By Jarod Todeschi
Sunday, Jan. 28, live from New York City’s Madison Square Garden, was the 60th Annual Grammy Awards, music’s self-appointed biggest night. This year’s Grammys were the first to enact various voting and process changes after audience backlash from the last three years. The 58th telecast saw Taylor Swift’s 1989 beat out favorite Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly.” The 59th show similarly saw an upset, with Adele’s “25” knocking out Beyonce’s cultural force “Lemonade”. “What the f— does she have to do to win album of the year,” Adele questioned in the midst of her acceptance speech, which she completely dedicated to Beyonce.
The largest effort towards inclusion this year was the allowance of online voting to encourage younger and more relevant touring artists in the Recording Academy to participate, ideally more accurately reflecting contemporary music standards and consumption tastes. A shift in focus away from the Recording Academy’s older members resulted in a larger number of R&B and hip-hop nominations in the main categories, and for the first time ever, a white man was not nominated for the top prize, the Album of the Year award.
Bruno Mars was the night’s biggest winner, snatching the three top awards. Song and record of the year went to his hit singles “That’s What I Like,” and “24k Magic,” respectively, the latter the title track from his album, “24K Magic,” also won Album of the Year. Fellow nominee Kendrick Lamar was another big winner, sweeping the rap categories with music from his DAMN. album.
Though the night’s only televised female Grammy acceptance speech came from best new artist winner Alessia Cara, Hollywood continued to acknowledge the Times Up movement. Many artists wore white roses in solidarity with those impacted by sexual violence and gender inequality. Though Lorde, the only woman nominated for Album of the Year, was the only nominee from the category who was not offered a solo performance slot.
Chris Stapleton was awarded in the country categories while Ed Sheeran took both pop awards. Sheeran, who was absent from the ceremony, garnered some boos from the crowd after being announced as Best Pop Solo Performance for “Shape of You.” The audience seemed to favor the category’s unsung female nominees, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Lady Gaga and particularly Kesha, who were all in attendance.
Performance highlights included the catchy suicide prevention anthem “1-800-273-8255” by Logic, Cara and Khalid, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s international smash “Decpacito,” and duets from Cardi B and Bruno Mars, Miley Cyrus and Elton John and Lady Gaga and Mark Ronson.
Perhaps the most powerful performances of the night came from Lamar and Kesha. Lamar’s medley opened the show with political visuals and imagery depicting violence against Black Americans. Kesha performed later into the show, celebrating the first nominations of her career following the years long legal battle with record producer Dr. Luke. She triumphantly belted her hit “Praying” among a chorus of fellow female stars like Cyndi Lauper and Camila Cabello after a Times Up angled introduction from Janelle Monae.
While Monae’s speech was poignant, following suit with this award season’s socially conscious atmosphere, the lack of female representation among the nights winners left viewers disappointed. The online hashtag #GrammysSoMale began to circulate following the program. In response, the Recording Academy President, Neil Portnow, ignorantly and arrogantly responded to Variety Magazine, saying women need “to step up” if they want to win Grammys.
In the end, the alleged themes of the night were not reflected in the celebrated work. The biggest snubs include this year’s most nominated woman, breakout artist SZA, who walked away with nothing. “Despacito,” the best- selling Spanish language song of all time, which was certified diamond by the RIAA earlier this week, was shut out in three categories.
The Recording Academy’s list of winners sends a stronger message than white roses and political red carpet musings. Portnow’s comments perhaps punctuate the truth that was simmering throughout the telecast: that work has been done to improve the organization, but the work is not done. Earned wins for Puerto Rican songwriters and a woman who successfully distanced herself from an abusive male collaborator would have hinted at a more progressive industry mindset. Instead, music’s biggest night proved tone deaf.