Childish Gambino’s searing This is America has become the first hip-hop track to win a song of the year Grammy, before Cardi B became the first solo female rapper to win best rap album for Invasion of Privacy.
Drake also made a surprise appearance with God’s Plan for best rap song, and Lady Gaga dominated the early awards.
This is America, about police brutality and racism, also took Grammys for best music video and best rap performance. But Gambino, the musical alter ego of actor Donald Glover, was not at the show to celebrate the milestone.
Rappers Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z were also absent from the biggest honours in the music industry.
But Canada’s Drake, who had been expected to stay away, turned up to collect the Grammy for best rap song for God’s Plan.
The Grammys has frequently shut out hip-hop artists from its top prizes, despite rap’s dominance as the biggest music genre in the United States.
But Drake, the biggest streaming artist of 2018, told musicians not to worry about winning prizes.
“The point is you’ve already won if you have people who are singing your songs word for word, if you’re a hero in your hometown,” he said in his acceptance speech.
“If there’s people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain and the snow and spending their hard earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don’t need this right here, I promise you,” he added.
Outspoken Cardi B, whose personal life and hit records have dominated pop culture for the past two years, turned in a raunchy performance of Money dressed in a black mesh and silver body suit.
Lady Gaga’s hit song Shallow from the movie A Star is Born won two Grammys, while the musician-turned actress took a third Grammy home for her Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Going), which won for pop solo performance.
Already a show with a strong line-up of female performers and nominees, the Grammys sprung another surprise by including former US first lady Michelle Obama in an opening that also featured Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, actress Jada Pinkett Smith and host Alicia Keys talking about the power of music.
“From the Motown records I wore out on the [Chicago] Southside to the Who Run the World songs that fueled me through this last decade, music has always helped me tell my story,” Obama told the cheering celebrity audience in Los Angeles.
Cuban-born Camila Cabello kicked off the televised show with a dance heavy performance of her hit single Havana with Latin artists J Balvin, Ricky Martin and Young Thug.
Keys, Gaga, Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus, Janelle Monae, Diana Ross, Katy Perry and best country album Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves also performed.
Folk singer Brandi Carlile, 37, took three early Grammys while an absent Ariana Grande, who pulled out of the show last week after a dispute with producers, won her first Grammy, best pop vocal album for Sweetener.
“This is wild and beautiful. Thank you so much,” Grande tweeted.
A list of top winners at the 61st annual Grammy Awards:
- Best rap album: Invasion of Privacy by Cardi B
- Best rap song: God’s Plan by Drake
- Best country album: Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves
- Song of the year: This Is America by Childish Gambino and Ludwig Goransson
- Best pop duo/group performance: Shallow by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
- Best pop vocal album: Sweetener by Ariana Grande
- Best pop solo performance: Lady Gaga’s Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Goin’?)
- Best R&B album: H.E.R. by H.E.R.
- Best R&B song: Boo’d Up by Ella Mai, DJ Mustard, Larrance Dopson and Joelle James
- Best R&B performance: Best Part by H.E.R. featuring Daniel Caesar
- Producer of the year, non-classical: Pharrell Williams
- Best rap performance: (tie) King’s Dead by Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Future and James Blake, and Bubblin by Anderson.Paak
- Best rap/sung performance: Childish Gambino’s This Is America
- Best music video: Childish Gambino’s This Is America
- Best urban contemporary album: Everything Is Love by The Carters
- Best traditional pop vocal album: Willie Nelson’s My Way
- Best rock song: Masseduction by St. Vincent
- Best rock album: From the Fires by Greta Van Fleet
- Best rock performance: When Bad Does Good by Chris Cornell
- Best dance recording: Electricity by Silk City and Dua Lipa featuring Diplo and Mark Ronson
- Best country song: Space Cowboy, Kacey Musgraves (Luke Laird, Shane McAnally and Kacey Musgraves)
- Best reggae album: 44/876 by Sting & Shaggy
- Best country solo performance: Kacey Musgraves’ Butterflies
- Best duo/group country performance: Dan + Shay’s Tequila
- Best jazz vocal album: The Window by Cecile McLorin Salvant
- Best alternative music album: Colors, Beck
- Best comedy album: Equanimity & the Bird Revelation, Dave Chappelle
- Best Latin pop album: Claudia Brant’s Sincera
- Best spoken word album: Jimmy Carter’s Faith – A Journey for All
- Best folk album: Punch Brothers’ All Ashore
- Best contemporary Christian music album: Lauren Daigle’s Look Up Child
- Best musical theatre album: The Band’s Visit
- Best American roots song: Brandi Carlile’s The Joke
- Best American roots performance: Brandi Carlile’s The Joke
- Best Americana album: Brandi Carlile’s By the Way, I Forgive You
- Best gospel album: Tori Kelly’s Hiding Place
- Best contemporary Christian music performance/song: Lauren Daigle’s You Say
- Best world music album: Soweto Gospel Choir’s Freedom
- Best compilation soundtrack for visual media: The Greatest Showman
- Best score soundtrack for visual media: Black Panther
- Best song written for visual media: Shallow from A Star Is Born
- Best traditional blues album: Buddy Guy’s The Blues Is Alive and Well
- Best music film: Quincy Jones’ Quincy
- Best boxed or special limited edition package: Squeeze Box: The Complete Works of ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic