Another year. Another Grammys. Another telecast that extinguished fans’ hopes of a forward-thinking awards show, in favor of a night that celebrated men, pop music, and not much else.
Several months ago, we celebrated the Grammy nominees’ slate for its impressive diversity, with its major categories dominated by artists of color. In the lead-up to the awards, we hoped that song or record of the year could be claimed by a rap song, or a Spanish-language track via Despacito, for the first time in modern-day Grammys history. And with such a strong hip hop field, led by Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z, 2018 seemed like the Grammys where voters would finally take the genre seriously, hopefully with a long-overdue album of the year win.
That’s not what happened Sunday night. Bruno Mars swept the main categories with his pop-friendly brand of R&B that shares much more of its DNA with Ed Sheeran than Beyoncé. Jay-Z went 0 for 8 in his nominations, despite being feted with the Recording Academy's Industry Icons award at Clive Davis' party the night before. Alessia Cara won best new artist over SZA, a disappointing choice that still managed to be the only award a female artist would take home during the telecast. And the Grammys extended their shameful streak of awarding album of the year to the obvious radio-friendly pop release over the category’s more critically-acclaimed hip hop nominee.
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Just look at the dismal album of the year trajectory since 2014, in which Daft Punk, Beck, Taylor Swift, Adele and now Bruno Mars have beaten, in order, Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé and, with last night’s defeat of Damn, Kendrick Lamar once again.
Yes, many of those pop releases deserved some sort of Grammys recognition. But the pattern here is undeniable: the Grammys look at Kendrick Lamar, and by extension hip hop, as music that isn't "album of the year" material. It's a confounding trend that continues to torture both the artists' fans and the music critics that continually declare albums such as Jay-Z and Lamar's the best releases of the year. The racial dynamics of this trend are also impossible to deny; the snubbed artists are often people of color, with Mars ending an all-white streak of album of the year winners stretching back to Herbie Hancock in 2008.
And yet several months ago, when everything looked so rosy with the Grammys’ diverse nominees, there was an inkling that women, and particularly women of color, were headed for a dismal night of little recognition in the major categories. Watching the telecast, many of the night’s strongest performances — Lady Gaga, Maren Morris, Rihanna, Cardi B and particularly Kesha — came from female artists. Yet, there were few women even nominated for televised awards, and considering all the additional ways the Grammys could've celebrated female artistry amid the entertainment industry's Me Too-gripped climate, the first real mention of the movement wasn't until a Janelle Monae speech that didn't arrive until halfway through the show.
Add the fact that Lorde, the only woman nominated for album of the year, was not scheduled to perform at the Grammys. Instead, viewers got multiple performances from Sting and Bono alike, with Grammys president Neil Portnow nevertheless claiming that there wasn’t time for a Lorde performance in his comments after the show.
That’s extra concerning, considering that Portnow, along with the Grammys producers and the Recording Academy, needs to be tasked with modernizing their dinosaur of an awards show.
It’s 2018. Hip hop is officially America’s most listened-to genre. Women have mobilized across industries, declaring Time’s Up on gender-based inequality in their professional fields. If the awards show that claims to be “music’s biggest night,” a slogan that becomes more of a joke with every passing year, isn't willing or able to make the changes that its community of artists deserves, it's time to declare the Grammys extinct.
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