Cardi B briefly struggled to walk when she appeared on the 2019 Grammys red carpet. But it was okay, because the outfit was worth it — a vintage couture dress recalling Botticelli’s Birth of Venus that made Cardi appear to be a gorgeous, glam human oyster.
For the Grammys, though, an exciting red carpet is nothing new. In contrast, it’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone showing up to, say, the Oscars in a full-on “Make America Great Again” gown, or alternatively, a jacket with the word “Impeach” on the back. Who would dare show up to the Academy Awards wearing a tropical print dress with a neckline that dropped below the bellybutton, or full-on papal cosplay?
It’s not just that the Oscars is a more formal event than the Grammys. It’s that musicians in general have always been more free to dress way cooler than actors. Sure, there was the swan dress at the 2001 Academy Awards, but notably, it was worn by Bjork, one of the most innovative artists of her generation.
Part of this, of course, is the nature of the profession. Actors, by virtue of their job description, have to believably portray people who are not themselves, and appearing wacky or over-the-top on red carpets is often antithetical to the actor’s best interests. Which is why most of the time when we see them in public, actors seem to be more concerned with looking attractive or, at the most, au courant. It’s not that actors don’t want to call attention to themselves, but their art relies primarily on how they bring characters to life, not how they dress themselves.
The same isn’t true for musicians, who are often the sole public face of their art and for whom a particular persona and appearance is often part of the art itself. While actors have to stand alongside their cast and crew to promote the larger work of a film or television series, oftentimes musical artists are the product.
A particular look can establish a performer as emblematic of an entire subculture, like the Ramones’ personification of punk with their ripped denim and leather jackets; it can jumpstart new styles of dress, like early b-boy and hip-hop artists with streetwear; it can draw attention to a rising star by implying that a unique look correlates to the kind of music they make.
This isn’t the only reason why the Grammys offer a far more interesting red carpet than the Oscars do: The Grammys have categories honoring newer artists, as well as categories for R&B and hip-hop artists, which means that the Grammys tend to look a lot younger and less white than the Oscars (which as recently as 2015 didn’t even have a single person of color nominated in any of its acting categories). That homogeneity often translates to a lot of lifelessness on the fashion front.
That’s why it’s so refreshing to see women like Janelle Monae and Lady Gaga, known first for being musicians but who have recently received awards for acting, show up to red carpets for acting awards in outfits that nod to their artistic personas and aren’t totally dull.
But this is the Grammys, and that’s just business as usual. This year, thanks to a couple major snubs — neither Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Kanye West, nor Ariana Grande was nominated in any of the major categories and therefore each was not in attendance — the red carpet wasn’t quite as exciting as it could have been. But here are the best of the bunch that define the Grammys as one of the red carpets worth paying attention to.
Philly rapper Tierra Whack, nominated for Best Music Video, showed up early in a fluffy floor-length rainbow coat and an equally colorful, illustrated dress. Even her makeup, which included dramatic pink eyeshadow and lipstick to match, injected an element of fun to the red carpet.
Bebe Rexha almost didn’t have the dress of her choice to begin with — the singer, nominated for Best New Artist, revealed in an Instagram video in January that many designers refused to dress her due to her size. “A lot of them do not want to dress me because I’m too big,” she said. “If a size 6/8 is too big, then I don’t know what to tell you, then I don’t want to wear your fucking dresses.” Although after posting the video, she said that multiple designers like Moschino and Christian Siriano reached out, Rexha ultimately went for this dramatic crimson tulle dress by Monsoori.
Any red carpet Janelle Monae is on is one that’s a little more interesting. Known for sculptural, retro looks, her Grammys dress by designer Jean Paul Gaultier was no different — the spiky shoulders created a cocoon-like shape around her, while a rectangular headpiece sat atop.
Naturally, Cardi B showed up to the Grammys as a 5-foot-3 oyster, as one does. The look, topped with a bouffant covered in pearls, while extremely 2019, is actually a vintage one. It was part of Mugler’s 1995 couture collection, which included plenty of fetish-inspired latex, fur, and feathers.
If there’s an occasion for a cape, the Grammys is it, and if there’s someone who should wear a cape, it’s St. Vincent. Having already picked up the award for Best Rock Song, Annie Clark entered the red carpet with a black and white dress and cape that echoed her signature style: big and weird, with plenty of sex appeal.
Despite joking that people think he smells, Post Malone almost never misses an opportunity to wear a very fancy suit. As usual, this one was bright, flashy and designed by Malone’s costume designer Catherine Hahn, with pastel pink fabric and bejeweled stars, plus matching cowboy boots.
Speaking of all-pink ensembles, Kylie Jenner’s sparked, to put it politely, mixed reactions. (HuffPost described it as “a Yeezy Barbie doll and an outfit from The Breakfast Club rolled into one creation.”) But no one can say that the suit, designed by longtime Kardashian collaborator Balmain, wasn’t a big swing.
Another swing in all pink, Katy Perry went extremely candy-colored cake-topper before her performance during the tribute to Dolly Parton. Like Jenner’s outfit, it was widely ridiculed online, and also happened to be designed by Balmain.