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Grammys 2018 Recap – The Grammys Don’t Practice What They Preach
Late last year, when the nominees for the 60th Grammy Awards were announced, the list of artists recognized were a surprising departure from the Recording Academy’s typically tone-deaf honorees. For the first time since 1999, not a single white man was nominated for Album of the Year. The artists in the major categories—while unfortunately light on female artists—included Childish Gambino, Jay-Z, Lorde, and Kendrick Lamar. Also thrown into that mix was perennial Grammys favorite and people-pleaser Bruno Mars. When it came to the actual award show last night, of course, the Grammys are going to Grammy—which they did so in nearly every category.
I should have seen it coming, but I thought, given the list of nominees and performers this year, that the Recording Academy had finally figured it out. But Bruno Mars swept every major award, and his win for Album of the Year beat out wonderful and worthy work from Jay-Z, Childish Gambino, Lorde, and Kendrick Lamar—the latter of which lost in this category for the third time. It’s just more proof that this is an institution dedicated to propping up tentpole money makers rather than the artists deserving of the trophies.
Now, Bruno Mars’s music isn’t bad, and neither is he. The guy is a great performer. Artistically, however, his music doesn’t compare to that of his competitors in these major categories. Jay-Z released one of the most emotionally honest albums of his career, Lamar crafted a dense masterpiece, Childish Gambino proved himself to be a contemporary Renaissance man, and Lorde defined herself as the next great mind of contemporary pop music. Bruno Mars was the safe choice. Mars was the win that ensured he’d keep his massive world tours, his Super Bowl appearances, his music empire alive—all of which would continue to support the industry at large.
Another promising contender in Record of the Year and Song of the Year was the ubiquitous “Despacito (Remix)” from Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. The record’s nomination showed the Grammys’ acknowledgement of a Spanish-language song. If the Grammys were rewarding commercial success in these categories, why didn’t “Despacito,” which was hands-down the most popular song of the year, not beat out Mars in these categories? Even in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category—handed out during the pre-ceremony awards—”Despacito” lost to Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still.”
It wasn’t only the major categories that were a scandal last night. With an opportunity to get it right back-to-back years in the Best New Artist category, SZA—whose debut album was at the top of most year end lists—lost to Alessia Cara. This year, SZA was the most-nominated female artist at the Grammys, yet she didn’t win a single award. In response, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow told Variety, “It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level… [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome.” His comments are both embarrassing and disgusting, especially after a revolutionary year that has seen women speaking up about harassment and pay disparity across numerous industries. You might have noticed that Lorde did not perform, while aging rock stars Bono and Sting had multiple appearances during the three-hour award show.
Meanwhile, Ed Sheeran beat out Kesha for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Vocal Performance. It’s worth noting that Mars also swept the R&B categories over SZA, Khalid, Childish Gambino, and Kehlani.
While these images of emotional labor were still delivered on a national stage, the Recording Academy didn’t support these artists in the one way it can: with a trophy.
But, what might be most frustrating about this list of winners last night is how hard the Grammys attempted to wear its wokeness on its sleeve. All night, the show was posturing around the #MeToo movement, mental health, immigrants, and people of color, but it didn’t once reward these artists with the actual awards. Kesha’s heartbreaking performance brought Madison Square Garden to tears in front of an industry that enabled her abuse and didn’t reward her with a trophy. Lamar’s opening performance was a powerful moment of black outrage. And while these images of emotional labor were still delivered on a national stage, the Recording Academy didn’t support these artists in the one way it can: with a trophy. Maybe it seemed like a bizarre twist that the Grammys awarded Best Comedy Album during its televised ceremony, but also consider that this was the first time a black man had won the honor since 2006. (And while accepting his award, Dave Chappelle blasted the Grammys for ignoring A Tribe Called Quest.)
Entertainment has always been a hallow industry, but last night’s Grammys were a particularly blatant, soul-sucking, and manipulative event. The 60th Grammys could have been a step forward for the institution—a defining year during a hectic time in the industry. Instead, this turned into the most disappointing award show in recent memory, one that might be all the proof we need of a dying institution.