In a year where protest and defiance were highlighted in Hollywood, the Grammys, as always, have played it safe. Although the Time’s Up movement has focused more on actresses and directors, sexual harassment and assault has touched the music industry, too. This year, artists have released numerous songs about politics and activism, but this risk-taking was not recognized.
Bruno Mars left the Grammys with a mountain of awards, and while his win was historic, helping him become the ninth artist to win six or more Grammys in the same ceremony, groundbreaking artists like SZA and Kesha left empty-handed. Songs like “24K Magic” and “That’s What I Like” are catchy and fun, but that does not make them worthy of an award sweep. Mars is a great performer, as evidenced by his performance of “Finesse” with Cardi B, and I don’t mean to detract from his skill, but this is part of a pattern where certain artists are shut out because their songs may not be as upbeat or easy to listen to.
The best performances come from the hip-hop and rap artists, but they are continually under-awarded at the Grammys in the general categories such as Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Album of the Year. Some artists, like Frank Ocean, released music during the eligibility window but did not submit their music for consideration. Despite his numerous nominations, Jay-Z did not win anything. Last year, Beyonce’s “Lemonade” lost to Adele. Historically, black artists have not been given enough credit for their contributions, even though they have been the ones to pioneer new genres and dance styles.
Both in terms of content and genre, the Grammys do not like things that are new, either Kendrick Lamar’s socially conscious lyrics or Kesha’s tale of overcoming abuse. While I love Mars’ songs, I can also see that giving them the awards was the easy choice: it doesn’t offend anyone. It’s true that Mars is talented and his win is still revolutionary for artists of color, but Bruno Mars himself acknowledged to Latina Magazine that “black music” spans many genres, including rock, jazz, rhythm & blues and hip-hop, and acknowledged the heavy influence of black artists on his music. The Grammys are just edgy enough to be part of the resistance by including Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the award ceremony, but they’re not willing to take steps that truly matter like giving black artists the awards and credit they deserve.
There’s genre diversity in the nominations, but not in the awards — Mars swept all general categories except best new artist. Even in categories where women and people of color were nominated, the awards skewed to white men like Ed Sheeran. It’s ironic that a song by a man about a woman’s body won a Grammy over a song about a woman overcoming abuse. The Grammys seem to have been awarded in a vacuum, without regard for any kind of broader cultural context.
Unless the Grammys start reflecting the cultural impact of music, they will start becoming irrelevant. The Grammys included an important speech advocating for the Time’s Up movement by Janelle Monae and a powerful tribute to dreamers from Camila Cabello, but it seems the distribution of awards itself leaves a lot to be desired. Instead of inviting Clinton, who it was recently revealed covered up for an advisor who committed sexual harassment, to parody "Fire and Fury," perhaps the Grammys should have focused on the reckoning in Hollywood.
Nicole Dan is a UF political science and journalism senior. Her columns focus on race and culture.