“The 58th Grammy Awards are getting ready to start NOW,” Bow Wow exclaimed, a full minute and a half earlier than he was supposed to. After beaming into the camera for a painful 20 seconds afterwards, he started bouncing around from Grammy attendee to Grammy attendee, instructing them not to be camera shy. After which, he incorrectly claimed that the show was starting two more times, “It’s going down! It’s happening! It’s about that time. Right about NOW!” Except nothing was going down, besides more inane backstage footage of people standing around and commentary on musicians’ fashion choices.
The Grammys were off to a disastrous start, but then again, when aren’t they? Instead of being an anomaly, Bow Wow’s flub of an introduction was almost to be expected and may have set the tone for most of the night. In the three and a half hour televised awards show, a multitude of blunders occurred. Some were committed by the artist herself, like when Taylor Swift fell flat during her opening performance of “Out of the Woods” (poor girl went back to her seat and cried). Some were committed by the audio engineers who failed to mask the off-key sound erupting from the piano during Adele’s performance (subsequently, Adele’s rendition of her single “All I Ask” sounded stilted and discordant) and who could not rectify equipment issues interfering with Justin Bieber’s performance of “Where Are Ü Now?” either. However, quite a few of the gaffes were perpetrated by the The Recording Academy — the body of individuals who vote on the award winners in each category. Was Meghan Trainor really selected for “Best New Artist” over Tori Kelly? I don’t know about that decision — although Trainor’s acceptance speech, during which she proclaimed, “I have to go cry,” while already spurting a hurricane from her eyes, was endearing. Even CBS was not exempt from botching the awards show in its own way. The network was met with complaints from disgruntled viewers who had paid a subscription charge to watch the Grammys in live action. For many viewers, the link would not load and therefore, if you didn’t have access to a physical television, you were screwed. The Grammys were like one bad April Fool’s prank after another. For a ceremony that touts itself as one that honors “technical proficiency,” there sure seemed to be a lack of this very competency.
Of course, mistakes are inevitable and perhaps it would be unfair to comment on the quality of a whole awards show based on these mishaps. Still, the mistakes do give the impression that the priority of the Grammys may not be the music itself, but rather, money, public relations and fashion cams. An impact analysis of the 2015 Grammy Awards showed that there was a 78% increase in the sales of songs performed on the awards show. It is obviously incredible that people are broadening their music tastes and becoming exposed to different artists through the Grammys, but because the Grammy Awards are simultaneously a business venture, one wonders about its integrity.
The Grammy Awards is at its best when it actually focuses on what it purports to celebrate: artistry and music. Kendrick Lamar, winner of five 2016 Grammys (“Best Rap Performance”, “Best Rap/Sung Collaboration,” “Best Rap Song,” “Best Rap Album” and “Best Music Video”) was by far the best performer of the night. Trailing across the stage in handcuffs, in line formation with his dancers, Lamar stepped on the stage with an vivacity and gravity the Grammys were sorely missing beforehand. The beginning of his set, during which he sang “The Blacker the Berry” was set in a prison, with beats resembling gun shots and fast flashing lights that jolted the audience. When the song finished, he proceeded to limp across the stage, as the hopeful #Blacklivesmatter anthem “Alright” began and a bonfire shooting flames in the background. His performance is disturbing in the best possible way; one cannot help being mesmerized by the severity of his passion, even if one is not a fan of his.
Lamar was only rivaled by some of the various tribute performances to established musicians. Perhaps the most shocking of these was Lady Gaga’s medley of nine David Bowie songs (“Space Oddity,” “Changes,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Suffragette City,” “Rebel, Rebel,” “Fashion,” “Fame,” “Let’s Dance,” and “Heroes”). Gaga, donning an orange wig and what appeared to be a Japanese-inspired shawl (which she then stripped to reveal a fur and bedazzled jumpsuit) seemed to be the perfect approximate of David Bowie. Her Grammys performance proved that while imitating David Bowie is an impossible task, if any contemporary musician can embody the spirit of David Bowie, it’s her. In a crazed, vigorous conglomeration of all things Bowie, down to his sneering and dance moves, Gaga honored the musician in a way that made us believe she was respecting, not appropriating, him.
Demi Lovato also gave a venerable tribute to Lionel Richie, who won a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys last night. Many of you probably laughed at that last sentence. That’s cool, but Demi is an outstanding vocalist, a fact that is sometimes subdued behind garish pop songs and the knowledge that she was once on Disney Channel, but rings true nonetheless. All it takes is a look at her singing Richie’s “Hello” and Richie’s smiles of approval as he watches her. Richie, and viewers unfortunately, did not have the same reaction when listening to Luke Bryan and Meghan Trainor sing his songs, both of whom sounded like hopefuls entering a bar karaoke competition.
All in all, the awards appeared to be split evenly across categories and artists with the main controversy (because what kind of award show would it be without some controversy?) being Taylor Swift’s winning the “Best Album of the Year” accolade over Kendrick Lamar. It is easy to see why some people are outraged. Swift’s 1989 album was revolutionary for Swift as an artist. She started her career playing pop-country, but with the release of 1989, made the crossover to pure pop. It was a bold move for someone who once sang about “a boy in a Chevy truck/that had a tendency of getting stuck in crossroads at night.” But Swift’s album has not contributed anything new to the Pop music genre, except for a few catchy hits, whereas Kendrick’s album is politically infused and lyrically inspired.
With a basic working knowledge of how the Grammys work, however, who is really surprised by this outcome? The Grammys are a joke. This is not to say that the artists who won them are talentless buffoons or that the awards are inherently meaningless (there’s a reason why most of us haven’t won Grammys), but the awards are presented as part of a show. Naturally, there’s going to be a certain amount of pandering to different musical audiences. Moreover, why wouldn’t The Recording Academy attempt to capitalize on the Kanye-Taylor feud? Feuds fuel viewership, no matter if it’s the VMAs or the Grammys.
Perhaps I would be more incensed about the outcome were I a bigger fan of Lamar’s and were he also promulgating a feminist message, instead of conflating black women with the pressures America puts on black men as in his “For Free” interlude and ranting about how “his dick ain’t free.” While Swift is not necessarily the most deserving artist, I can stand behind her speech about the people along the way who try to undercut the success of women. Take a look through the Youtube comments on Taylor’s speech and you will find misogynistic gems like: “She sucked her way to the top” and “she needs 5kg of clear FAT. Because this slutty bitch is a skeleton right now.” Taylor used her speech as a platform of retaliation against Kayne’s heinous lyrics about having sex with her whenever he wants and these YouTube commenters and to me and other marginalized women out there, it was inspirational and worth Lamar winning one less award.
The Grammys are flawed; they have become less about the music and more about the objectification of certain performers as celebrities. But once we come to accept this, we can take delight in continuing the quest to find the music that echoes our own souls.
Gwen Aviles is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.