Sunday night saw the 60th annual Grammy awards, with big wins for artists like Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran, and Kendrick Lamar. Unfortunately for some of the winners, not all of these wins seem deserved.
Over the past few years, the Grammys have faced controversy for their seeming inability to give awards to anything, well, controversial. Last year, people were upset that Album of the Year was awarded to Adele, despite the fact even she believed Beyoncé’s "Lemonade" deserved the title. The year prior, Taylor Swift's "1989" won over Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp a Butterfly."
With Bruno Mars grabbing numerous awards, including Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year, can the Grammys really be accused of being too white this year? The issue isn't that the Grammys need to consider more artists of color; the issue is that the Grammys consistently play it safe.
Despite the Oscars' many failings, they have given awards to films discussing difficult topics; Best Picture winners such as "Moonlight" and "12 Years a Slave" focused on the adversities people of color have faced.
In contrast, the Grammys failed to award "Lemonade"and "To Pimp a Butterfly"the highest honor, despite wide acclaim from critics and the public. These albums contained real-world issues and struggles of women and/or black people in America.
Beyoncé performing on her Formation world tour
Beyoncé faced backlash over "Lemonade's" first release, "Formation," for supposedly being anti-cop; Lamar's songs included lyrics like "and we hate po-po / Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho," and "so why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street? / When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?" "1989" and Adele's "25," however good, couldn't be whiter. They were safe choices.
That's what many of this year's winners were: safe. Arguably not the best, but safe. Unlikely to produce massive boycotts or criticism. But that's exactly why they need to be criticized. Yes, there was a video skit where Hillary Clinton read excerpts from "Fire and Fury," but the winners? Very far removed from the issues of the day.
What was special about Bruno Mars' music this year? "24K Magic" is just another pop song, which to me sounds like little more than an attempt to capitalize off the same sound that gave Mars' "Uptown Funk" widespread popularity. In terms of Song of the Year, I'd argue "Despacito" was a better song.
"24K Magic" also won Record of the Year. Most of the nominees that it beat out, such as Childish Gambino's "Redbone," Lamar's "HUMBLE," and Jay-Z's "The Story of O.J.," dealt with issues of race. "Redbone" is a term used in parts of the southern U.S. to describe a multi-ethnic person, and both Lamar and Jay-Z's records reference being successful black men who came from very little.
As with "Lemonade," Lamar was successful in rap/hip-hop categories. The Grammys have a problem with only celebrating black artists in side categories instead of getting center stage.
On to the next snub. Many have been quick to point out that shortly before Kesha's impassioned performance of "Praying," she lost the award for Pop Solo Performance to Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You." I like Ed Sheeran; I think he's a talented artist. But you can't seriously tell me that yet another recycling of "girl, I love you" was better than Kesha's comeback, telling a story of survival and healing.
As I've written before, "Praying" and Kesha's return to the music world speak volumes. But it's controversial. It's her survival anthem after calling out a leading member of the music industry for abuse. "Shape of You" is a good song. But more importantly, it's a safe choice.
Similarly, his album "Divide" beat out Kesha's "Rainbow," as well as Lana Del Rey's "Lust For Life" and Lady Gaga's "Joanne." Which brings me to the final problem with the Grammys: where are the women?
On Sunday, only one of the awards given out on TV went to a woman. One. From 2013 to 2018, only 9.3 percent of Grammy nominees were female. This year, even when women were nominated, they still often lost to a man. SZA, a Muslim woman of color, received five nominations—the most of any woman—yet didn't win any of them.
President of the Recording Academy Neil Portnow made the situation significantly worse afterwards, saying that women need to "step up" in the music industry.
Grammys, stop playing it safe in the boys' club. Recognize women. Just because an artist has a good voice doesn't mean you have to consistently praise cookie-cutter content. Music isn't just for entertainment; it's a force for social change. It's time to recognize the people using it for that purpose.