No one under the age of 40 who values their nerves gives Grammy voters the benefit of the doubt. While they certainly have awarded younger acts in major categories, more often than not, it is in categories like Record and Song of the Year. And more often than not, when it comes to the largest prize of the night, Album of the Year, it is often reserved for an artist whose critical and commercial dominance have long peaked. When someone younger does win, it is for a body of work that sounds mature (re: old) and tonally somber. If it majorly sounds youthful, audacious, loud, and unapologetic, you can count on it being passed over.
It’s why both Ray Charles and Herbie Hancock have bested Kanye West twice in this category, and why Beyoncé was passed over last night in favor of Beck’s Morning Phase. Beck’s album is just as critically lauded as BEYONCÉ, though in terms of impact, it’s not even close.
Although he jumped the stage in jest at the time, Kanye West was very much upset that Beyoncé did not win, telling E! News in an interview after the telecast, “I just know that the Grammys, if they want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t gonna play with them no more. And Beck needs to respect artistry and he should’ve given his award to Beyoncé.”
It’s a nice thought—Black artists boycotting a show that continues to treat them like a date that’s good enough to sleep with, but not to introduce to your family – though it’s highly unlikely to happen. Ever gracious, Beck said in response, “I thought she was going to win. Come on, she’s Beyoncé!”
Beck’s album was loved, but matter how you feel about his win, it has very little to do with him. When is the last time a Black girl singing (and rapping, at select points) won Album of the Year at the Grammys? Yes, Beyoncé now has 20 Grammys, but they’re largely relegated to R&B categories; she’s been cheated out of major awards in the past. She’ll probably win Album of the Year 20 years too late for some album that consists of performing jazz standards with Jay Z and Blue Ivy. Meanwhile, some other 20 or 30-something Black act will be in the position she was yesterday.
And this is why I enjoy the BET Awards more than the Grammys.
As for the Grammys, and its biggest winner, Sam Smith: yawn.
Again, Sam Smith can sing, but his Coke Zero version of soul is too blasé for my taste, and after that whole Tom Petty fiasco, I’m even less impressed. Grammy producers had better pacing for the show than in year’s past, though everything felt too ballad-heavy. The most energetic performance of the night belonged to 56-year-old pop deity and eternal attention whore, Madonna. Even so, she’s finally beginning to show signs that her eight-count ain’t what it used to be.
The seriousness of the Grammy set list worked in some areas. Katy Perry spotlighted domestic violence through her performance, though admittedly, I was thrown off by a few things: Her sounding good live; her wearing Solange’s wedding dress; White people doing spoken word and praise dancing.
More perplexing was Pharrell’s billionth performance of “Happy.” It was a beautiful moment in pop culture, but it’s one that needs to now go home to glory. That said, while I didn’t get why Pharrell dressed as a bellhop, I appreciated the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture made at the end. It’s certainly better than some of those other comments he made in the past 12 months.
When she wasn’t drowned out by the backing track, Rihanna sounded remarkably good during her performance of “FourFiveSeconds.” Kanye West sounded like he really tried to sing both time her performed last night, and both times I wondered why Paul McCartney was there.
And then there was the final performance of the night featuring Beyoncé, Common, and John Legend. Many were miffed that Yoncé was performing “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” instead of Ledisi, who sings the song in the film Selma. Ledisi herself wasn’t sure why Beyoncé was singing it over her, though John Legend explained to Entertainment Tonight’s Kevin Frazier, “We were actually approached by Beyoncé. She wanted to do an intro to our performance and introduce us. You don’t really say no to Beyoncé if she asks to perform with you.”
In other words, Beyoncé didn’t take anything from the very gifted Ledisi because there was no performance of that song scheduled until Beyoncé made it happen. Move on, Mystery Machine. How did Beyoncé do? It was cute, though we’ve seen stronger vocal performances from Houston’s finest. Then again, she had already given them her best and they didn’t appreciate it. I wouldn’t have bothered to give more of myself either.
In sum: blah humbug.