pop vocal album for “Harry’s House,” Beyoncé for best R&B song for “Cuff It” and Kendrick Lamar for rap album with “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.” Lizzo won record of the year with “About Damn Time” and Bonnie Raitt landed song of the year honors, announced by First Lady Jill Biden, for her number “Just Like That.” A dynamic performance by Jay-Z closed the show, but the chance for fireworks had passed.

Although live television is risky and difficult, it can also provide the kind of unexpected moments where pop and hip-hop thrive. Those magical mistakes were few and far between Sunday, unless you factor in the number of folks who were late due to L.A. traffic, Beyoncé included.

The Grammys played it too safe after three years of uncertainty, causing the show itself to be the night’s biggest loser.