The Grammys - an artistic or political celebration?

Tsvetelina Ilieva gives us her perspective on the Grammys' fall from grace following numerous prominent boycotts and asks whether or not the awards retain relevance today

Tsvetelina Ilieva
27th February 2017

A dazzling mixture of performance extravaganza, political statements and a hell lot of visual effects is the picture that the 59th Grammy Awards painted in the minds of its spectators. But did anyone look close enough to notice the cracks that the commercialized culture and mainstream music have left on the surface of the Grammy’s polished reputation?

"Not only did they willingly skip the event, but they also loudly questioned its relevancy"

That the Grammys no longer carry the symbol of prestige they once did, appears pretty evident if you take a look at their ratings. Viewers’ interest has been decreasing the past few years and hit the bottom during 2016. This year’s Grammy fiasco was marked with unprecedented boycott by some of the industry’s most prominent names – Bieber, Drake, Kanye West. Not only did they willingly skip the event, but they also loudly questioned its relevancy, each for their own reasons.

From concerns about racial inequality to questions about the relevance of its prestige, the awards show which originated in 1959, remained only a vague reflection of the spectacle it once used to be.  

Unsurprisingly, the show kicked off with Adele’s multi hit Hello. It was beautiful. It was touching. It was powerful. But I felt like I had seen it a thousand times before. Flawless performance, yet not in any aspect different to her previous ones. Nonetheless, Adele was the big winner of the night. She won all five awards she was nominated for, including album, record and song of the year.

Yet she also won our hearts ; with her cordial tribute to George Michael and her genuine spontaneity, she demonstrated that she is, just like us, a human. A minute into her attempt to revive Michael’s pop hit “Fastlove”, Adele stopped the song due to technical problems, apologised, dropped an F bomb, apologised again. And started all over to make it right this time – “he deserves it”, she said. It was a moment of outright passion that broke the tedium of the ceremony.

"Bieber’s decision to ditch the prestige Academy Awards in favour of sushi and social media was a cynical laugh in the face of the Grammys"

Other impressive act was delivered by the almighty Beyonce, who captivated the audience with her pregnant belly and touching vocals, demonstrating the powerful triumph of black women. Ed Sheeran and The Weeknd stood out with originality – the first one transformed into his own band by playing all of the instruments for “Shape of You”, while the latter rocked the Grammys with his mates from Daft Punk. Bruno Mars was my personal favourite of the night, as he exploded on stage with an energetic presence, feisty dance moves and a heartfelt tribute to Prince which no one else could have delivered.

Yet with the exception of these few, the majority of the night’s performances were either unremarkable or a total mess – the most vivid example being Lady Gaga and Metallica’s confusing pairing and their utterly embarrassing sound issues.

But what has lead the ceremonies to such epic downfall? Why do so many prominent artist reject the Academy Awards and protest against it?

Frank Ocean was the first one to voice his issues with the Grammys and lead the boycott by exclaiming that the prestige ceremony “doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from”. Ocean also expressed his carefree attitude, by not submitting his masterpiece “Blonde” for Grammy consideration. A bold move that sparked controversy as to what extent the Academy could be considered a bellwether of taste and a reflection of the diversity driving popular music.

Bieber also rebelled against the award ceremonies, sharing in his Instagram that he no longer wished to attend any award shows, as he felt they were “hollow” and lacking in authenticity, condemning the Grammys as irrelevant ceremony which failed to represent the youth.

Bieber stuck to his words and was a no-show at the 59th Grammys, despite being nominated for major honours, including Album of The Year. Instead, he demonstrated how unbothered he was with the ceremony, by spending the night solo, dining sushi and streaming live on Instagram.

Bieber’s decision to ditch the prestige Academy Awards in favour of sushi and social media was not only a cynical laugh in the face of the Grammys, it was also a wake up call, pleading for cultural metamorphosis and talent recognition. But will anyone listen, is a question that yet remains unanswered.

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