Transcending Sound’s 2017 GRAMMYs Recap

I always go into the GRAMMYs with excitement. Literally earlier in the day, I shared my excitement on Snapchat about the ceremony: all of the performances, the nominees, and the tributes to and for urban and black music creatives. I prepped my entire day around it so that I had no interruptions when and while it was on. It was THAT serious.

This year’s GRAMMYs, like most years in my recent memory, were filled with admiration, excitement, some confusion and a few upsets. Other than Beyoncé winning two awards from nine nominations (losing Record of the Year and Album of the Year to Adele), Rihanna didn’t win any awards for ANTI. She didn’t win a single award for “Work,” which is still shocking to me. I was also somewhat surprised to see Chance the Rapper win three GRAMMYs and I didn’t expect Anderson .Paak and BJ the Chicago Kid to be winless. It was exciting, yet unfortunate that so many of the urban music creatives that were newly nominated were all in 10 categories and that many of the repeat nominees won in those categories (like Beyoncé in the Urban Contemporary Album category). It would have been nice to see a few upsets in those categories. Despite those upsets, I was excited to see KING, Terrace Martin, Gallant, Anderson .Paak, and BJ the Chicago Kid nominated for their work. It was also nice to see Lalah Hathaway win two more GRAMMYs, Robert Glasper win for the Miles Ahead soundtrack, Chance the Rapper win from streaming albums (extremely major!), and to witness Solange win her first GRAMMY for “Cranes in The Sky.” Check out the list of  nominees and winners here.

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#ThatMomentWhen Chance the Rapper won Best Rap Album at the 2017 GRAMMYs. Photo by Kevin Winter of Getty Images and accessed from the Chicago Sun-Times.

It’s safe to say that urban music creatives kept the show alive. Beyoncé’s moving performance on motherhood (showing inspiration from Oshun and Madonna [not the singer]), A Tribe Called Quest’s politically charged statement to resist and mobilize, Chance the Rapper’s declaration to the amazing things that can happen when you put God first, and Bruno Mars’ solo performance and tribute to Prince (that seemed somewhat reminiscent to what BET would do) made the show memorable. But, with all of the good things that happened, there are a few things that I am hoping the GRAMMYs will improve on.

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Consequence, Anderson .Paak, Busta Rhymes and A Tribe Called Quest performs at the GRAMMYs. Photo via Kevork Djansezian of Getty Images.

The biggest problem with the GRAMMYs is that there isn’t enough recognition of artists of color and of urban music, especially in major categories like Record of the Year and Album of the Year. Lauryn Hill is the last woman of color to win Album of the Year (in 1999), OutKast is the last rap album to win (in 2004), Ray Charles won posthumously (in 2005), and Herbie Hancock won in 2008 from a jazz album of Joni Mitchell covers, which makes Hancock the last person of color to win Album of the Year (unless we include Pharrell for his work on Daft Punk’s 2014 win). Read the entire list of black creatives to win Album of the Year here and check out the entire list of recipients of the award here. Taylor Swift and Adele both won 2 GRAMMYs for Album of the Year within an eight year time span. This is a direct reflection of the Recording Academy’s voting practices, especially in recent years. It’s almost as if they took one step forward with some of the new names mentioned in the rap and R&B categories, but continued to take two steps back with the major categories. It’s almost like they wanted to include new people to make it seem inclusive, but didn’t want to recognize it by making enough of those artists winners.

This point brings me back to Beyoncé and Adele. Adele herself said that Lemonade deserved Album of the Year, so why wouldn’t the voting members recognize that as well? There are two possible reasons. The first reason is one that someone mentioned on Twitter: that the album was too feminine and too black for the voting members, which could be the case. The reason comes from Rob Kenner, a founding editor of Vibe. He wrote an article for Complex a few years ago about some of the Recording Academy’s voting practices and one of the flaws included the fact that some of the voters consisted of people who really weren’t knowledgeable of the categories that they were voting for. This could also be the problem, which means that there also needs to be more creatives that are black and/or urban involved in the voting process for urban music categories, something that I’ve advocated for quite some time now. This does not mean just being a member of the Recording Academy; this means being an active voting member that is involved in the process in seeing our music respected, valued, and elevated. This year was a step in the right direction, but it has to keep going.

Another criticism that I have about the show is that many of the artists nominated are not shown on the main show, which does not give them much exposure. They rush through much of the popular categories that aren’t shown on the main show during the last half hour of the pre-show at lightning speed, especially towards the end of it, which makes people miss their favorite artist’s category. I would also like to see more of those artists who are nominated and their categories presented at the pre-show get to perform on the main stage, something that Lalah Hathaway mentioned on Twitter during the show that she wished for herself (she has won five GRAMMYs since 2014).

Even though I scream inclusion and recognition from the Recording Academy, even in their announcements of passing (why did they forget Shawty Lo?!), black and urban music creatives have to realize that the entire award show is not about us and our work. We shouldn’t expect to see our favorite artists win all of the awards at the GRAMMYs. I learned that with Kendrick Lamar and the 2014 debacle with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis winning Best Rap Album and in 2016 with Taylor Swift winning Album of the Year for 1989 over To Pimp A Butterfly. This doesn’t mean that we should stop pushing for more of us being recognized on the “industry’s biggest night”; this means that we shouldn’t catch too many feelings when we aren’t recognized and move on to be better creatives that’ll win in the future. With all that said, the show was kinda good.

What did you think of the GRAMMYs? Let me know via the comments or over on Twitter.

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