When asked soon after the show about the lack of female winners, academy president Neil Portnow said women needed to "step up" - now-infamous words that instantly drew outrage, and which he said were taken out of context.
Brandi Carlile, Lady Gaga and Kacey Musgraves won multiple Grammys in the show's pre-telecast Sunday, a year after women were nearly muted at the 2018 awards show. Instead, it was 100 percent Gaga - and singer Gaga, not actress Gaga - up on that stage, back to her old tricks of belting out lyrics amid leg kicks, insane faces and whipping her hair back and forth.
An absent Ariana Grande, who pulled out of the Grammys show last week after a dispute with producers, won her first Grammy best pop vocal album for Sweetener.
Other early awards included The Greatest Showman, which won best soundtrack; and best music video, which went to Childish Gambino's incendiary This Is America.
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. "Thank you for my family", she said.
The Scorpion rapper also reportedly turned down the opportunity to perform at the Grammys this year.
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Brandi Carlile and Kacey Musgraves swept the boards in their respective genre categories, Americana and Country, making the ones to beat in the night's main category - album of the year.
Monae's groundbreaking album, "Dirty Computer", is one of five albums by women nominated for the top prize at Sunday's show, airing live at 8 p.m.
The Grammys have also struggled with gender inequality, an issue that came to its head previous year.
Tori Kelly, who debuted on the music scene as a pop singer, won two awards for her first gospel album.
She hailed the importance "particularly for women to have our seat at the table, to represent the fact that we are so here and so incredible and we are the creators of our music". Look, if there's people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain and snow, spending money to buy tickets to your shows, you don't need this right here.
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There will also be a tribute to the late Aretha Franklin, who died last August.