For the next few days, pundits will opine on which Grammy performances, acceptance speeches and ad-libs were the night’s most momentous. But only a few dozen writers could bear witness to perhaps the best arbiters of such distinction: the instantaneous, audible reaction of the crowd of journalists assembled in the media center backstage at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Collectives sighs, whoops and groans coursed through the room over the hours spent watching the Grammys on closed-circuit televisions as writers clattered away on their keyboards. Here’s a somewhat unscientific ranking of the moments that elicited the biggest reactions of the night.
5. Michelle Obama joins Lady Gaga, J.Lo, Jada and Alicia Keys
When Alicia Keys kicked off her hosting duties at this year’s ceremony by inviting a quartet of famous women to the stage, the camera scanned across the faces of Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Jada Pinkett Smith—but the biggest applause seemed to come for Michelle Obama. The former First Lady, of course, has long been an ally of music, welcoming the likes of Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar and Lin-Manuel Miranda to the White House during her time there.
4. Dua Lipa’s speech for Best New Artist gets interrupted
Heavily favored in the Best New Artist category, Dua Lipa’s victory came as little surprise. What did was the speed with which the wrap-up music started playing—and how fast the telecast cut her off—in the midst of a speech spent praising the diversity of this year’s nominees. She also had a pointed line after applauding the increased number of women in the Best New Artist category: “I guess this year we stepped up,” seemingly a reference to last year’s much-criticized comments by outgoing Recording Academy chief Neil Portnow. “For my speech, I was so lost in what had just happened,” she said backstage after the show, where she was able to finish thanking her friends, family and fans. “Without them, I probably wouldn’t have dreamt as big as I did.
3. Cardi B rocks the Grammy stage—and Offset’s world—twice
During the first half of the show, Cardi B wowed the crowd with a spirited rendition of “Money.” But the biggest roar from the press room came when the camera jumped to a closeup of Cardi’s husband, Offset, in the audience showing his tongue. As if trying to prevent him from stealing the spotlight, Cardi later returned to the stage after winning Best Rap Album and delivered a line that had the press room in stitches. “Oooh the nerves are so bad,” she said, accepting her award. “Maybe I need to start smoking weed!”
2. Kacey Musgraves wins Album of the Year
In a crowded field—a newly-increased total of eight nominees—country singer Musgraves picked up her fourth Grammy of the night on the biggest one there is: Album of the Year for Golden Hour. The presence of superstars like Cardi B, Drake and Post Malone in the category primed the press room for its reaction, an audible gasp, when Musgraves was announced.
1. Drake gets cut off after winning Best Rap Song
The Grammys and Drake haven’t exactly been in sync lately. The Canadian superstar reportedly turned down an opportunity to perform at this year’s ceremony, made a surprise appearance to pick up his golden gramophone for “God’s Plan” in the Best Rap Song category. Before Drake could finish, though, the telecast cut away to a commercial break. Yet the Grammys had plenty of time for a lengthy Dolly Parton spectacle, a disjointed Red Hot Chili Peppers collaboration with Post Malone and an endless Motown retrospective (on top of a healthy dose of Diana Ross). According to Grammy brass, the cutaway was made during a natural pause, and Drake was offered a chance to come back onstage, but declined. In any case, to deny the world’s most-consumed musician an extra minute of speech was a grave mistake for a ceremony looking to stay relevant with young crowds. That moment received—and deserved—the press room’s biggest groan of the night.