The 61st Grammy Awards being held on Sunday the 10th February at the Staples Center in LA are set to be the worst in recent memory.
This year’s crop of nominees for Album of the Year in particular are a disappointing mix of unimaginative pop and hip hop, which contribute very little in terms of individuality to the world of modern music. The current tips to win the award include Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy and Post Malone’s Beerbongs and Bentleys.
It is an indicator of an industry which celebrates popularity and values sales over artistic merit.
However, albums such as Shame’s Songs of Praise - one of the best punk albums in recent memory- Kids See Ghosts and many more were arguably more unique projects. Similar lacklustre efforts can be found in the Song of the Year category with the only real standout performances being Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ - containing a prevalent message for modern American society - and Drake’s ‘God’s Plan’ which was possibly the biggest hit of 2018. However, this rather drab selection of nominees is not just characteristic of music’s most prestigious award ceremony. It is an indicator of an industry which celebrates popularity and values sales over artistic merit.
Fortunately, there are some interesting picks in some of the other categories. Best new artist in particular includes exciting nominees such as Jorja Smith, who played Newcastle in October and Greta Van Fleet who play the O2 Academy on March 5th. Greta also feature in the nominees for best rock performance, with their track ‘Highway Tune’ competing against ‘Four Out of Five’ by the Arctic Monkeys and ‘When Bad Does Good’ - the posthumous single from Chris Cornell. Best Alternative Album also includes the Arctic Monkeys Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino alongside efforts from David Byrne and St Vincent. This is also a solid and varied category, yet the same cannot be said for best rock song and best rock album. Though Greta feature in both, their contemporaries are less impressive, including Bring Me The Horizon- who may have released the worst album of 2019 so far- and one hit wonders Weezer.
The Grammys - and other music awards ceremonies in general - serve the industry rather than the artform itself. While there are some outstanding nominees in a number of categories, the vast majority will be won by the same artists. Award ceremonies such as the Grammys then are a celebration of by-the-numbers music by largely by-the-numbers artists and have little real merit in rewarding the best of the year’s music.
So the Grammys were intense. And while they’re dramatic most years, this year it was particularly hard to pinpoint a moment that wasn’t spectacular for whatever reason. The show supposedly cost more this year and it’s easy to see why.
The acts were amazing – Camilla Cabello opened with ‘Havana’, set to the backdrop of an electrified West Side Story. Similarly Gaga performed ‘Shallow’ in a scary yet entertaining way. Dolly also made an appearance, singing a medley of her songs with a variety of different artists along the way: Miley Cyrus and Kacey Musgraves to name a few, though no one managed to outshine her.
There was also very sexually charged rendition of respect from Dua Lipa and St. Vincent, a performance which I’m still struggling to fully comprehend. And despite all this, it seemed that Janelle Monae was the stand-out performance of the night, if Lady Gaga’s enthusiastic dancing at the side lines was anything to go on. Also props to Brandi Carlile for singing a stripped back and personal rendition of her song ‘The Joke’, standing out amidst the busy performances of the night.
All in all, it’s been a good year for women at the Grammys
There was of course the usual controversy. Cardi B was the first woman to win the award for Rap album of the year with her album Invasion of Privacy and ended up with a whole lot of naysayers who claimed she didn’t deserve the award. In fact, there were many female artists winning at the Grammys such as Kacey Musgraves who dominated the Americana categories. There was also Drake who, despite having historically criticised the establishment and the award system for its supposed biases, turned up to get the award and then critisised the award before having his speech cut off most the way through. Lady Gaga gave a tearful and positive speech about mental health after receiving the award for best Pop Duet for ‘Shallow’. Alicia Keys’ hosting was energetic and impressive, not least because of her guest hosts which included Michelle Obama - she couldn’t even get her first word out without the Crowd screaming over her.
All in all, it’s been a good year for women at the Grammys, and we saw a good deal of diversity with the rise of Latin culture demonstrated in performances from Ricky Martin and J Balvin. That said, the show was not without its issues, Drake’s clipped speech demonstrates the Grammy’s continuing issue with rap and J-Lo’s involvement in the tribute to Motown was a problematic move. And yet Diana Ross told the crowd to ‘put [their] hands back in the air. Don’t be Lazy’ so maybe some things just stay the same.
It’s easy to be cynical about the Grammy Awards; like a lot of similar awards shows, they don’t typically represent the best that their industry has to offer, instead opting for tried-and-tested acts that haven’t done anything interesting in decades. The whole evening usually comes across as the music industry indulging in masturbatory self-praise for its own achievements. Unfortunately, this year was basically more of the same in that sense, and so it’s hardly surprising that viewing figures, although up from last year, were some of the lowest they’ve ever been.
That’s not to say that it was all bad, of course. There were exciting collaborations between St Vincent and Dua Lipa as well as Post Malone and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Award winners were also less disappointing than they perhaps could have been, with Casey Musgraves taking Album of the Year as well as Country Album of the Year. There were also some much-deserved wins in rock and pop, with Chris Cornell taking Best Rock Performance and Ariana Grande winning for Pop Vocal Album.
The fun stops there though I’m afraid. Sirens went off when Greta Van Fleet, perhaps the least original band of the decade, took Best Rock Album in an already terrible list of nominations. Never mind that GVF sometimes sound more like Led Zeppelin than Led Zeppelin do, some of the others in the category barely even fit the label of rock music. Beck then took Best Alternative Album for what might have been his worst album ever in place of Arctic Monkeys, Bjork and St Vincent.
The night did pick up a little bit when Drake began slating the Grammys, until his microphone was cut.
The evening was then graced by everyone’s favourite musician, Michelle Obama, in an effort to promote her new book. Lonely people on Twitter then got upset that Jennifer Lopez led a Motown Records celebration performance, on account of her being too white. It was all very exciting.
The night did pick up a little bit when Drake began slating the Grammys and the fact that they are run by washed-up old people who probably don’t even like music. This continued until his microphone was cut and the show promptly scooted to an ad break.
In all, the Grammys were a pretty average level of bad. The acts were boring, the drama was boring, and adventurous music fell by the wayside. It could have been worse, but that’s a low bar if you ask me.