Forgoing trousers has been a dubious mark of pop feminist empowerment at least since Madonna’s “Who’s That Girl” tour 30 years ago, but at the 59th Grammy Awards, several performers decided this wasn’t enough and that they must lose their shirts.
Abstainers included Lady Gaga, fresh from descending like a Louise Bourgeois spider to the Super Bowl halftime show, here outfitted in a stiff textured bolero over bared breasts, with sleeves that looked from a distance to be adorned with marabou but on closer inspection more resembled a hedgehog’s quills. Below the waist and somewhat mitigating the shock effect were shiny high-waisted shorts festooned with chains, fishnet stockings, thigh-high boots and other now-customary items of the trade.
Rihanna wore a crystal-embroidered cropped orange halter top undergirded by a tattoo, with a voluminous black silk organza skirt, both by Armani.
Also going shirtless was Halsey in a blue parachute-silk Christian Wijnants pantsuit. “I didn’t want to wear a dress,” she said. “I wanted to do something sexy and androgynous.” And Mya in scarlet trousers, brassiere and the de rigueur pussy bow. And the rapper Desiigner.
As the gentlemen of Twenty One Pilot accepted the award for best pop duo/group performance, meanwhile, they took off their pants, standing in their boxer shorts in a gesture that seemed unsurprising, even rote.
With near-nudity now commonplace, several big stars opted for modesty, if not exactly restraint. Katy Perry was party at the top (silver sequins) and Muppets on the bottom (lavender feathers) in a turtlenecked Tom Ford gown that she wore with a shaggy platinum “lob” — though for her rendition of “Chained to the Rhythm,” she switched to a white trouser suit over bustier. Adele resembled the matron of honor at a midcentury royal wedding in a green Givenchy dress with checkerboarded cross bodice, plissé skirt and Swiss-dot sleeves.
Green made a surprisingly strong showing, with Ryan Seacrest greeting guests in a blazer the color of a Cerignola olive, Mike Posner and Blackbear sporting fluorescent-green hair, Kirstin Maldonado of Pentatonix wrapped in diagonal strips like money, Celine Dion wearing something plunging and puff-shouldered and Tori Kelly bouncing in E!’s slow-motion Glambot in jade prairie tiers, recalling the old Fabergé shampoo commercials.
“Lots of ruffles! Ruffles everywhere,” said the commentator Brad Goreski, inspecting a tacky, too-soon preshow stunt during which female models wore outfits inspired by the recently deceased singers David Bowie, Prince and George Michael. “Definitely too funky for me,” he said.
Funk was in short supply along the receiving line, though, and in its place were the standard brand mentions with a lighter-than-expected peppering of politics. Skylar Grey, in a long white Mario Dice shirtdress buttoned to the neck, brandished a clutch purse that somehow promoted empowerment, equality and Absolut vodka. A singer named Joy Villa drew instant attention to herself by modeling an apronlike garment printed with the words “Make America Great Again,” with the surname of the 45th president embellished in glitter on the back hem.
The country singers tended, as they do, toward more traditional spangle, with Carrie Underwood channeling a young Dolly Parton in red sequins, diamond cutout and her golden hair in a sedate updo, while Faith Hill stumbled with surprise to name the creator of her sleek gown, also red, with keyhole: the popular Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad.
Innocence came in the form of newly affianced Kelsea Ballerini in a flesh-colored dress embellished with pale-blue flowers. Elle King wore something similar in pink, adding an injudicious head wreath.
But Beyoncé bested everyone, as seems previously ordained, by skipping the poor excuse for a Women’s March that is the red-carpet parade. Introduced instead by her mother, she made her bared belly, pregnant with twins, the centerpiece of a nail-biting, chair-tilting, hologram-enhanced act in the show. (Remember when posing in Vanity Fair sufficed?) Later, she accepted her Grammy for “Lemonade” in a spangled beige veil and dress, blond curls tumbling down her back, reading a long, carefully thought-out speech from a gold card that matched her collar necklace and her sister Solange’s Gucci dress. The camera zoomed in on her 5-year-old daughter applauding. She was wearing a pink tuxedo.
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