Dua Lipa won best new artist, and Kacey Musgraves took home album of the year at a female-first Grammy Awards.
Musgraves won four prizes in total for Golden Hour, her critically-acclaimed third album, which blends country with elements of psychedelia.
She dedicated the award to “my sweet husband” with whom she fell in love as she recorded the album.
Dua said she was “nervous and grateful” as she accepted her award, one of the night’s four biggest prizes.
The 23-year-old said she was “honoured” to be “included with so many female artists” in the category, adding: “I guess this year we’ve really stepped up.”
The comment was a dig at Grammys president Neil Portnow, who last year tried to deflect criticism of the lack of female winners by saying women needed to “step up” in order to be considered.
He appeared on stage at this year’s ceremony to apologise, saying: “This past year I’ve been reminded that if coming face to a face with an issue opens your eyes wide enough it makes you more committed to bring change.
Elsewhere, an absent Childish Gambino won four awards, including song of the year and video of the year, for This Is America, his scathing critique of US socio-politics.
Lady Gaga won three prizes, including best pop performance for Joanne and best pop duet for Shallow, from the Oscar-nominated film A Star Is Born.
Holding back tears, the star thanked Bradley Cooper, her co-star and director, who missed the Grammys to attend The Baftas in London.
She also used her speech to highlight the film’s mental health message, telling the audience: “If you see someone that’s hurting, don’t look away.”
Brooklyn rapper Cardi B became the first solo female to win best rap album, for her debut Invasion of Privacy; and thanked her daughter Kulture Kiari for giving her the impetus to finish the record on time.
“When I found out I was pregnant, my album was not complete,” she said. “So I was like, ‘I have to get this album done so we can shoot these videos while I was not showing.'”
Meanwhile, Ariana Grande, who pulled out of a planned performance after a dispute with organisers, received best pop album for Sweetener – her first ever Grammy Award.
“This is wild and beautiful,” she tweeted. “Thank you so much.”
Pop star Camila Cabello opened the ceremony with a colourful – and expensive – staging of her smash hit Havana.
“The performance is based off of my grandma’s childhood, and I have my family in the performance,” she said on the red carpet. “I definitely have severe butterflies.”
The sizzling performance also included fellow Latin performers Ricky Martin and J Balvin, as well as a full Cuban salsa band.
It set the tone for a women-forward Grammy ceremony, a response to criticism of last year’s event, where only one woman took home a major prize.
2018 host James Corden was replaced by Alicia Keys, who brought out Gaga, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Jennifer Lopez and former first lady Michelle Obama during her opening link.
Obama gave a speech about the unifying power of music: “Whether we like country or rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves, our dignity and sorrows, our hopes and joys. It allows us to hear one another, to invite each other in.”
The show also celebrated two of the industry’s biggest female stars – Dolly Parton and Diana Ross, who were recognised for their contribution to music.
Parton was joined on stage by Katy Perry, Kacey Musgraves, Little Big Town and Maren Morris for a joyful medley of her biggest hits.
“I’m just internally freaking out,” said Morris before the show. “I met her and I was just trying not to quote Steel Magnolias at her.”
Parton’s god-daughter Miley Cyrus also took part in a spirited duet of Jolene.
Dozens of awards were handed out before the televised ceremony kicked off, with The Greatest Showman, winning best soundtrack; and British singer Ella Mai scooping best R&B song for the slinky summer hit Boo’d Up.
“I’m legit trying to take it all in,” said the singer, who was nominated for song of the year. “I’ve dreamt of this moment ever since I was a little girl.”
Is Quincy immortal?
At the age of 85, country star Willie Nelson won best traditional pop vocal album for My Way.
Fellow octogenarian Quincy Jones was honoured in the best music film category, for the Netflix film Quincy.
The award was accepted by his daughter, actress Rashida Jones, who said: “When he first saw the film he said, ‘I wish I could live forever – and I think he could be the first person to do that. I hope you do, dad.”
Neither Quincy nor Willy is close to being the oldest-ever Grammy winner, though. That accolade is held by Pinetop Perkins, who won best traditional blues album in 2011, when he was 97.