The 61st Grammy awards occurred on Sunday, and I felt a certain apathy towards the yearly award show. It stems from the fact that, more than any other award show, the Grammys’ make the incorrect decision. These aren’t minor mistakes either, or ambiguous choices that music listeners believed could have gone either way. The Recording Academy has historically made awful decisions, like giving Taylor Swift’s 1989 the Album of the Year award over Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color in 2016. Or in 2015, when Macklemore’s appropriately named The Heist won the Rap Album of the Year title over Drake’s Nothing Was the Same and Kendrick’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. Or in 2007, where “Put Your Records On,” Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” and Mary J. Blige’s “Be Without You” all lost the Record of the Year award (but the Dixie Chicks won, so it wasn’t all bad).
There’s no good reason to believe that the academy will make the right decision when it comes to deciding who wins the awards. So, I didn’t tune in and watch the show live. I didn’t even know who was nominated for what award until about an hour before the show even began. What I did do was scroll through Twitter, which subsequently allowed me to digest all the content from the Grammys’ without actually watching. Cognitive dissonance at its finest. This article is a listed recap of everything important that happened during the show.
Donald Glover received his reparations from last year.
At last year’s award show, the artist known as Childish Gambino was robbed of at least one Grammy award. Awaken, My Love! was nominated for Album of the Year and “Redbone” was nominated for Record of the Year. He didn’t win because virtually every award went to Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic and the songs off that album. But that was 2018.
This year, the academy proceeded to gift Donald Glover every award possible in the most herculean showing of reparations since World War II. His song “This Is America” won Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Rap/Sung Performance, and Best Music Video. He beat out the likes of Drake, Post Malone, and The Carters to win some of the most prestigious awards of the night. I love Donald/Childish with all of my heart, but this was honestly shocking. There was no way to predict that the Recording Academy would go for a video that displayed Black trauma the way that “This is America” did. There was also no way to predict that they would allow a song almost completely backed by rapper ad-libs (a “We Are the World” of rappers) to be heralded as the best song of the year.
It represented the respect and power that Glover now holds as a creative entity in the industry. He and Ludwig Göransson (who also won a Grammy for the ‘Black Panther’ score) worked on this track for two years and came away with one of the most ambitious releases of the year. And they were rewarded for it. It was the first time a rap song had won Song of the Year at the Grammy Awards. Hopefully it opens the door for similarly minded artists to keep branching out and use their art to create a discourse the way that “This Iss America” did…but not in the way that Joyner Lucas did with “I’m Not Racist.” That song was liquid basura.
Cardi B is the America Dream.
I’m willing to say that Cardi B has had the most astounding meteoric rise to success in the past couple of years. From stripping in New York, to making IG videos like everyone else trying to make it big, to VH1’s Love & Hip Hop, to a Billboard topping album with every song going gold or better, to the Grammy for Rap Album of the Year, she represents everything that we want to be in ourselves. She found a way become one of the most successful people in hip hop, all while never sacrificing her homegrown, Bronx personality to give off a facade that would be more “marketable.”
She realized that her entire personality, her aura, and her infectious relatability were the most powerful marketing tools she has. She carried every piece of her into one of the best albums of the year, Invasion of Privacy. It prevailed in a star-studded category, containing Travis Scott’s Astroworld, Pusha T’s Daytona, and the late Mac Miller’s Swimming. And there is no doubt in my mind that they made the correct decision to go with Cardi, as her album legitimately has no skippable or trash songs. Winning Rap Album of the Year on your first studio album is quite an amazing feat, a fitting peak to her atmospheric rise.
There was only one person in attendance who stood with 21 Savage.
On a night where music and musicians is meant to be celebrated, one of the most prominent figures in rap was noticeably missing. 21 Savage was still in an ICE Detention Center, imprisoned for overstaying his visa from 2005, after growing up in Atlanta for a large percentage of his life. His imprisonment comes at peculiar time, as he had just released a third verse on his song “a lot,” where he criticized the infrastructure that led to Flint’s water poisoning and the immigration issues that separated families. Many celebrities voiced their support on social media, saying #Free21Savage on numerous posts.
But at the Grammys, that level of support was nowhere to be found. Throughout the entire night, there was no mention of the imprisoned rapper through any speeches. During all of the televised speeches, not a word concerning the unjust treatment of the Atlanta rapper. Even Post Malone, whose #1 song “Rockstar” featured a verse from 21, failed to acknowledge his contributor during his performance at the Grammys. He failed 21, as did the rest of the music industry that night.
There was only one person who mentioned the jailed rapper: Ludwig Göransson. During his acceptance speech for Record of the Year, he mentioned that the rapper “should be here,” accepting the award with him. While it wasn’t much, the Swedish producer was the only one who took the time to acknowledge 21. This is one of the times where the bare minimum should be commended, because he was the only one who went out of his way to vocalize his support for the rapper.
It’s time to check the scoreboard.
Let’s take a look at who has a Grammy in the rap community:
Young Thug: 2
J Cole: 0
This could mean everything. It could mean nothing. But I know what it does mean: two of the most important figures in the Atlanta rap scene, people that were instrumental in popularizing the genre of trap rap, now have concrete proof of their contributions to music. Future may have had the most memorable verse of the year on “King’s Dead,” somehow standing out in a crowd of Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock (la di da di da). And now he has a Grammy. Young Thug closed out Childish Gambino’s “This is America” with a perfectly haunting ending, and now has two Grammys. Is it the way that most music fans thought they would receive their recognition? Probably not. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t any less important to them.
Kacey Musgraves is fuego.
The award for Album of the Year was supposed to be a celebration of the excellence of Black women. Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, H.E.R.’s flawless, self-titled debut album, and Janelle Monáe’s ambitious, beautifully crafted audio-visual work Dirty Computer were all in the running. I was prepared to celebrate the triumph of any of these works of art. Then, the Grammys did that thing where the picked an album that majority of Twitter (or at least Black Twitter) hadn’t heard of, giving the prestigious award to country artist Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour.
I, like other people on Twitter, was ready to slander the Grammys once again for making the incorrect decision, stealing another potential victory from Black artistry. However, in the spirit of open-mindedness, I decided to give the album a listen in order to make informed opinions on why it was trash. To my surprise, I had my ears opened towards a fire album of pleasing country music. I want to be very clear, I abhor the genre of country as a whole. But Golden Hour has a magnetic effect unlike any country project I had heard before. There is a beautiful simplicity to her songs, singing observantly about the natural and human world around her. It’s a perfect combination of pop and country, to the point where I did not feel as though I was listening to yeehaw music. I was sold after the first four songs.
The original outrage that I felt at the announcement of the award winner was placated. I was of course disappointed in the outcome. But after listening, I understand why it won: the album was solid. Do I wish Dirty Computer would have taken the mantle? Absolutely. But I get it. Golden Hour was deserving, more power to Kacey Musgraves.