Grammys 2020: Tributes for Kobe, Billie Eilish makes history

Tributes to Kobe Bryant permeated Sunday's Grammy Awards at the Staples Center — the late Lakers star's former stomping grounds. Though undoubtedly a musical celebration, the ceremony was a somewhat more somber one than usual.

18-year-old Eilish captured top awards, including record of the year

Alicia Keys, second from left, is joined by Boys II Men members, from left, Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris and Shawn Stockman on stage at the the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

As Lizzo kicked off the 2020 Grammy Awards, even this year's top nominee had someone else on her mind. 

"Tonight is for Kobe," she declared before launching into her hit tracks Cuz I Love You and Truth Hurts

Tributes to Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash just hours before, permeated the glitzy ceremony at the Staples Center — Bryant's former stomping grounds and where his retired jerseys were illuminated in the Los Angeles stadium's rafters by Grammy organizers Sunday night. 

It was perhaps understandable then, that the high-profile ceremony was somewhat of a sombre one. Here are some key moments from the show.

The house that Kobe built

Bryant's death cast a pall over "Music's Biggest Night," from the fun and frivolity of the red carpet onward. The pre-telecast ceremony, when the vast majority of the trophies are awarded, opened with interim Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. calling for a moment of silence for the basketball icon.

Alicia Keys, returning for her second stint as the award show's host, demonstrated how wise the academy was to invite her to return, immediately addressing Bryant's death with grace and sensitivity in her opening monologue. 

"We never imagined in a million years we'd have to start the show like this … We wanted to do something that could describe a tiny bit how we all feel right now," she noted, before launching into an a capella version of the mournful It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday accompanied by Boys II Men, who popularized the song.

"The one thing to bring all of us together — that's music. It's the most healing thing in the world. Let us get some healing going on right now," Keys said, striking a balance between touching tribute and moving the evening forward. 

"I know how much Kobe loved music … so we've got to make this a celebration in his honour." 

More subtle salutes to Bryant continued throughout the show, including his Lakers' number (24) appearing on Billy Ray Cyrus's guitar and his jerseys appearing in the background of several performances. Keys also gave Bryant a final shout out to close the show.

A 'left-of-centre' winner

Tyler the Creator offered up an early, mind-blowing and fiery performance, beginning alongside Boyz II Men and R&B veteran Charlie Wilson on his track Earfquake before morphing into a stadium-rocking, distortion-filled rendition of New Magic Wand. 

Later, when his experimental, genre-bending studio album Igor captured the best rap album title, he offered a peek at a more tender side by bringing his mom onstage with him as well as delivering an acceptance speech that thanked supporters for staying with him, "trusting my ideas and putting up with my annoying, hyperactive energy."

He also addressed "feeling left-of-centre to a lot of the stuff I saw on TV," and thanked hitmaker Pharrell Williams for setting a different example of a hip hop artist.

"I never felt fully accepted in rap, so for y'all to stand by me, I really appreciate it," he declared, before acknowledging to reporters backstage his reservations at only being considered a rap artist by the academy.

Women breaking the music industry mould

The National

11 months agoVideo
Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Canada’s Jessie Reyez are Grammy nominated artists who took their music and image into their own hands. 2:16

Billie's historic haul

Going into Sunday's gala, Billie Eilish was the youngest artist ever nominated for all four of the show's top categories.

By night's end, the green-haired 18-year-old had captured them all: best new artist, album of the year for When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? as well as record of the year and song of the year for Bad Guy. She is the youngest artist ever to do so (and has a whole decade on Christopher Cross, who was a ripe, old 29 when he achieved the same feat in 1981).

The quartet of top honours joined the best pop vocal album trophy Eilish picked up prior to the telecast, which also saw her turn in a haunting performance of her tune When the Party's Over.

Billie Eilish and her brother, Finneas O'Connell, pose with their combined 11 Grammy trophies backstage. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

"This is my first Grammys. I never thought this would happen in my whole life... I genuinely wanna say I am so grateful," the low-key, plain-spoken teen noted upon winning song of the year, which she shared with her musical collaborator and brother Finneas (co-writer, producer and engineer of his sister's album, who won six trophies of his own Sunday night). 

By the time the duo won the final award — Record of the Year — she was speechless.

"We didn't make a speech for this because we didn't make this song to win a Grammy. We didn't think it would win anything ever," Finneas said.

"We wrote an album about depression, about suicidal thoughts, climate change and being the bad guy, whatever that means. We stand up here confused and grateful. Thank you."    

Posthumous recognition

Another Los Angeles icon, the late rapper Nipsey Hussle, was also honoured multiple times with tributes and Grammy wins. He was gunned down outside his clothing store in Los Angeles last March.

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay introduced an uplifting, all-star tribute to the slain rapper that featured fans and collaborators Meek Mill, DJ Khaled, John Legend, Kirk Franklin, Roddy Ricch and YG, performing alongside musicians and dancers in traditional Ethiopian and Eritrean clothing — a tribute to Hussle's cultural heritage.

Khaled and Legend were back on the stage not long afterward to accept the best rap/sung performance Grammy for Higher, their track with Hussle. It marked the late rapper's second posthumous trophy of the night, after his song Racks in the Middle was named best rap performance during the pre-telecast.

Ride 'til he can't no more

Old Town Road was the unavoidable earworm of the past year thanks to Tiktok as well as countless official remixes. 

Naturally, Lil Nas X — enjoying every single moment — performed his monster hit as a cycle through different versions, sharing the stage with collaborators, including Billy Ray Cyrus, K-pop superstars BTS and young yodelling singer Mason Ramsey.

That he made the segue into his track Rodeo by then bringing out his rap namesake, Nas, was a classic Grammys pairing. And of course that remix is out already.

Rough night for Canadians

Though a handful of homegrown stars started the day as nominees, the majority went home empty-handed, including Drake, Shawn Mendes, Jessie Reyez, Northern Cree, Michael Bublé and Daniel Caesar. 

'He's a legend:' Jessie Reyez pays tribute to Kobe Bryant

Arts and Entertainment

10 months agoVideo
On the Grammys red carpet in Los Angeles, Grammy-nominated Toronto singer-songwriter Jessie Reyez pays tribute to the LA Lakers star. 0:31

Still, Canadian guitarist and producer Colin Linden was part of the team recognized in Keb Mo's win for Oklahoma in the category of best Americana album.

With files from the Associated Press and the Canadian Press


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.