Female acts won album of the year and best new artist at the Grammys, while Childish Gambino's This Is America became the first rap song to win record and song of the year.
Kacey Musgraves' Golden Hour picked up album of the year, and Dua Lipa won best new artist.
"I don't even know what to say," Musgraves said. "I am very thankful. Winning doesn't make my album any better than anybody else in that category."
Gambino was the night's big winner, picking up four honours, including best music video and best rap/sung performance.
Drake surprised the music world when he emerged on stage to accept the best rap song trophy but told the room of musicians that winning awards isn't necessary if you have real fans attending your concerts and singing your songs.
Drake, who rarely attends awards shows, won the honor for his massive hit God's Plan.
"You've already won if you have people who are singing your songs word for word, if you're a hero in your hometown. Look, if there are people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain and the snow, spending their hard-earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don't need this right here. I promise you. You already won," he said at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles.
Rap has endured a longtime losing streak at the Grammys. The last time a rapper won album of the year was in 2004, with Outkast. Only a handful of rappers have won best new artist.
Cardi B made history as the first solo female to win best rap album (Lauryn Hill won as a member of the Fugees at the 1997 Grammys).
Michelle Obama says music allows people to tell their stories
The Grammys kicked off 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," said Obama, who surprised the audience with her appearance.
"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 solidarity with Mrs Obama, Gaga and Alicia Keys, who hosted the show.
"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.
Gaga's wins included best pop duo/group performance, a win she shared with Bradley Cooper.
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, the 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 were women, including Carlile's By the Way, I Forgive You, Janelle Monae's Dirty Computer, Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy and H.E.R.'s self-titled album were also in contention.
When asked about the lack of women in the top categories at the 2018 Grammys, Recording Academy chief executive Neil Portnow said women needed to "step up." He later acknowledged that it was a "poor choice of words," and his much-criticised remarks forced the academy to launch a new task force focused on inclusion and diversity.
British singer Dua Lipa alluded to Portnow's 2018 words when she won best new artist.
"I guess this year we've really stepped up," she said after telling the audience she was was grateful to be nominated alongside so many female performers. Six of the best-new-artist nominees were women, including H.E.R., Chloe x Halle, Margo Price, Bebe Rexha and Jorja Smith.
Musgraves picked up best country album for Golden Hour, best country solo performance for Butterflies and best country song for Space Cowboy.
Yolanda Adams, Fantasia and Andra Day teamed up for stirring performance of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" in honour of Aretha Franklin, who died last year.
Diana Ross earned a standing ovation when she emerged onstage to perform Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand) and The Best Years of My Life. She celebrated her 75th birthday early with the performance, saying afterward, "Happy birthday to me!" Her actual birthday is 26 March.
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.
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.
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, was the first female mastering engineer to win in the latter category.
A list of top winners at the 61th annual Grammy Awards.
Album of the year: Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves
Record of the year: This Is America by Childish Gambino
Song of the year: This Is America by Childish Gambino and Ludwig Goransson
Best rap/sung performance: This Is America by Childish Gambino
Best music video: This Is America by Childish Gambino
Best rap album: Invasion of Privacy by Cardi B
Best rap song: God's Plan by Drake
Best new artist: Dua Lipa
Best country album: Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves
Best pop duo/group performance: Shallow by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
Best pop vocal album: Sweetener by Ariana Grande
Best pop solo performance: Lady Gaga's Joanne (Where Do You Think You're Goin'?)
Best R&B album: H.E.R. by H.E.R.
Best R&B song: Boo'd Up by Ella Mai, DJ Mustard, Larrance Dopson and Joelle James
Best R&B performance: Best Part by H.E.R. featuring Daniel Caesar
Producer of the year, non-classical: Pharrell Williams
Best rap performance: (tie) King's Dead by Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Future and James Blake, and Bubblin by Anderson.Paak
Best urban contemporary album: Everything Is Love by The Carters
Best traditional pop vocal album: Willie Nelson's My Way
Best rock song: Masseduction by St. Vincent
Best rock album: From the Fires by Greta Van Fleet
Best rock performance: When Bad Does Good by Chris Cornell
Best dance recording: Electricity by Silk City and Dua Lipa featuring Diplo and Mark Ronson
Best country song: Space Cowboy, Kacey Musgraves (Luke Laird, Shane McAnally and Kacey Musgraves)
Best reggae album: 44/876 by Sting & Shaggy
Best country solo performance: Kacey Musgraves' Butterflies
Best duo/group country performance: Dan + Shay's Tequila
Best jazz vocal album: The Window by Cecile McLorin Salvant
Best alternative music album: Colors, Beck
Best comedy album: Equanimity & the Bird Revelation, Dave Chappelle
Best Latin pop album: Claudia Brant's Sincera
Best spoken word album: Jimmy Carter's Faith - A Journey for All
Best folk album: Punch Brothers' All Ashore
Best contemporary Christian music album: Lauren Daigle's Look Up Child
Best musical theatre album: The Band's Visit
Best American roots song: Brandi Carlile's The Joke
Best American roots performance: Brandi Carlile's The Joke
Best Americana album: Brandi Carlile's By the Way, I Forgive You
Best gospel album: Tori Kelly's Hiding Place
Best contemporary Christian music performance/song: Lauren Daigle's You Say
Best world music album: Soweto Gospel Choir's Freedom
Best compilation soundtrack for visual media: The Greatest Showman
Best score soundtrack for visual media: Black Panther
Best song written for visual media: Shallow from A Star Is Born
Best traditional blues album: Buddy Guy's The Blues Is Alive and Well
Best music film: Quincy Jones' Quincy
Best boxed or special limited edition package: Squeeze Box: The Complete Works of 'Weird Al' Yankovic