by Bridget Rea
Since 1958, the Grammy Awards have been a staple of the awards season, and this year’s ceremony was no different. With some surprising and not-so-surprising wins, the award show caused a stir, especially with the political and social justice overtones that pervaded the evening.
Taylor Swift started the evening with her single “Out of the Woods.” She donned a spangled jumpsuit as flashy as her winnings in the ceremony itself.
Overall, reviews of many of the performances were lackluster, unless the performances were outstanding. Under the outstanding category was Kendrick Lamar’s performance. If there were any specific things that needed to be watched, Lamar’s performance was pretty high on that list. He addressed a lot of the racial issues that permeate American culture and directly pointed out how illogical racism is.
Another solid performance was by Lady Gaga. Her tribute to David Bowie was well-rounded and neatly executed, despite what critics said. In reality, it was an extremely talented artist doing renditions of another extremely talented artist. If it was criticized for being disorganized, it didn’t particularly matter because Gaga was having the time of her life.
One performance that got a lot of criticism and sympathy was Adele’s. Despite the fact that her mic cut out and there were some pitch issues, her voice remained strong for the entirety of the song. The mishaps didn’t detract from her performance, but it wasn’t one of the best offered. For that, I’d suggest looking to “Hamilton.” The new hit musical won Best Musical Theater Album. Breaking out of the mold of classic musical theater, the entire show was rapped, including the acceptance speech. The cast performed the opening number to a New York audience who seemed incredibly enthusiastic. I couldn’t blame them.
In regard to the awards themselves, the Grammys are designed to avoid the controversy that pervades this year’s Academy Awards, but that doesn’t mean that they are void of prejudice. One of the tricky things about having such a broad category as Album of the Year means that you have to pick one genre over another. The winner of Album of the Year should be one that challenges norms, because those challenges are arguably one of the biggest purposes of art.
For me, the most contentious award was Album of the Year. The competition was high. Alabama Shakes entered with “Sound & Color,” whose song “Don’t Wanna Fight” won Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song. The album itself won Best Alternative Music Album.
Chris Stapleton’s “Traveller” was also up for the award, and it won Best Country Album. Its titular song won Best Country Solo Performance. “Beauty Behind the Madness” by The Weeknd won Best Urban Contemporary Album and the song “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)” won Best R&B Performance.
Kendrick Lamar’s album “To Pimp a Butterfly” cleared out the Rap category. “Alright” won Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song, “These Walls” won Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, and the album itself won Best Rap Album. Taylor Swift’s “1989,” won Best Pop Vocal Album. Her music video for “Bad Blood,” which featured Kendrick Lamar, won Best Music Video. To my surprise, “1989” won Album of the Year.
It was not surprising that “Thinking Out Loud” won Song of the Year and “Uptown Funk” got Best Record, even though the competition was, like for Album of the Year, pretty stiff. However, looking at what won the general categories, it seemed that the Grammys favor pop over nearly every other genre. To be fair, people tend to favor what is familiar, and there’s a reason that pop music is called “pop.” It has a large listening base and has transformed over the years. At one point, the Rolling Stones were considered ‘pop,’ and they are hardly similar to anything that Justin Bieber has ever put out.
However, I think that the Grammys have an obligation to be more than the ‘Pop Music Awards.’ Not all music can be entered, since only companies registered with the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) can put in nominations. President of the NARAS Neil Portnow’s speech about supporting royalties from streaming sites came a little out of the blue, but was certainly genuine.
However, I think his speech should also be used to cover the fact that all genres of music should be able to be created and awarded with equal consideration, especially by one of the most prestigious music awards events in the world. Royalties are hardly what kill artists. Big record labels (think Macklemore’s song “Jimmy Iovine”) are usually to blame for sending musicians’ careers to an early grave.
Mr. Portnow threatened that without musicians getting royalties, the Grammys may hit a drought. I would argue that if musicians don’t have an incentive to make their music, the music-making process is hindered and leaves untouched certain topics that may be presented in a new way.
For artists, making music is about more than making money. It’s about expression, and if people don’t get recognized for their expression, then they may not express themselves in the first place. To reiterate, the Grammys ought to be more careful in what they choose to stand behind and what gets awards, because those choices influence the creative cycle for the future of the music industry.
One of the things about art awards is that while they are based on some form of objectivity, they are inherently subjective. Not everyone will consider them fair. In the end, the Grammys exposed the general public to a lot of music that they might not have listened to in the first place.
While I do agree with some of the winners this February, I believe that one of the biggest music awards shows in the industry should expand its horizons to incorporate some of the art that it’s missing in order to be more credible and coherent. If they don’t, they’ll still be considered credible by many, but to me, something to be taken with a grain of salt.
Categories: Volume 97 Issue 7 A&E