Grammy Awards: Still tone deaf as female artists ‘step up’ but others stay at home
The Grammy Awards worked hard to undo their old, white, male and tired image. Did it work?
How do you fix a problem like the Grammys? The solution, this year’s event suggests, is to send out Michelle Obama to proclaim her love of Run the World (Girls) by Beyoncé (conspicuously absent from the ceremony at LA’s Staples Centre), have Bronx-born Jennifer Lopez lead a tribute Detroit’s Motown Records – “wow…really?” says the internet – and give the record of the year award to Childish Gambino (likewise absent).
Did it work? Not entirely. Was the intention noble or a last minute attempt at damage repair? Harder to say. The accusation that the Grammys represents the worst of the music industry – that it is old, white, male and tired – had gained currency when Ariana Grande announced she was boycotting the 2019 gong-giving after producers refused to allow her perform her (number one) single 7 Rings.
But while the event worked hard to buttress its image – which had crumbled conspicuously when Record Academy president Neil Portnow proclaimed 12 months ago that female artists needed to “step up” – underneath the shiny surface this was in many ways the same old Grammys.
So while Alicia Keys was an enthusiastic host – bless her, she genuinely seemed to believe awards still matter – there was nonetheless room for a horribly stodgy collaboration between white rapper Post Malone and funk dinosaurs Red Hot Chili Peppers. And the suspicion that, actually, the Grammys hadn’t changed much at all was compounded when Drake – who had declined to perform but unlike Grande, Childish Gambino or Beyoncé had turned up – appeared to have his mic cut during his acceptance address (for best rap song).
He was, it is true, giving a speech about how, contrary to Keys’ enthusiasm, awards didn’t really count for all that much.
“We play an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport,” he declared from the podium. “This is a business where sometimes, it’s up to a bunch of people who might not understand what a mixed-race kid in Canada has to say, or a fly Spanish girl from New York or anybody else.
“The point is, you’ve already won if you have people who are singing your songs word for word. If you have people with regular jobs coming to your shows, then you don’t need this right here. I promise you, you already won.”
This was regarded, in the Twitter-verse at least, as a gesture towards Grande, whose boycott of the Grammys turned nasty when producer Ken Ehrlich stated she had wanted to “put something together” for the Grammys but didn’t have enough time.
Grande disputed that version of events and rather than simply turn up and not perform had decided to skip the evening entirely. “Beautifully said,” she tweeted in response to Drake, but later deleted the comment (why Ariana? We all read it).
Also holding the Grammys to account was Dua Lipa, winner of best new artist and performer of a terrifying duet with St Vincent (the fact they had similar hair-cuts was so unnerving).
“How honoured I am to be nominated alongside so many incredible female artists this year,” she said. “I guess this year we really stepped up?”
Portnow himself acknowledged the Grammys’ issues with representation and his own foot-in-mouth moment in 2018. “This past year, I’ve been reminded that if coming face-to-face with an issue opens your eyes wide enough, it makes you more committed than ever to help address those issues”.
Did the Grammys go far enough in making amends? With 31 women walking away with awards compared with 17 last year, there was certainly some restitution. And female performances were front and centre through the evening, from Lady Gaga’s glammed-up reprisal of her A Star Is Born belter, Shallow, to a Dolly Parton tribute in which the 73-year-old country royalty sang with Miley Cyrus (her goddaughter), Little Big Town, Katy Perry, Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris. And Nashville outlier Musgraves (she sings about sex!) sealed her album of the year win, for Golden Hour, with a turn judged one of the night’s more powerful.
Still, the absences spoke as loudly as the performances. Drake, Childish Gambino and Kendrick Lamar had all turned down the invitation to perform – as had Grande. Very much present in the audience, were Irish band Picture This, who stopped off at the Grammys on the promotional campaign for their new album.
The no-show was specially hard to gloss over in the case of Childish Gambino – aka actor Donald Glover – as his acid-splash hit This Is America was named song of the year, the first hip hop track to receive the accolade.
That Childish Gambino chose not to accept either that gong or those for record and video of the year told its own story. The Grammys has long been accused of downplaying the reach of hip hop and Glover’s snub has been seen a evidence of ongoing bad blood between the ceremony and the rap community. Instead, we had Post Malone jammin’ with the Chili Peppers (but without collaborator 21 Savage, who was last week arrested by immigration officials) – a tone-deaf gesture that arguably underscored just how out of touch the Grammys remain.
Album of the Year: Golden Hour - Kacey Musgraves
Record of the Year: This Is America - Childish Gambino
Song of the Year: This Is America - Childish Gambino
Best New Artist: Dua Lipa
Best Pop Vocal Album: Sweetener - Ariana Grande
Best Rap Album: Invasion of Privacy - Cardi B
Best Country Album:Golden Hour - Kacey Musgraves
Best Rock Album: From the Fires - Greta Van Fleet
Best alternative music album: Colors, Beck
Best urban contemporary album: Everything Is Love, The Carters (Beyonce and Jay-Z)
Best R&B album: H.E.R., H.E.R.