Established by The Recording Company as a means of celebrating the previous twelve months of both national and international music, the Grammys have ultimately become a way for major label executives to maintain the marketability of our contemporary pop stars. The awards seem to not only encourage the corporatisation of pop music, but play a major role in the effort. However, with drastic improvement in both the diversity and quality of nominees, the 2018 Annual Grammy awards suggested we may finally get a year that reflected a solid year in commercial music.
Sadly this was not the case. The ceremony instead went down its usual route of rewarding acts based on accessibility and commercial success. Amongst a category crammed with acclaimed mainstream records such as Jay-Z’s 4:44, Lorde’s Melodrama and Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love!, the converted prize of Album of the Year went to Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic. the first of six awards won by Mars, including Song of the Year, Record of the Year and R&B Album of the Year. You get the feeling that if they could, The Recording Company would also flog him Best Improvised Jazz Solo Performance and Best Metal Album.
To add an extra dose of irony to the proceeding, it seemed that the ceremony’s highlights were courtesy of the very acts who were snubbed from the top awards. While introducing Kesha to sing Praying (a Song of the Year nomination written about the sexual assault she experienced by her producer Dr Luke), Janelle Monáe delivered a rousing speech calling for the end of gender discrimination within the music industry. “It’s not just going on in Hollywood, it’s not just going on in Washington, it’s right here in our industry as well”.
The highlight of the evening was undeniably the powerful performance given by Kendrick Lamar. As the ceremony begun a large display read the words “THIS IS A SATIRE BY KENDRICK LAMAR”, providing the perfect backdrop for a medley of XXX and DNA from the Album of the Year nominated DAMN. The performance, a theatrical critique of American patriotism, tackled themes of gun control and police brutality, while also featuring an ingenious cameo from Dave Chapelle. “Sorry for interrupting, but just a reminder that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America, is being an honest black man in America, continue.”
So where does the fault of The Grammys lie? Despite a series of performances which addressed key issues in 2018, the Recording Company largely snubbed the music which best reflected the causes they now claim to support – sexual equality, racial awareness, mental health. Despite being billed as “the most diverse Grammys ever”, only one woman went home with a major award (Alessia Cara). Seemingly, the ceremony was the result of an institution trying too hard to appear “woke” merely as a means of amending past criticism. They are the embodiment of 2018 keyboard warriors, people claiming to support pressing societal matters while still turning a blind eye to them in practice. Only The Recording Company has a greater responsibility than the average Twitter user, they hold the capacity to shape an industry which rewards creative risk rather than rewarding world tours and radio play.
The question is, does this really matter? Realistically most music fans remain apathetic to the Grammys and its winners. But I challenge anyone not to shudder thinking of ten more years of James Corden’s fake smile as he hands Bruno Mars his Best Metal Performance Grammy.