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Kanye should have stopped the whole ceremony.
If Twitter had had its way, Kanye West would have just snatched that mic right out of Beck’s hand. After the “Loser” singer’s surprise win for Morning Phase, his warmly received 12th LP, West appeared to charge the stage in a mock reenactment of his infamous Taylor Swift VMAs moment, before turning around to let Beck finish. Apparently, a lot of Twitter users didn’t even know who Beck was (“Sexx Laws,” anyone?), while others felt that the beloved musician simply won at the wrong time. The great Chicago Tribune critic Greg Kot tweeted: “Can’t help but feel #Grammys again awarded a deserving artist too late for a decent but not great LP,” arguing that Beck should have gotten the award for 2002’s Sea Change.
But Twitter was being kind: Kanye should have stopped the whole ceremony. While the Beyoncé snub was particularly painful (especially following Prince’s #BlackLivesMatter salute), it was one of the evening’s many missteps. The Grammys might be music’s biggest night, but in staying safe, bland, and out-of-touch, the show also continues to be one of its biggest embarrassments. Here are five ways the Grammys seriously dropped the ball this year.
1) Beyoncé lost both Album of the Year and in Urban Contemporary
To say Beyoncé was the favorite going into last night’s show is an understatement, and even Beck (the most humble man in the universe) thought she would win. On Gold Derby, a website that aggregates awards pundits’ predictions, Beyoncé was besting Sam Smith by a 6 percentage point margin, with Beck all the way down in third. But anyone paying attention to the Grammys knows this sort of thing always happens in the night’s top categories: As Kanye argued, it isn’t about artistry; it’s about whatever white person they like right now. Aside from Herbie Hancock covering Joni Mitchell (which is the safest thing I can think of), a black artist hasn’t won Record of the Year in a decade.
As Flavorwire’s Jillian Mapes reminds us, Beyoncé has always been relegated to the lesser categories, where she’s amassed the bulk of her 53 nominations. “[S]he’s led the pack for more than a decade in changing the modern Top 40, which is influenced by hip-hop and R&B more than ever,” Mapes writes. “And yet, how many pop category nominations has Bey received in her 15 years on the Grammys? A mere four, one of which was for her Lady Gaga duet ‘Telephone.’” But what’s confusing here is that, by Mapes’ definition, Beyoncé lost even in a category she should have dominated, with Pharrell Williams’ middlingly reviewed GIRL taking home the Urban Contemporary award. On Gold Derby, Beyoncé was favored in the category by a whopping 85 percentage points.
2) The Grammys were a sausage fest
If you’re wondering why Beyoncé went home all but empty-handed (she was tossed a token win in the R&B song category for “Drunk in Love”), remember who votes for the Grammys (a.k.a. the same demographic who votes in every awards show): old white dudes. Their picks reflect their lack of inclusivity, especially when it comes to gender. Even though last year was a historically dominant one for female musicians, who held all top five spots on the Billboard Hot 100 for a record-breaking six consecutive weeks, last night was dominated by white dudes. In addition to Beyoncé’s snub, Sam Smith beat four women in Record of the Year and three female acts in Best New Artist, as women were shoved out of the top categories. Even Sia lost in the Music Video category to the Grammys’ black friend, Pharrell.
This is even more troubling given that, aside from Lorde’s Song of the Year win for “Royals,” men dominated the Grammys last year, too, with Daft Punk and Macklemore snatching up everything in sight. Since 2000, female artists have only won Album of the Year four and a half times (Alison Krauss won with Robert Plant for 2009’s Raising Sand), while Steely Dan and Mumford and Sons won instead. If you think that’s bad, it was even worse up until the 1990s. Between 1959 and 1989, only three female solo artists ever won Album of the Year, which is as many times as Frank Sinatra won the category. Yoko Ono and Stevie Nicks took home Album trophies, but only as part of a duo or group.
