Bruno Mars winning Album of the Year over Kendrick Lamar is just another case of same ol’ Grammys
Music’s Biggest Night got it wrong again, failing to award Kendrick Lamar’s fiery, of-the-moment “Damn.” as Album of the Year, instead handing the trophy to Bruno Mars for “24K Magic.”
And so it goes, another disappointing year where the Grammys reveal themselves to be toothless and stuck in their old ways. Mars is a splendid pop singer and an enormous live talent, but he’s not an album artist — he’s a singles hitmaker. And the crowning of “24K Magic” is a vote for the safe, the status quo, the path of least resistance.
In retrospect, of course it was going to win.
Mars swept the big categories on Sunday night, also taking home Record of the Year (“24K Magic”) and Song of the Year (“That’s What I Like”), edging out Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s more deserving global smash “Despacito” in the process. It marked the first time a single artist has swept the major categories since, well, last year, when Adele cleaned up in all three categories. Mars won six trophies in all, a 100 percent return on his six nominations.
Lamar’s Album of the Year loss was his third in the category, following nominations in 2016 and 2014. This one stung because it seemed like the Grammys would finally get things right, especially after the uproar last year when Adele beat out Beyoncé, which came a year after Taylor Swift beat Kendrick Lamar, which came a year after Beck beat Beyoncé, and so on.
Same song, different year. But after 14 years without a rap album winning Album of the Year — the last was OutKast for “Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below,” back during George W. Bush’s first term — how could they do it again, especially with three of the five nominees in this year’s Album of the Year field coming from the world of hip-hop?
Grammys gonna Grammy. And that’s just the way it is, better to accept it than to get angry or try to change it. Strides were made in the nominations this year, but hip-hop continues to be underrepresented in the big category wins, despite driving music culture and culture at large.
Lamar did win five trophies, four in the rap category and one for his music video for “Humble.” Those are consolation prizes, though, participation trophies for playing along. It’s almost an insult.
Still, it was better than Jay-Z was able to manage. Nominated for his work on his boundary-pushing confessional “4:44” in eight categories, more than any other artist this year, he left empty-handed, and was given a front row seat in the audience to watch everyone else win but him. When they cut to the audience next year, don’t be surprised if he’s not there.
Kanye West was right. West has boycotted the Grammy ceremony for several years, following losses in the Album of the Year category in 2005, 2006 and 2008. “I feel the Grammy awarding system is way off and completely out of touch,” he wrote on Twitter in Feb. 2016. “We need to fix this.”
The fix hasn’t come. Maybe it won’t come, and waiting for it to come is getting tiring.
Sunday’s show had its share of highs and lows, moments of power and moments of extreme self-importance.
Kesha delivered an emotionally wrenching rendition of “Praying,” backed by a chorus of performers including Camila Cabello, Cyndi Lauper and Bebe Rexha. It was the night’s most transcendent performance, a “Time’s Up” moment where the music did the talking, and where Kesha was able make viewers feel her pain and struggle through the screen.
Artistically, Lamar’s opening performance set a high bar, as he hammered through “XXX,” “DNA” and “King’s Dead” while surrounded by dancers who circled him like shape shifters and acted out the ferocity of his lyrics. Dave Chappelle and U2’s Bono and the Edge made appearances during the medley, illustrating the wide swath Lamar cuts across audiences. He inadvertently set the evening up for a triumphant climax that would never come.
Canadian singer-songwriter Alessia Cara was awarded the Best New Artist trophy, another safe choice in a field that included SZA, Khalid and Lil Uzi Vert. Ed Sheeran took home the Best Pop Solo Performance trophy for “Shape of You,” one of two prizes he won despite being blanked in the big categories.
Genial host James Corden’s biggest moment was a pre-taped bit where he enlisted several stars — including Cher, Cardi B and Hillary Clinton — to read passages from Michael Wolff’s controversial Donald Trump bestseller “Fire and Fury.” While politics are unavoidable in culture and on awards shows these days, the segment seemed better suited to Corden’s show than it did the Grammys.
Politics also played a huge role in U2’s performance, taped on a barge in the New York harbor with the Statue of Liberty positioned prominently in the background behind them. U2 is the definition of old guard, so of course the Grammys gave the band a big platform to make a statement, which in this case was directed toward Donald Trump, his immigration policies and his recent comments about “s---hole countries.”
Rather than feeling poignant or urgent, however, U2’s performance felt bloated and overly obvious, and wound up working as a commentary on the Grammys and what’s wrong with them from within. The song could even be a guide for how to fix the Grammys going forward.
Its title? “Get Out of Your Own Way.”