Inside the Emotional 2020 Grammys Following Kobe Bryant's Death

With news of the basketball legend's death breaking just five hours before the show, the music award ceremony carried on at Staples Center under a heavy gloom.

On a night intended to be about the biggest and best music of the last year, a far more tragic headline took center stage at the 2020 Grammys with the news of Kobe Bryant's death Sunday morning rocking the ceremony and preshow red carpet. 

News of the former NBA star's death first hit around noon PT — with the Grammys red carpet having already begun — and the majority of stars skipped out on interviews, opting to tweet out sympathies rather than speak publicly. The Staples Center where the ceremony was held — and which Bryant called home for 20 years as a Los Angeles Laker — was closed off in its surrounding streets for the music event, but that did not stop thousands of fans (most wearing Lakers jerseys) from descending on the adjoining L.A. Live Plaza to pay their respects. As guests filed into the show, electronic billboards around the venue flashed with images of Bryant and his years on the court and flags flew at half-mast. 

Inside Staples Center, Bryant's two Lakers jerseys, no. 8 and 24, were lit up in the rafters, where they would remain highlighted across from the main stage for the entire show. Kenneth Ehrlich, the longtime Grammys producer, came out to speak to the crowd minutes before the show went live, "We learned five hours ago about the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant, and that we needed to have a moment. Understand that later in the show we will address what happened here today in the house that Kobe built." Despite the show being a black tie event, a handful of attendees wore jerseys along with their formalwear. 

Lizzo kicked off the Grammys by dedicating the ceremony to Bryant, followed by Alicia Keys' opening monologue and song with Boyz II Men, during which those in the audience could hear a pin drop inside the arena and could feel the heaviness in the room. Bryant received a number of other shoutouts throughout the show and was included in the Nipsey Hussle tribute performance. And the atmosphere remained somber through the three-and-a-half hour event, despite other highlights of the night. 

Elsewhere at the Grammys, big winners Billie Eilish and brother Finneas O'Connell were the two of the most popular stars in the room, fielding photos and fan encounters on the carpet that continued inside. The Aerosmith and Run-DMC crossover also proved to be a hit with the crowd, with majority of the audience standing and recording the moment on their phones (despite the performance being available online and on TV). Ariana Grande's medley also turned some stars into superfans, and Eilish and Demi Lovato, in her first performance since she was hospitalized for a reported drug overdose, both drew huge standing ovations. 

During commercial breaks, dancers, including Tyler the Creator's 20 blonde-wigged clones, lined the aisles to set up for their big numbers, and classic moments from past Grammys played on the Jumbotrons, including performances from Kendrick Lamar, Prince, Adele, Pink, Rihanna and Keys.

As the show wrapped with Eilish's sweep of the major awards, guests exited to massive images of Bryant seen directly through the glass of Staples Center, accompanied by "Mamba Forever" and his birth and death date. Leaving the arena, now nine hours after news broke of Bryant and his daughter Gianna's passing, hundreds of Laker fans still barreled toward the stadium with flowers and yellow and purple balloons in hand to take part in the city-wide tribute. 

At the Grammy's official after party — held just steps from Staples Center in the adjacent Los Angeles Convention Center — celebrity DJ Michelle Pesce kicked off her set with a string of songs that mentioned Bryant's name. Pesce's tribute included such tracks as "Ego" (Remix) by Beyoncé featuring Kanye West, "Swagger Like Us" by T.I. featuring West, Lil Wayne, Drake and Jay-Z, "Some People Hate" by Jay-Z, "Kobe Bryant" by Lil Wayne, "Jack Flash is Dead?" by Bryant from his album, and "Kobe" by Chief Keef. She also played a YouTube clip recorded earlier in the day from inside Madison Square Garden with fans chanting Bryant's name.