3) The Grammys’ domestic violence message was hollow
While I’ve already outlined the issues with having Katy Perry send a message of female empowerment to women, it’s far more hypocritical to have Perry stand onstage with a domestic abuse survivor for a self-serving PSA while Chris Brown and R. Kelly were nominated for awards. The ever-classy Brown reportedly remained seated during the performance, but that’s not the first time the show’s association with the singer raised eyebrows. When Chris Brown was invited back to perform at the Grammys in 2012, Grammys producer Ken Erhlich said: “We’re glad to have him back. I think people deserve a second chance, you know. If you’ll note, he has not been on the Grammys for the past few years and it may have taken us a while to kind of get over the fact that we were the victim of what happened.”
Think Progress’ Jessica Goldstein notes that Ehrlich’s response confusingly makes it sound like the Grammys were the real victims when Brown attacked his ex-girlfriend, pop singer Rihanna. Goldstein notes that the Grammys’ continued actions say even more:
Given the opportunity to “send a message,” as the Grammys are so eager and desperate to do, the Grammys went with this: Should a person leave his girlfriend in such a bloodied, battered state that she needs to be hospitalized, and should he be arrested and charged with felony assault and ultimately be sentenced to five years probation and 180 hours of community service after pleading guilty to that felony assault charge, and should he go on to demonstrate approximately zero remorse, he should definitely be forgiven and come back to the Grammys before his probation is even up.
It’s not just about sending a message but sending the right message—and a PSA from Barack Obama simply isn’t enough. If the Grammys want to come correct, they need to finally take a stand on abuse by saying no to abusers.
4) Yet another white person won the Rap category
While Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2 was better received than the rapper’s recent Recovery and Relapse, the album’s quality wasn’t even the most notable thing about it. If the album signaled a return to his roots, as a sequel to his blockbuster 2000 album, it turned out that his politics have changed little in the past 15 years. Mic’s Kathryn Nave called third single “Rap God” a “21st century embarrassment” for its widely derided homophobic lyrics: “Eminem still seems to think that ‘gay’ is an insult. That ‘gay’ can be used as a synonym for ‘weak,’ ‘pathetic,’ ‘contemptible.’ That, as he said back in 2001, ‘F****t to me just means… taking away your manhood. You’re a sissy. You’re a coward.’ And no matter his declared support for equality, that is inescapably homophobic.”
However, homophobia hasn’t stopped the Grammys from handing Eminem the gold before: He has more Album wins than any other rap artist, winning the category six different times (which is twice as many Rap Album wins as Kanye has) And Eminem’s recent win in the Rap category follows the much-criticized 2014 win from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, whose breakout hit The Heist beat Kendrick Lamar’s masterful Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. While Macklemore apologized in a tweet and an Instagram post to Kendrick Lamar, he also beat out more deserving contenders like Drake and Kanye West, whose Yeezus won the 2013 Pazz and Jop poll. If Kanye hates music awards shows, it seems he has a pretty good reason.
But look on the bright side: At least Iggy Azalea went home empty-handed.
5) Paramore has Grammys now
While there were some good surprises on Sunday night, with St. Vincent beating her male-dominated competition in Alternative Album, others were just confusing. Paramore, a band you might have forgot existed until right now, took home “Best Rock Song” for “Ain’t It Fun,” making it the first female-led act to have scored in the category since Alanis Morissette in 1999 for “Uninvited.” While the Black Keys’ Danger Mouse-produced “Fever” was considered the favorite in the category, it was a solid (if middle-aged-white-dude heavy) showing all around, with Ryan Adams’ “Gimme Something Good,” Jack White’s “Lazaretto,” and Beck’s “Blue Moon.” While the nu metal band Trapt called Paramore’s win a “conspiracy… to destroy the essence of what rock music is all about,” I just call it bad taste.
With Paramore’s win, the record label “Fueled by Ramen” has a Grammy now, which is something history can never take back. In my opinion, though, history should just take back the Grammys altogether.
Screengrab via Sony/YouTube
Nico Lang is an essayist, movie critic, and reporter who specializes in the intersection of politics and LGBTQ issues. His work has been featured in Rolling Stone, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, Jezebel, Esquire, and BuzzFeed, among other notable publications.