The international music community eagerly tuned in to the 59th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, February 12. Music’s biggest night kicked off with a performance of Grammy winner, Adele, singing her chart-topping hit “Hello.”
Typical for an artist such as Adele, the performance was breathtaking, full of notes that many have tried–and failed– to reach. It was certainly better than last year’s Grammys performance, which was unforgettable mostly due to its audio difficulties. The act didn’t quite set the stage for this year’s Grammys, however, which was teeming with controversies and memorable moments.
Political atmosphere at an award show
It seems that there is nowhere you can turn without getting a faceful of political opinions these days (see the Golden Globes and Super Bowl commercials). The Grammys were no exception. The most notable call came from A Tribe Called Quest, a hip hop group that performed “Movin’ Backwards” and “We the People” from their album “We got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service”.”
Their performance began pretty normally, but it soon went into the realm of politics. About two and a half minutes into their act, Busta Rhymes–an artist performing along with Quest— denounced President Trump. “I just want to thank President Agent Orange for perpetuating all the evil you’ve been perpetuating throughout the United States. I want to thank President Agent Orange for your unsuccessful attempt at the Muslim ban.” The prop wall behind them was then kicked down by fellow performers, one of which was a girl in hijab. Quest was joined by several people of different ethnicities at the end of their performance and called for the audience to “resist.”
A Tribe Called Quest’s performance was pretty gusty and immediately overshadowed several other protests made by the other artists, such as Katy Perry’s “persist” armband, Neil Portnow’s speech, the small jabs made by host James Corden, among others. It was loud, obvious, and demanded attention– they didn’t skirt around the issue like many fellow artists. Whether you agree with Quest’s position on President Trump’s policies or not, you can’t deny that their performance stuck with you long after the last award of the night was given out. Which was exactly Quest’s intention– not to convince you to think one way or another, but to simply let America know that they don’t agree with the direction we’re heading.
An admirable aspect of these types of performances is that the artists are using their platform to champion something that they believe in. They acknowledge that they are privileged to be where they are. In addition, they realize that they hold more influence than the average citizen and they choose to use that influence to advocate for what they are passionate about.
Laverne Cox’s speech at this year’s Grammys is a perfect example. While introducing Lady Gaga and Metallica’s performance, Cox told the audience to “please Google ‘Gavin Grimm.’ He’s going to the Supreme Court in March. #StandWithGavin.” Gavin was born a female, but identifies as a male. He’s going to the Supreme Court on March 28 to argue that he’s allowed to use the men’s bathroom.
Beyoncé and Adele
Beyoncé and Adele had plenty of notable moments as well. Those moments mainly revolved around the fact that they were each other’s competition in Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Album of the Year.
Adele won all three of the awards, two of which (Record and Album of the Year) were the biggest of the night. Predictably, this lead to a lot of controversy. Beyoncé only won Best Urban Contemporary Album (Lemonade) and Best Music Video (Formation), and was nominated for nine total awards. Many people call foul on this, saying that there is underlying racism in award shows nowadays. Recall #OscarsSoWhite that was trending on twitter last year? It cropped up in 2015 after no people of color were nominated in any major award categories, excluding the Martin Luther King biopic Selma and best director nomination of Alexander Iñarritu.
“In the last ten years [as of 2016], there have been seventeen nonwhite artists nominated for the Grammy Award for Album of the Year… Of those seventeen, the only winner was Herbie Hancock in 2008. His album was a collection of covers of songs by the white folk artist Joni Mitchell. Many well-meaning people often have a hard time understanding what systemic racism looks like. This is what systemic racism looks like. When renowned creations by racialized artists are only honored in the categories coded black and systematically passed over time and time again for “mainstream” recognition, this belies an in-built bias that precludes nonwhite excellence from being considered on the same terms as white excellence,” wrote John Vilanova, Managing Editor for MusiQology, here.
Many of you can probably recall the week that Beyoncé released Lemonade. I definitely do — and I’m not even a hardcore fan of Beyoncé. In fact, I can really only name four of her songs off the top of my head. Twitter practically exploded of excitement over Beyoncé’s visual album and it didn’t tide over until over a week later. Even as someone who hasn’t listened to Lemonade in it entirety, I recognize that the album has opened up a discussion in today’s culture about female empowerment and black pride.
“Lemonade doesn’t just empower black people, it tugs at our souls. Beyonce using her platform to celebrate blackness while also sharing an album with us that is her most personal, and most relatable was much needed and an excellent relief to the woes of 2016. Lemonade provided quality music, interactive storytelling, and a fiesta of black culture showing just how beautiful being black can be, and because of that Lemonade was the album of 2016,” wrote Richey Collazo for Affinity Magazine.
With all this in mind, it seems surprising that Beyoncé didn’t win Album of the Year. Granted, Adele’s 25 was a beautiful work of art that Adele clearly poured her heart and soul into. However, Adele didn’t win Song, Record, and Album of the Year solely because of the color of her skin; she clearly deserved to be up there. But perhaps Beyoncé deserved it more. Adele herself acknowledges this in her acceptance speech of Album of the Year.
Adele performed a tribute to the late George Michael, a British singer-songwriter and former member of the Wham!, but had to start over about a minute into Michael’s song “Fastlove.”. She swore and said “I know it’s live TV… I’m sorry, I can’t do it again like last year. I’m sorry for swearing, and I’m sorry for starting again. I’m sorry I can’t mess this up for him. I’m sorry, I can’t.”
After taking a moment to compose herself, Adele began the performance again. The final product was well done — usual for Adele — but it seems like she has some bad luck with Grammy performances. What stuck out the most, though, was how someone as successful and talented as Adele isn’t perfect either. She got the support of her fellow artists as well; Adele received a standing ovation at the end of the act. She stuck through the show and finished well for her idol.
Beyoncé’s performance, on the other hand, went flawlessly. She sang “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles” and was introduced by her mother Tina Knowles. You know the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words?” Well, Beyoncé’s performance would be an entire book. It was executed perfectly and was wonderfully dramatic.
Chance the Rapper
Sunday night was a good run for newcomer Chance the Rapper, who was nominated for seven awards and won three, one of which was Best New Artist. Impressively, he was the first black hip-hop artist to win the prestigious award since Lauryn Hill in 1999.
Chance’s performed “How Great” and “All We Got” from his album Coloring Book along with gospel stars Kirk Franklin and Tamela Mann. The performance was lively, entertaining, and unique, mostly because of the blend of gospel and rap music. I’m going to be honest here: I don’t normally listen to rap or hip hop in my free time. However, I’ve heard enough to know that a rapper that openly talks about his religion– and God — in a positive light is a rarity. And gain recognition doing so is even more impressive. In fact, in almost any genre of music this would be an accomplishment. Chance the Rapper is a breath of fresh air in the music community with his unique lyrical subjects.
Overall, the 59th Grammy awards were explosive and riddled with memorable and controversial moments. With all these unforgettable moments, next year’s Grammys will have a tall bar to reach.