Tuesday 12 December 2017

Why do the Grammys get it so wrong?

Following Adele's shock victory at music's biggest night, Ed Power looks back at the Recording Academy's many mistakes

All that glitters is not gold: Beyoncé missed out on the top prize but gave an astonishing performance with her baby bump
All that glitters is not gold: Beyoncé missed out on the top prize but gave an astonishing performance with her baby bump
Adele swept the board at the Grammys with five wins
Bruno Mars' tribute to Prince
Ed Power

Ed Power

This year's Grammy awards went exactly to script. There was controversy and swearing. A very pregnant Beyoncé performed on a gravity-defying tipped chair and blew everyone's minds. Daft Punk turned up dressed like trick-or-treat Darth Vaders and host James Corden waddled around with a tiny cardboard car strapped to his chest pretending to know the words to 'Sweet Caroline'. What more could anyone have wanted?

The big furore at Sunday night's ceremony was over the extraordinary decision to award Album of the Year to Adele's spirited-yet-disposable dinner party juggernaut 25. The snubbing of Beyoncé's astonishing Lemonade - a concept record about a difficult marriage that doubled as a beginner's guide to 300 years of racial conflict in the United States - was widely regarded as a scandal, not least by Adele. In a tearful non-acceptance speech she could not possibly claim the gong in place of the onlooking Bey.

(L-R) Blue Ivy Carter, Guest, Faith Hill, Keith Urban, John Legend, GRAMMY Awards host James Corden, Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, Neil Diamond, Jennifer Lopez and Jason Derulo during The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS)
(L-R) Blue Ivy Carter, Guest, Faith Hill, Keith Urban, John Legend, GRAMMY Awards host James Corden, Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, Neil Diamond, Jennifer Lopez and Jason Derulo during The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS)

Just to prove how adorably real she is, the Londoner also dropped a fusillade of f-bombs upon briefly mucking up her tribute to George Michael. It was a sweet shambles - and several orders more touching than a chintzy Prince paean that culminated with Bruno Mars done up as a bad fancy-dress version of the Purple One, mugging his way through 'Let's Go Crazy'.

In many ways the 2017 ceremony was the perfect synopsis of why the music industry's answer to the Oscars is loved and loathed in equal measure. As a television spectacle, the event, broadcast from LA's Staples Centre, was cheesily entertaining. Corden sweated his little socks off - his "Carpool Karaoke" bit had surely been rehearsed to death yet felt improvised and chaotic. Or at least it did to a baffled Neil Diamond, somehow dragooned in along with Beyoncé's five-year-old daughter Blue Ivy.

And if nothing matched the searing power of Kendrick Lamar's Black Lives Matter-referencing performance from last year, politics did rear its head. Katy Perry, a high profile Hillary Clinton supporter, warbled against a backdrop of the US Constitution. Donald Trump was meanwhile dissed as "President Agent Orange" by rapper Busta Rhymes who accused the Commander in Chief of "perpetuating evil" (tell us what you really think, Busta).

Nonetheless, for those who believe the Grammys should be about celebrating music rather than generating viral moments, the evening left a queasy feeling. Certainly there is universal agreement that Lemonade deserved Album of the Year. Here was a record that not only succeeded as a study in falling in and out of love but also demonstrated the enduring power of the long play format in this era of music streaming and Spotify playlists.

Adele swept the board at the Grammys with five wins
Adele swept the board at the Grammys with five wins
Bruno Mars' tribute to Prince

Then, the Grammys has form when it comes to selecting dross over gold. Just 12 months ago, the aforementioned Kendrick Lamar's musically daring To Pimp A Butterfly lost out to Taylor Swift's 1989, one of those briefly inescapable albums that everyone has since chosen to pretend never existed.

And if the Grammys seemed extra keen to laud the late David Bowie this year - bestowing four trophies upon him - it was perhaps because he had never previously won at the ceremony, despite his unimpeachable status as titan of pop.

Kendrick Lamar was snubbed. (Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Kendrick Lamar was snubbed. (Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Even here there was a bum note with dance-floor clown princes The Chainsmokers selected to accept an award on his behalf.

That the Grammys have been historically out of touch is a matter of record. In addition to the Thin White Duke, greats such as Nirvana, Radiohead, Prince, Led Zeppelin, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones and Neil Young have all been over-looked for Album of the Year. Yet the honour has gone to - and you may want to sit down before reading on - queen-of-snores Norah Jones and top banjo biffers Mumford and Sons.

David Bowie won posthumous Grammy awards
David Bowie won posthumous Grammy awards

The Grammys isn't unique in getting things wrong. The Oscars frequently votes with its heart rather than its head, bestowing prizes on pandering melodramas such as Crash and The King's Speech.

Even allegedly high-brow ceremonies commit errors of judgement - the credibility of the Mercury Music Prize for best UK and Irish album, for instance, never fully recovered from the decision to award the 1994 gong to M People over Blur.

Musician Lady Gaga and singer Celine Dion attend The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for NARAS)
Musician Lady Gaga and singer Celine Dion attend The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for NARAS)

Yet the Grammys is arguably in a class of its own in its apparent determination to undermine the very industry it is supposed to celebrate.

"You got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have. It's weird and sucks," wrote one prominent music industry figure to Kendrick Lamar after the hip-hop musician lost out for 2014 rap album of the year.

That figure was rhymer Macklemore, who won ahead of Kendrick and was appalled to have been so honoured.

Perhaps that was the moment we all should have accepted that the Recording Academy's judgements are haphazard at best, and tend to get it wrong more often than not.

Singer Rihanna attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Singer Rihanna attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Back in 1999, Jay Z called for a boycott, saying: "Too many major rap artists continue to be overlooked.

"Rappers deserve more attention from the Grammy committee and from the whole world." He has since won a total of 21 Grammys, but has never taken home a gong in the four major genre-blind categories.

His wife Beyoncé has received 62 nominations in her career - more than any other female artist - but has only won one of the top prizes.

Frank Ocean: Blond
Frank Ocean: Blond

One notable absence from the 2017 ceremony was R&B singer Frank Ocean, whose sublime album Blonde was arguably second only to Lemonade in the roll-call of genius records from last year (some of us might claim it was even better).

In protest at what he believed to be the Grammys' habitual downgrading of black music, Ocean declined to submit the release for consideration.

"I actually wanted to participate in honouring Prince on the show but then I figured my best tribute to that man's legacy would be to continue to be myself out here and to be successful," he wrote in a post on Tumblr.

"Winning a TV award doesn't christen me successful." He was absolutely right - and his dignified boycott stands as a powerful example others might consider following.

Irish Independent

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