A reasonable round table on the 59th Annual Grammy Awards
Daily music writers recap their thoughts on moments and memories of the 59th Annual Grammy Awards, music's biggest night.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room. Which is that there is no elephant. And no room. The Grammys exist in a space-time vortex. The show exists in a parallel universe two to three steps left or right or someway other from our own. It’s currently dead center of a penrose diagram. It hovers in a place where a collective of people can unironically believe that the two performers of 2016 who must, absolutely must, perform together are Lady Gaga and … Metallica. Or perhaps A Tribe Called Quest and Dave Grohl, if that pesky Grohl didn’t jump from the universe last minute. How about Elton John and Eminem?
Along this newfound space time continuum, albums like Frank Ocean’s universally lauded Channel Orange, a new kind of expression of sexuality, are seen as lesser than a lukewarm off-brand folk revival record. Or rapper Kendrick Lamar’s also universally lauded, revolutionary and complex To Pimp A Butterfly is less important than a mid-range crossover pop album by Taylor Swift. Or, most currently, a groundbreaking, shattering work of expression by a Black female, the Beyoncé, is snuffed, yet again, for a nice ballad album.
In our own dimension all of this may, might be passable among Top 40 charts and MTV. But not by an organization which guises itself as the most important take on musical quality throughout the land.
So no, Young Thug did not show up in a suit.
As a shock to no one, last night got a little political. Breaking the sociocultural ice was Katy Perry, performing her new single, “Chained to the Rhythm.” You may have been able to spot Perry’s political leanings under layers of glitter and elaborate set changes, but maybe not. It wasn’t until the end of the performance — when she and Skip Marley joined hands under the projection of the Constitution — that anything was overt. Yes, Perry wore a symbolic white pantsuit. Yes, her pink, bedazzled armband read “PERSIST” as an ode to Warren. Yes, ultimately, the performance was uplifting, fun; it was a blip of activism clothed in pop’s blinding bling.
Enter: A Tribe Called Quest. From the second their collective feet touched the stage, Tribe — along with Anderson .Paak, Consequence and Busta Rhymes — demanded to be heard. There was no mincing of words, no sparkling accessories to do the talking for them. The highlight of the performance was the purposeful, unapologetic “We The People,” during which Busta Rhymes called out “President Agent Orange” for the Muslim ban while racial and religious minorities filed onto the stage in solidarity. Their fists were raised and their message unmistakable.
Perry may have projected the phrase “We the people” across the Grammy stage, but Tribe spoke the truth behind those three famous words. Nevermind the Gaga/Metallica fire storm or Beyonce’s beautiful baby bump — Tribe’s performance was the most important of the night. If you don’t agree, you weren’t paying enough attention.
Backed by a minimal orchestra and subdued lights, Adele’s cover of George Michael’s “Fastlove” was draped in simplicity. Its power came in her voice, both when she was singing and, especially, when she stopped her first attempt because of a small mistake and restarted with the words, “I’m sorry, I can’t mess this up for him.”
More than display Adele swearing on live television, the tribute showcased something that the Grammys oftentimes erases: passion. Adele’s slip-up was messy, but it was also genuine. For a few moments, it broke the shiny façade of the Grammys in a way that was refreshing. In her heartfelt demand to repeat her performance until it was worthy enough to pay homage to George Michael, there was an inherent respect for artists who have become icons.
So much of music is based on history, on building off of what others have brought to the table in order to explore new directions. It involves a desire to have songs with meaning: each conveying overarching ideas and emotions. Adele’s tribute, as well as Beyoncé’s, A Tribe Called Quest’s and Chance The Rapper’s respective performances, stood out from the rest of the Grammys because of the intense passion they contained.
There’s a lot wrong with how the Grammys represent music. It’s an event focused on entertainment rather than on the actual music itself, reducing songs down to extravagant spectacles. In the middle of this drive to please the audience and make profit, raw performances like Adele’s tribute serve to remind us that the importance of music lies beyond flashing lights.
If anything speaks volumes of the Grammys, it’s that all of my coworkers literally forgot they were even tonight. People who live and breathe music just really don’t give a damn.
The Grammys are a music award show for people who don’t listen to music — it’s that simple. You have to be actively paying attention to the artists making waves today to know who they are. In an eye-opening article from Uproxx, the writer examines all of the rock artists of massive critical acclaim who didn’t receive nominations and investigates why this phenomena happens. From Mitski to PUP to Jeff Rosenstock, it’s clear the Grammys aren’t concerned with independent, smaller artists, no matter their musical merit (except Chance The Rapper, but look at his social circle).
That’s not to say all of the nominees are talentless. Beyonce deserves every word of praise she’s received for Lemonade — the album is a modern work of art. But the fact of the matter is indie bands absolutely owned the alternative scene in 2016. Unfortunately, the record labels who actually care about anything other than money don’t have the resources to get their artists consideration. So as long as the Grammys are only concerned with big names, I’ll be staying far away from the show, probably with my headphones in jamming “Your Best American Girl.”
Update: Just found out Twenty One Pilots won a Grammy; fuck the Grammys.
Update #2: Found out they did it pantsless; fuck that meme-mongering trash band.
In Spring 2012, we suburbanites were told by our friend, who was told by his friend of a friend, about this weird ass teenager who went to Jones and had gotten suspended for marijuana possession; the thing was, there was this mixtape about the suspension (10 Day? “10 Days?” “10 Dayz?”) we needed to hear. He went by Chance the Rapper, he rapped about Odyssey Fun World and Connie’s Pizza, and shit, it was our mixtape. About a year later — around the same time we were hearing rumors of the city kids’ Saturday afternoon acid trips with Chance — we first heard Acid Rap. Young love, experimentation, it had it all, and it became iconic. It was, for many of us, the definitive high school soundtrack.
Chance the Rapper won awards for Best New Artist, Best Rap Album (Coloring Book), and Best Rap Performance at the Grammys last night, and, for the moment, we should forget about the (political) snubs and industry-wide tension surrounding what was once truly “music’s biggest night.” Chancellor Bennett, he of West Chatham, Chicago, of Jones College Prep, he who once rapped of “cruising on that LSD,” won the Grammys. You don’t need to dig his sound or at all identify with his brand in order to appreciate the magnitude of his rise; this is the most local any musically-related feat will ever be for our generation, Chance’s implicitly-anointed generation of Chicago-area nobodies (or, alternatively, young, frustrated, dreamers). Today, there’s resounding happiness and pride.
LEMONADE LOST. AN ARTISTIC TRIUMPH IN EVERY SENSE OF THE PHRASE LOST. LEMONADE SPANNED GENRES. LEMONADE SHOWCASED THE ENDLESS BEAUTY OF BLACKNESS AND NEW ORLEANS. LEMONADE GAVE A VOICE TO WOMEN. LEMONADE — THE FILM AND ALBUM — TOOK AN ARTIST WHO ALREADY STOPPED THE WORLD (Dec. 13, 2013 approx. 3 a.m.) TO A LEVEL NOT KNOWN TO EXIST. But, you know, 25 went diamond in under a year.
Fuck that. Art isn't about how many people buy it. Album of the Year should be about impact, a message, something more than an (absolutely beautiful) album of white people love ballads. What was the point of Adele receiving Album of the Year if she was just gonna say it should have been Bey's? There wasn't one.
In better news, Beyonce is still fucking killing it. Stream her new song with DJ Khaled and JAY, "Shining" on Tidal. It's a goddamn bop. Ain't no "Record Academy" keeping the queen down.
CORRECTION: Christian Kennedy would like to add “clown-ass” before Recording Academy