by Julian Spivey
Let’s get one thing out of the way: the Grammys are the Grammys. Meaning the award telecast is typically got be popular culture oriented for better or worse and those who don’t like that won’t ever be pleased. Also, any time something that isn’t seemingly pop is showcased on the telecast – which only occurs a handful of times a year – the fans of pop music are going to be irritated and “Who is Paul McCartney?” will trend on Twitter for a bit.
It doesn’t seem like anybody enjoys watching the Grammys. Hell, after you read the remainder of this you may get the feeling that I didn’t enjoy the Grammys. But, I understand the telecast’s need for ratings and it’s need to put pop stars on the air, even if the awards themselves are meant to showcase the entirety of music. I also don’t follow much in the forms of pop or hip-hop music, so it’s nice to see the best of those genres once every year. I even thought the best performance on this year’s telecast was a pop song.
Grammys Hip Hop Bias
There’s been a lot of talk over the years, especially of late that the Grammys have a major bias against hip hop when it comes to the coveted Album of the Year. It was a head scratcher to many when Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly lost to Taylor Swift’s 1989 two years ago and when Kanye West’s 2010 hit My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy couldn’t even muster a nomination in the category. I fully believed this was the year that a hip hop album would win, and I believed it would be Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., which was pretty much the consensus pick among critics for best album of 2017. There was also Jay-Z’s 4:44, which received the most nominations this year with eight. By the way, Jay-Z went 0-for-8 this year, making him the second most nominated artist in a year to go winless. I don’t blame that so much on the Recording Academy voters as much as I do with him being in the same rap categories as Kendrick Lamar, who swept the genre winning all four of those awards. Bruno Mars would take both Jay-Z and Lamar out in the big-time categories of Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the year. Sure, there’s a possibility this year that Lamar and Jay-Z split the vote leading to a Bruno Mars win, but it seems more likely that the voting block just can’t wrap their head around hip hop still.
One of the biggest controversies leading up to the Grammys telecast was the fact that Lorde, an Album of the Year nominee, wouldn’t be performing on the broadcast. A publication that I can’t remember did some research and found that all five Album of the Year nominees were offered a performance slot – Jay-Z declined, and Bruno Mars, Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino performed full performances. Lorde, the only female in the category, was only offered a partial performance slot, which she declined. In the middle of all the female empowerment movements going on right now this is despicable. It’s also interesting to me that Lorde got a nomination in the Album of the Year category, but not in the Pop Album category when six other artists did. How does that even happen?
Ed Sheeran Winning Best Pop Vocal Performance
Few people are talking about this, which surprises me, but one of the worst moments of the Grammys was Ed Sheeran winning Best Pop Vocal Performance for “The Shape of You” in a category that included Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons,” Kesha’s “Praying,” Pink’s “What About Us” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Love So Soft.” We’re amid the incredibly important #MeToo and Time’s Up movement for gender equality and support for sexual abuse victims and Sheeran’s incredibly sexist (and dumb) “The Shape of You,” which basically relegates women to their looks and bodies, wins one of the night’s biggest honors in a category featuring four great and powerful women. It wasn’t a good look for the Grammys and I’m kind of glad Sheeran wasn’t in attendance to claim his honor.
Kesha and Lady Gaga
As I said previously, I’m not a pop music guy, but some artists, songs and performances within the genre are just too good for even me to ignore. Kesha and Lady Gaga provided two of the most beautiful performances of the night. Kesha performed her highly emotional “Praying” with help from Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Bebe Rexha, Andra Day and Julia Michaels and I thought it was the best performance of the entire telecast. She wrote “Praying” after a multiple year, high profiled court battle with her former producer Dr. Luke who she sued for sexual assault among other things. For her to come out of such a devastating time in her life better than ever and standing up for women who’ve dealt with similar experiences was amazing. If you didn’t have tears in your eyes watching her performance I’m not sure you’re human. Lady Gaga’s piano ballad performances of “Joanne” and “Million Reasons” showcased the best of everything she can be as a pop performer. It was just an all-around beautiful performance. It’s interesting how she’s toned down her performance style and seemingly gotten more personal and some folk – including the Grammys, which didn’t hand her any hardware this year – don’t seem to be as interested. She’s better than ever.
Chris Stapleton swept every Grammy category he was in this year taking home three awards. He won Best Country Album for From A Room: Volume 1 (with the honor thankfully being broadcast this year after Sturgill Simpson’s win last year was relegated to the pre-show live stream), Best Country Song for “Broken Halos” and Best Country Solo Performance for “Either Way.” I’m thrilled for Stapleton’s wins, but still can’t help but feel he was disrespected by the Grammys for not performing one of his own songs on the telecast. He did perform a tribute to the late, great Tom Petty doing “Wildflowers” with new Lifetime Achievement recipient Emmylou Harris before the in-memoriam segment. The performance was terrific, but Stapleton deserved his own slot. The only original country performance of the telecast went to Little Big Town for their performance of the Taylor Swift penned “Better Man,” which lost Best Country Song to Stapleton’s “Broken Halos.” But, to prove how badly Stapleton was snubbed here’s a list of artists who performed on Sunday’s telecast who weren’t even nominated for a Grammy this year: U2, Sting and Sam Smith. There was a total of 19 performances on the telecast. The only performers who won as many or more Grammys as Stapleton this year were Kendrick Lamar and Bruno Mars. Thirteen of the 19 performers on the telecast didn’t win a single Grammy this year.
