LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Grammy Awards kicked off Sunday with a group of powerful women, including Michelle Obama and Lady Gaga, describing the role of music in their lives -- a display that came a year after female voices were somewhat muted at the 2018 ceremony.
"Music has always helped me tell my story," Obama said at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. "Whether we like country or rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves. It allows us to hear one another."
Gaga told the crowd: "They said I was weird, that my look, that my choices, that my sound wouldn't work. But music told me not to listen to them."
Jada Pinkett Smith and Jennifer Lopez also spoke and stood in solidary with Obama, Gaga and Alicia Keys, who is hosting the show airing on CBS.
"Yes, ladies," Keys said. "There's nothing better than this."
The opening contrasted with last year's Grammys, where male acts dominated in nominations and the only woman competing for the top award, Lorde, didn't get a chance to perform onstage.
But this year, Gaga, Brandi Carlile and Kacey Musgraves won three Grammys each.
Carlile took three honors in the Americana category and will compete for the three biggest awards during the live show: album, song and record of the year.
Gaga also won three, including best pop duo/group performance, a win she shared with Bradley Cooper.
"Thank you so much. I got to thank God, thank you for looking out for me. Thank you for my family," she said. "I wish Bradley was here with my right now."
Gaga, now a nine-time Grammy winner, won best pop solo performance for "Joanne," while hit "Shallow," from "A Star is Born," was named best song written for visual media. The song is nominated for an Oscar and also won at the Golden Globes, Critics' Choice Movie Awards and the Satellite Awards.
Women have a strong presence in the top categories. Five of the eight album-of-the-year nominees are women, including Carlile's "By the Way, I Forgive You," Janelle Monae's "Dirty Computer," Cardi B's "Invasion of Privacy," Musgraves' "Golden Hour," and H.E.R.'s self-titled album are also in contention.
Six of the best-new-artist nominees are women, including H.E.R., Chloe x Halle, Margo Price, Dua Lipa, Bebe Rexha and Jorja Smith.
When asked about the lack of women in the top categories at the 2018 Grammys, Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow said women need to "step up." He later acknowledged that it was a "poor choice of words," and his much-criticized remarks forced the academy to launch a new task force focused on inclusion and diversity.
Musgraves picked up best country album for "Golden Hour," best country solo performance for "Butterflies" and best country song for "Space Cowboy."
"I never dreamed that this record would be met with such love," she said onstage.
She also gave a shout-out to her husband who was in the audience, saying she wouldn't have been able to make the album if he "didn't open my heart like you did."
Musgraves performed "Rainbow" from "Golden Hour" during the show, and hit the stage for a second time to honor Dolly Parton. Musgraves and Katy Perry joined forces for "Here You Come Again," later joined by Parton herself. The icon sang a duet version of "Jolene" with Miley Cyrus, who often covers the classic song. But the country music icon truly shined when she sang "Red Shoes," with country foursome Little Big Town providing background vocals.
R&B singer H.E.R., who won best R&B performance for "Best Part" with Daniel Caesar, stunned as she played her guitar and sang. Monae grooved onstage during "Make Me Feel," backed by several dancers. Post Malone performed with Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Cardi B grinded onstage during her latest single, "Money."
All four acts are nominated for album of the year.
Ariana Grande won her first Grammy in the same week that she publicly blasted Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich and accused him of lying about why she was no longer performing at the show.
"I know i'm not there tonight (trust, i tried and still truly wished it had worked out tbh) and i know i said i try not to put too much weight into these things ... but (expletive) ... this is wild and beautiful. thank you so much," she tweeted after learning about her win.
Childish Gambino won three honors for his No. 1 hit, "This Is America," including song of the year, best rap/sung performance and best music video.
Tori Kelly and Lauren Daigle won two awards each. Beyonce, Jay-Z, Ella Mai, Pharrell Williams, Hugh Jackman, Stingy, Shaggy, Dave Chappelle, "Weird Al" Yankovic, the late Chris Cornell, Greta Van Fleet and even former President Jimmy Carter also picked up early awards ahead of the live show.
There was a tie for best rap performance, and Drake was surprisingly not one of the winners. Drake's "Nice for What" lost to Anderson Paak's "Bubblin'" and Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Future and James Blake's "King's Dead," from the "Black Panther" soundtrack.
Beck was a double winner during the pre-telecast, taking home best alternative music album and best engineered album (non-classical) for "Colors." Emily Lazar, one of the engineers who worked on the album and won alongside Beck, said onstage that she was the first female mastering engineer to win in the latter category.
Several big stars did not attend the Grammys, including Grande, Taylor Swift, Lamar, the top nominee with eight, and Drake, nominated for seven awards.
Criticism has surrounded the Grammys around its Motown Records tribute: Some people complained when a promo aired on CBS showing Jennifer Lopez as the act set to honor the legendary record label, which launched the careers of the Jackson 5, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and more.
Some complained that a black artist should be involved in the tribute, while others said stronger vocalists should perform over Lopez. A representative for the Grammys didn't return an email seeking clarification about the tribute.
Camila Cabello kicked off the show with a performance featuring J Balvin, Ricky Martin and Young Thug.
Others set to perform Sunday included Lady Gaga, Travis Scott, Diana Ross, Dan + Shay and Chloe x Halle. Yolanda Adams, Fantasia and Andra Day will honor the late Aretha Franklin with a performance.