Last night the 60th edition of the Grammy Awards went down in New York City. Like with any awards show, there were highs, there were lows, there were hits and there were misses. But with this year’s awards, more than anything there were messages; some intentional, some not at all, some were subtle and some were screamed at the tops of lungs.
From white roses to impassioned performances, sexism to feminism, rap to rock and so much more, there was a lot of stuff going on at the 2018 Grammy awards. Let’s break it down to what really matters.
Before the awards happened, Voices in Entertainment, a group of women working at major record labels, put the word out that Grammy attendees can wear or hold a white rose as symbol of “hope, peace, sympathy, and resistance.” I was eagle eyes on the red carpet, and while overall I was disappointed in the lack of roses present, those who did adopt the symbol did it well. Kesha and Zayn rocked embroidered roses on the lapels of their jackets, while Lady Gaga pinned hers near her throat so it was visible while she performed at the piano. Why is it that the rose wasn’t as ubiquitous as black dresses at the Golden Globes? In my little viewing party, we debated that perhaps the music industry at large is afraid to start outing abusers, because we would lose all our stars, idols and heroes. If that’s the case however, it didn’t stop presenters like Janelle Monae from putting predators on notice with her #timesup moment. It’s a start, and that’s a good in my book.
Another good? Some Cancon love! Canadian artists Sarah Mclachlan, Michael Buble, the late Leonard Cohen, Arcade Fire, The Weeknd, and my girl Alessia Cara all scored nominations (among others that I’m sure I missed), with Alessia and Abel taking home awards. As evidenced by our Canadian contingent, Rap, R&B and Hip Hop reigned at the Grammy’s this year as well after years of it being the old white dude show, with Kendrick Lamar cleaning up in most of his categories as well.
As with any awards shows, some performances will fall flat, some will be boring, and some will make no sense at all. At this year’s Grammy’s, we got a little bit of everything. From U2’s head scratching, budget busting Hudson River performance (complete with Bono brandishing a star spangled megaphone) to what felt like a contractually obligated shout out to Taylor Swift ensuring we all knew that she wrote “Better Man” performed by Little Big Town, we all wondered if there wasn’t a better use of the show’s precious broadcast time. No one cares that Shaggy and Sting are making music together, not even the actors in that subway car skit who were paid to. That time could have been put to far better use, perhaps to pay a proper tribute to Fats Domino and Chuck Berry. Don’t get me wrong, Gary Clark Jr. and Jon Batiste put on an amazing performance, but considering how little time they got, and how much time was given to the old white dudes who’ve benefited from Domino and Berry’s pioneering work, I consider it a terrible slight.
Also, Chris Cornell should have won for “The Promise” but I’m a little biased.
Why is feminism still a hot button topic in 2018? Because sexism still exists, especially in the music industry. Lorde was the only female to be nominated for Album of the Year. She was also the only nominee who was not offered a performance spot on her own, leading to her declining to perform. Men took home every major award but one, and that one award has already lead to some controversy. Alessia Cara has already had to deal with haters saying that her “Best New Artist” win was undeserved, pitting her against Sza who they say should have won. With Alessia being one of the few female artists to win a Grammy (and really the only one in the televised broadcast), and SZA having 5 nominations and no wins, resurrecting this Taylor/Kanye beef with different artists feels especially petty and sexist. Take a read below for Alessia’s honest and awesome response to the controversy.
Also ugly? Recording Academy chief Neil Portnow’s foot in mouth comments about women at the Grammy’s. Women apparently just need to “Step up” if they want better representation in the industry. After some well-earned backlash, he has since clarified his comments.
Multiple artists used their performance slots to make a statement, using their art as the vehicle, and that’s what made the Grammys for me. Kendrick Lamar musically punched America in the face with his performance. A medley of “XXX” (with U2 making a supporting appearance) and “DNA” with recent verses from “New Freezer” and “King’s Dead”, the performance was powerfully punctuated by Dave Chapelle’s a surprise appearance with a protest anthem of an interlude. “I just want to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America”. I found my heart pounding as I watched Kendrick symbolically drop each of his dancers, ending his musical statement surrounded by their bodies bathed in the red of their matching hoodies. It was a blatant and necessary call on the violence that Kendrick touches on time and again in his music, this time reaching a far wider audience, and making even more of an impact as a result.
“1-800-273-8255” by Logic feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid is already a statement making song, but rapper took his chance on the Grammy stage share another message, one given with a pointed glare in the direction of a certain President. It was a message of love, inclusive and inspiring, calling out issues of racism, sexism, injustice and inequality. Launching with “Black is beautiful, hate is ugly” and ending with a wish to see the world united through acceptance, Logic reminded us what an artist can really do when he raises his voice. Read the speech here and watch the performance below.
It’s rare that an awards show performance would bring me to tears, but it happened. To say that Kesha, one of my favorite artists for so many reasons, has had a hard go of it over the past few years would be a gross understatement. Between the abuse she endured at the hands of Dr. Luke, to the multiple rejected lawsuits against him, and now releasing the most raw and powerful music she’s ever made, the Grammys got it very very right when they gave her the chance to perform “Praying”. She took that chance and turned it into the most powerful and beautiful performance of the night. Flanked by a group of music’s power women including icon Cyndi Lauper, all resplendent in white and holding white roses, Kesha belted out her ode to her abuser, her voice breaking at times with the emotion of it as hands reached out to support her and arms to hold her. The catharsis of it was palatable, as she sang her heart out for herself and victims everywhere. Watch it for yourself, as I don’t possess the words to do it justice. It was everything.
While the Grammys may have had lower rating, and while many of the winners were still white men (snore), to me what mattered was the activism that so many artists brought out on that night. Whether it was in what they wore on the red carpet or what they said and sang on the stage, it was amazing to see what people with that reach and power can do when they’re given the chance. 2018 will be a year of change, and it’s amazing to see these artists use their celebrity and their art to help make it happen.
For the full list of winners, check out the link below: