The legitimacy of award season, especially for film and television, has long been debated as either a lavish gesture of self-aggrandizement or a necessary recognition of the best and brightest talents amongst us. In recent history, the former argument has been fleshed out further, accusing Hollywood and music industry elites as racially exclusive and socially ignorant. Although argued by news outlets and common people alike for years now, only recently have the Grammy’s caught on to these criticisms. Despite this renewed sense of self-consciousness, the Recording Academy responded with only lackluster conviction.
The 60th annual Grammy Awards, which took place January 28th, seemed to be taking steps in a very progressive direction. After all, among the artists with the most nominations were hip-hop legend Jay-Z, chart topper Kendrick Lamar, and rising star SZA. Not only that, but the ceremony came complete with a noticeable agenda of social change and a newfound recognition of female artists. From Lady Gaga’s solemn rendition of “Joanne” to the incredibly poignant recognition of sexual abuse victims with “Praying”, all issues of misrepresentation seemed to have been addressed. Despite these fantastic performances, the true intention of the night was revealed by host James Corden.
Plucky, plump, and pleasingly inoffensive, Corden represents an Academy that is only ready to change half-heartedly. Acting as the mouthpiece for the Grammys, Corden cordially met every expectation. He calculatedly lampooned Donald Trump for his liberal viewers, he sang karaoke with Shaggy and Sting for those skewed older, and even took a backseat to Dave Chappelle during the opening act to satiate claims of homogeneity. Actions speak louder than words however, and with each winner being announced, Corden’s message of empowerment to women and minorities alike seemed less and less believable. By the end of the night, female artists took home only one major award and radio friendly favorite Bruno Mars raked in the most gold. For all the lofty messages of progress and solidarity, not much was actually accomplished.
With the Grammy’s losing viewers by the millions every year, the need to keep a sense of universal appeal is understandable. However, it is unacceptable and highly manipulative to cash in on political upheaval and serious issues of industry abuse to improve ratings. With their film and television counterparts being mired in scandal, this should have been a triumphant moment for the Recording Academy. However, with no tangible change developing, this year’s Grammys were more propaganda session than revolution. What is even worse is that every star that performed, every presenter that spoke, and every man, woman, and child on the Red Carpet donning white roses were unwilling partners in this act.
What the public perceived, and rightly so, were artists bravely facing the Recording Industries faults and follies. When Luis Fonsi unabashedly stormed the stage with “Despacito”, he was taking a stand for Latin representation in the U.S.A. When Kesha belted out “Praying”, she was taking a stand against sexual abuse. When Kendrick Lamar ferociously spat verse after verse of “XXX”, he was taking a stand on behalf of every disadvantaged African American. All these artists and more stood unwavering and unapologetic for millions to see and hear. Through their music, however, only hearts and minds can change.
Thus, it is necessary that a powerful force, such as the Recording Academy, truly listens to the message of modern music next year. It is a simple request sung by artists and the public alike. Recognize and reward not just the performers who will appeal to the largest and most lucrative demographic. Rather, look to those with a message of change (whether you agree or not), to those who don’t quite fit the mold of “white American pop star”, and to those that inspire the unsung minority to pick up a guitar and play. There should always be a place for the Ed Sheerans of this world, but it is just as important to encourage all the Kelly Clarksons, Luis Fonsis, and Jay-Zs this planet has to offer. Otherwise, we’ll only be left with James Cordens.
by Bennett Rosner
The opinions expressed above are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of WRSU-FM, its staff, management, or Rutgers University.