Sunday night’s Grammys showcased a ton of fantastic performances from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, and many others, yet the awards themselves were fairly predictable. The academy members have an affinity for picking the safest possible option out of the choices given.
Nothing against Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic, the winner of both Album of the Year and Record of the Year, but every one of the other albums nominated for Album of the Year have far deeper and more relevant messages for society. From Kendrick’s Damn. to Lorde’s Melodrama and among the others nominated, deal with serious issues such as racism and sexism while also adding personal touches and stories from their lives. Most notably Jay-Z’s 4:44 speaks to his personal life and his troubled marriage with Beyoncé. Yet, Bruno Mars’ dance album was chosen as the most important album of 2017.
It’s not like the Grammys are afraid to have politics during the show, Kendrick’s performance featured a reenactment of police violence against African Americans and, perhaps the most political thing of all, featured a skit in which Hilary Clinton reads from Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury. In fact they’re no stranger to political performances, it’s awards have generally been more conservative, usually going to white male artists.
Rap artists have been underrepresented here for years and this year especially has proven that the voters likely do not take the genre very seriously. With three out of the five nominated albums being more rap-oriented, it’s simultaneously surprising and predictable that none of them won. Surprising, in that, in terms of probability a rap album should have won and predictable in the sense that only two other rap albums have ever won Album of the Year, Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999 and Outkast’s 2004 album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.
The nominations have been there for years and the academy has even instituted several “Best Rap” categories yet the refusal to grant this genre more than two awards is astounding especially since critically the genre has produced some of the highest rated albums of their respective years. Last year Beyoncé’s Lemonade, for example, did not win for Album of the Year losing to Adele’s 25, yet Beyoncé’s album carried more of a social message. While this year her husband Jay-Z was similarly ignored as was Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino, all of whom produced albums with higher aggregated critical scores (via Metacritic) that Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic.
Another glaring problem with 24K Magic winning Album of the Year, and perhaps an even bigger slap in the face to those rap artists nominated this year as well as Lorde, is that Bruno Mars’ album was not, in fact, released in 2017 but rather it was released in 2016. It’s a real shame that the academy is inconsistent in its Album of the Year policy, allowing albums from other years to participate in the running rather than restricting things to a single year.
Even certain artists have taken to questioning the credibility of the Grammys, with one of the most notable absences this year being Drake. These criticisms have become much prevalent following the ill-advised comments of the Neil Portnow, the president of the Recording Academy.
“It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level… [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome,” he said. “I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face but I think it’s upon us — us as an industry — to make the welcome mat very obvious, breeding opportunities for all people who want to be creative and paying it forward and creating that next generation of artists.” – Neil Portnow, President of the Recording Academy (Via Variety)
His comments raise another concern about the academy and the Grammys as a whole, as it would appear that they have similar views about, and little respect for, female artists and rap artists. While it’s true that a fair amount of women have won awards for Album of the Year, the majority of them have also been white.
Perhaps the most significant Grammy award, coming 19 years ago, remains Lauryn Hill’s, as she remains the only black female rapper to ever win. Back then, it was likely taken as a sign that things would be changing in the realm of awards, that black artists and female artists would be taken seriously, and that the genre of rap music would finally stand a chance in future Album of the Year races. Yet in 2018 it stands as a stark reminder of how much little things really have changed.