LOS ANGELES (AP) — The 2020 Grammy Awards was filled with tributes to Los Angeles icons as the night honored and celebrated the lives and legacies of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and rapper Nipsey Hussle, who won his first Grammy posthumously Sunday.
The Grammys kicked off with a performance in honor of Bryant, who died hours before the awards began. And later in the show Hussle’s collaborators and friends, including DJ Khaled, John Legend, Meek Mill, Kirk Franklin, Roddy Ricch and YG, gave an all-star tribute to the man who died last year.
Filmmaker Ava DuVernay introduced the performance, which featured band players, background dancers and Legend wearing traditional Ethiopian and Eritrean clothing in honor of Hussle’s African roots. Mill performed a new song called “Letter to Nipsey” while others joined together for “Higher,” which is nominated for best rap/sung performance.
“Rest in peace Nipsey Hussle. Rest in peace Kobe Bryant,” DJ Khaled said as photos of the entertainers appeared onscreen.
During the pre-ceremony, Hussle’s “Racks in the Middle” picked up best rap performance.
The show — taking place in Los Angeles at the Staples Center, Bryant’s stomping ground — kicked off with a touching, emotional and a cappella performance of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” by host Alicia Keys and Boyz II Men.
“Here we are together on music’s biggest night celebrating the artists that do it best, but to be honest with you we are all feeling crazy sadness right now,” Keys said as she entered the stage, adding that “Los Angeles, America and the world-wide world lost a hero.”
She said the audience was “heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built.”
“Right now Kobe and his daughter Gianna … are in our spirits, they’re in our hearts, they’re in prayers, they’re in this building,” she added. “Take a moment and hold them inside of you and share our strength and our support with their families.”
Before the show officially honored Bryant, Lizzo performed the songs “Truth Hurts” and “Cuz I Love You,” saying at the top of the show: “Tonight is for Kobe.”
Lizzo, who won two honors during the pre-telecast, won best pop solo performance for “Truth Hurts” during the live telecast.
“Hold on one second,” she said, catching her breathe. “Thank you to the academy. This is really (expletive) sick.”
Lizzo was among the mix of newcomers and well-known acts who reached their goals of winning their first-ever Grammy Awards on Sunday, which also included Tanya Tucker, J. Cole, Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, Billy Ray Cyrus, Michelle Obama, Sara Bareilles, Rosalía, 21 Savage and Tyler, the Creator.
“To my mother, you did a great job raising this guy,” Tyler, who won best rap album, said to his mom, who was onstage and crying by side.
Gary Clark Jr. and Eilish’s brother, Finneas, walked away as the most awarded stars, so far, taking home three awards each.
Finneas — who co-wrote, produced and engineered his sister’s debut album, “When We All Fall sleep, Where Do We Go?” — won best engineered album (non-classical), best pop vocal album (shared with his sister) and non-classical producer of the year.
“My heart is beating so fast right now,” Finneas said. “This award belongs to my sister Billie for her trust and vision.”
Finneas assisted his Eilish by playing keys while she gave a soft, pitch perfect performance of “When the Party’s Over.” Demi Lovato, who has mostly taken a break from the public since focusing on her recovery after reportedly overdosing in July 2018, gave a stirring, vocally top-notch performance that earned her a standing ovation. She was so emotional that she had to restart the song as a teardrop ran down her cheek.
Camila Cabello’s performance of “First Man” — a song dedicated to her father — also induced tears. Cabello walked off the stage to her dad’s seat to finish singing him the song in front of him, while he teared up. Audience members were emotional, too, including Gwen Stefani.
Ariana Grande had lengthy performance — probably to make up for the drama that surrounded her axed performance last year. Run DMC joined forces with Aerosmith to rock the Grammys stage, while Usher, Sheila E. and FKA twigs paid tribute to Prince.
Lil Nas X brought the story of “Old Town Road” to life by performing alongside the artists who helped the song stay at No. 1 for 19 weeks through various remixes, including BTS, Mason Ramsey, Diplo and the track’s main co-star, Billy Ray Cyrus.
Veteran rapper Nas then joined Lil Nas X for a new song, shouting out Bryant at the end: “Kobe, we love you.”
The Grammys show will later include a special tribute to longtime Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich, who is wrapping up his career with the show Sunday.
A dark cloud loomed over ceremony since the Recording Academy announced it had put its recently hired CEO, Deborah Dugan, on administrative leave for misconduct. Dugan and her lawyers fired back at the academy, claiming that the awards show is rigged.
No mention of Dugan was directly made in the first two hours of the show.
Lizzo, who walked into the show the most nominated with eight, is nominated for album of the year for her major-label debut, “Cuz I Love You.” Other nominees include Grande, Lana Del Rey, Vampire Weekend, H.E.R., Bon Iver, Eilish and Lil Nas X.
Lizzo’s No. 1 hit, “Truth Hurts,” is also up for song and record of the year. Eilish, who will perform, also scored song and record of the year nods for her No. 1 hit, “Bad Guy.”
Other record of the year nominees include Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” Grande’s “7 Rings,” Post Malone and Swae Lee’s “Sunflower,” H.E.R.’s “Hard Place,” Bon Iver’s “Hey, Ma” and Khalid’s “Talk.”
Taylor Swift was shut out of album and record of the year, but she did score a nod for song of the year — a songwriter’s award. Her tune “Lover” is nominated against “Truth Hurts,” “Bad Guy,” “Hard Place,” Gaga’s “Always Remember Us This Way” from “A Star Is Born,” Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved,” Lana Del Rey’s “Norman (Expletive) Rockwell” and Tucker’s “Bring My Flowers Now,” which was co-written by Brandi Carlile.