Living History: The 61st Annual Grammy Awards Were a Celebration of Iconic Women

Cardi B attends the 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo: Neilson Barnard (Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Cinderella could never.

In the history of iconic glow ups, reality proved far more fantastical than fiction Sunday night at the 61st Grammy Awards ceremony, where the accomplishments of the many queens in attendance put fairytale princesses to shame.


There was bestselling author and forever First Lady Michelle Obama, who wowed the Grammys audience with a surprise appearance, and quickly reminded them of her all-too relatable black girlhood on the South Side of Chicago. Janelle Monae, whose early stage looks memorably paid tribute to her working class background. Diana Ross, the Detroit girl who became and still remains “The Boss”—so much so that no one but her could possibly pull off her Diamond birthday tribute. And of course, the posthumous but still larger-than-life presence of another Detroit icon, Aretha Franklin, who will live forever in the global imagination as the “Queen of Soul.”

And then, there was Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar, the regular, shmegular, degular girl from the Bronx who made history last night as Cardi B, the first solo female artist to win Rap Album of the Year.

The win itself should cement Cardi’s status as more than a pop cultural blip for those still holding out on giving the woman her due (granted, many of these same people are climate deniers, so there’s that). But from the red carpet to her surprisingly PG-rated performance of her most recent hit, “Money,” Cardi’s looks garnered comparisons to another internationally-known female icon of color, Josephine Baker.

Offset (l) and Cardi B
Photo: Jon Kopaloff (Getty Images)

Appearing on the red carpet in a surrealist illusion gown from the archives of Thierry Mugler (Fall ‘95) and Gismondi1754 jewels, Cardi channeled Baker’s extravagant style. Bringing the homage to a head with her performance, she then evoked the 1920s glamour of the Folies Bergère, wearing a leopard print sheer catsuit and peacock-inspired tailpiece, also from Mugler’s 20th anniversary couture collection. (Fun fact: the disc hats in Cardi’s “Money” video were also Mugler-inspired.)

Cardi B performs onstage.
Photo: Emma McIntyre (Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

It was a fitting homage, since despite all comparisons to the contrary, Cardi’s stratospheric rise bears more in common with Baker than any make-believe princess (though both women have professed a penchant for fairy tales). Both are women who defied all odds to become international superstars. Both are known for incomparable comedic timing and magnetism. During Baker’s lifetime, she too was maligned—and later, revered—for her use of sexuality, while her obvious talent was frequently dismissed or questioned. And Baker and Belcalis also have in common a deeply political streak, neither keeping quiet about issues that matter to them, despite frequently being told to “shut up and entertain.”

Cardi B accepts the Best Rap Album for ‘Invasion of Privacy.’
Photo: Kevin Winter (Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

And both have a deep commitment to motherhood; Baker as the adoptive mother of a culturally-diverse “rainbow tribe” of children, and relatively new mom Cardi as a new-millennial prototype for what working motherhood can look like.


For instance, despite her tremendous win on Sunday night, the superstar would likely admit the moment was eclipsed by daughter Kulture, who turned seven months old on the day her mother made Grammy history. After thanking her daughter in her emotional acceptance speech, Cardi returned home to hear Kulture say—actually, sing—“Mama” for the first time. Having been open about the challenges, unconditional love and newfound patience and drive she’s gained as a mother, moments like these undoubtedly make it more than worth it.


But back to Cardi’s red carpet look, for which makeup artist Erika LaPearl used Pat McGrath’s Mothership Subversive La Vie en Rose palette ($55), a personal fave of this writer. To complement that flawless face, wig guru Tokyo Stylez created “a 90’s influenced pearl updo to play up her couture ensemble.” (Even in Mugler’s inspiration we still see La Baker, but sure.)

Tokyo, the newest ambassador for Suave Professionals, used the brand on Cardi from start to finish in creating her Grammys look. After washing both the wig and Cardi’s natural hair with the brand’s Coconut Oil Infused Damage Shampoo, the wig also got a deep condition with the line’s conditioner, which Tokyo says “gives it this very silky feel to the touch and leaves a beautiful coconut scent that my clients absolutely love.”


Other tools in Tokyo’s beauty bag (and on Cardi’s head last night)? Suave Professionals Anti-Frizz Smooth & Shine Cream and Firm Control Finishing Spray, and Suave Professionals for Natural Hair Shine Serum Gel. And then there’s the pro favorite, the Dyson Supersonic Pro Hair Dryer, which set those perfect fingerwaves in place, prior to Cardi’s performance.


But of course, Cardi wasn’t the only one to watch on the Grammy telecast last night. From the still barefaced beauty of Alicia Keys to the shades-wearing glamour of H.E.R., the 2019 Grammys were ripe with beauty and fashion inspiration... and no shortage of black excellence.


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About the author

Maiysha Kai

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.