Chuck Berry and Fats Domino
I was thankful to see that the Grammy Awards didn’t forget about the legendary Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, both of whom died in 2017. The telecast featured a performance of Jon Batiste doing Domino’s classic “Ain’t That a Shame” and Gary Clark Jr. doing Berry’s great “Maybellene.” The only issue is both songs were abridged. I understand it’s a three-and-a-half hour telecast, and things must keep moving along, but the Grammys gave Sting an at least five-minute slot for “Englishman in New York,” which came out 30 years ago, but couldn’t properly pay tribute to Berry and Domino, whom the genre of rock ‘n’ roll never would have even existed without. That’s right Elvis Presley fans, Berry and Domino preceded “The King.”
Jason Isbell and American Roots Music
Jason Isbell is pretty much my favorite artist of the modern era. There are others I love a lot – including recent Grammy winners Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton – but, I believe Isbell is the best singer-songwriter of his generation. I was thrilled that he won his third and fourth career Grammys this year for Best Americana Album for The Nashville Sound and Best American Roots Song for “If We Were Vampires.” They were my two favorite Grammy wins this year. I was actually surprised he won these awards as I thought the voting body would pay tribute to the late Gregg Allman with wins in both categories. I understand that few outside of the Americana community even know the name Jason Isbell, but I’d sure like to see him or someone like him have the opportunity to showcase their music on the live telecast. Simpson got the opportunity last year and it was terrific. I just want to see more roots music, in general, featured – folk, blues, jazz, gospel, etc. Best Contemporary Blues Album winners Taj Mahal and Keb Mo performed a song off their winning album in the pre-telecast ceremony where most Grammys are handed out and it was fantastic. It would be nice to feature this great American music in between the dozen or so pop songs on the night.
People have been asking this question for years: Is rock music dead? The answer is obviously no. There may never be as much great rock music as there once was – I do believe that – but, there’s enough to be focused on at the Grammys. The only “rock” performances on the telecast were U2’s “Get Out of Your Own Way,” Sting’s 30-year old “Englishman in New York” and Elton John and Miley Cyrus’ collaboration on the classic “Tiny Dancer,” which – though great – basically amounted to a commercial for an upcoming Grammys special paying tribute to John. The Foo Fighters won Best Rock Song for “Run,” which would’ve made a rocking performance on the telecast. Or maybe The War on Drugs, winner of Best Rock Album, could’ve performed. Hell, there wasn’t even a single rock category announced on the telecast, which is just wrong.
It’s interesting that the President of the United States can say, “shithole countries,” but when Logic says it in an eloquent speech following his performance of the suicide hotline awareness song “1-800-273-8255” he’s censored by CBS.
Jay-Z’s eight nominations without a win is second to only Paul McCartney’s nine in 1966 when he was with The Beatles.
Childish Gambino, the stage name of Donald Glover, won a Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Redbone.” In the last year Glover has won a Grammy and an Emmy for his critically-acclaimed FX series “Atlanta.” This means he’s halfway to an EGOT (winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.” By the way, so is previous Tony-winner Ben Platt, who was a part of the Best Musical Theater Album winning “Dear Evan Hansen.”
The Grammys love themselves some Bruno Mars. His seven wins were the most of any performer and he won every category in which he was nominated. “24K Magic” is his second Record of the Year winner in three years. He won with Mark Ronson for “Uptown Funk” in 2016. Mars has been nominated for Record of the Year more than anyone this decade with five nominations. The next closest artist is Taylor Swift with four.
The old guard of the music industry sure doesn’t seem to realize how much the public is tired of U2. All they would have to do is peruse social media to find that out.
1. "Praying" by Kesha feat. Cyndi Lauper, Andra Day, Bebe Rexha, Camila Cabello & Julia Michaels
2. "Wildflowers" by Chris Stapleton & Emmylou Harris (Tom Petty Tribute/In Memoriam)
3. "Tiny Dancer" by Elton John & Miley Cyrus
4. "Joanne" & "Million Reasons" by Lady Gaga
5. "Tears in Heaven" by Eric Church, Maren Morris & Brothers Osborne (Tribute to Las Vegas Country Music Festival Victims)
6. "Ain't That a Shame" & "Maybellene" by Jon Batiste & Gary Clark Jr. (Fats Domino & Chuck Berry Tribute Medley)
7. "XXX," "DNA" & "King's Dead" by Kendrick Lamar
8. "Somewhere" by Ben Platt & "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" by Patti LuPone (Broadway Tribute)
9. "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken" by Pink
10. "Better Man" by Little Big Town
11. "Terrified" by Childish Gambino
12. "Get Out of Your Own Way" by U2
13. "Englishman in New York" by Sting
14. "1-800-273-8255" by Logic, Alessia Cara & Khaled
15. "Broken Clocks" by SZA
16. "Finesse" by Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B.
17. "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee
18. "Pray" by Sam Smith
19. "Wild Thoughts" by Rihanna, DJ Khaled & Bryson Tiller