Last night, the Grammys got to try their hand at the virtual awards show format. The 63rd Annual ceremony was accented by masks that were basically nothing more than an accessory and performances that ranged from drowsy to triumphant. The biggest takeaway from the night is that the Grammys are still very much the same mess of an institution that they have been for decades.
With four wins last night (the most of any artist), Beyoncé officially became the most-awarded female artist and most-awarded singer in Grammy history. While the feat is impressive and historic, there’s a sinister undertone to those wins that makes it difficult to truly applaud. Last night, Beyoncé was nominated in the General Field categories twice: “Savage (Remix)” and “BLACK PARADE” for Record of the Year, and “BLACK PARADE” for Song of the Year. The “Formation” singer lost both categories. Beyoncé has only won in a General Field category once: Song of the Year for “Single Ladies.” That was 11 years ago. While her peers rack up wins in the General Field, Beyoncé continues to be relegated to the R&B and Rap field. This year, her nominations for Record of the Year helped her tie Frank Sinatra as the artist with the most nominations in that category (7). She has lost every time. Beyoncé is the most-awarded singer in Grammy history without winning Album of the Year or Record of the Year. In comparison, Adele has won Song of the Year twice, Billie Eilish has won Record of the Year twice (and she did it in just two years), and Taylor Swift has won Album of the Year three times. In fact, with her win for folklore last night, Taylor Swift now has the same number of Album of the Year awards as all of the Black woman who have won the category (as a lead artist) combined.
We can uplift Beyoncé for making history and also understand that the Academy continues to be backhanded in the way that they award Black artists, specifically Black women. The Recording Academy has a very nasty habit of largely awarding Black artists in the General Field for music that they understand to be “political.” Two years ago, Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” became the first rap song to win Record of the Year and Song of the Year. This trend continued this year with H.E.R.’s Black Lives Matter-inspired “I Can’t Breathe” winning Song of the Year. It’s a well-written song, but it is telling that H.E.R. won her first General Field award for a “political” song. She was nominated for Song of the Year with “Hard Place” last year, a song that was much stronger than that year’s winner, Billie Eilish’s “bad guy.”
This year’s winner for Record of the Year, Billie Eilish’s “everything i wanted,” is a fine record. As the biggest award of the night for a single song, the winner for Record of the Year should, theoretically, embody the past year in music. Quite frankly, “everything i wanted” is not the first (or even the tenth) song that the average person would connect with 2020. In that vein, Billie spent the first half of her acceptance speech praising Megan Thee Stallion and saying that “Savage (Remix)” deserved the award instead. She’s not wrong. Speaking of Megan Thee Stallion, the H-Town Hottie had a stellar night winning three of the four awards she was nominated for. The rapper took home Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance for “Savage (Remix)” as well as Best New Artist. As for Best Rap Album, Nas took home his first-ever Grammy Award for King’s Disease. These were beautiful moments for both Megan and Nas, if not a tad bittersweet. For an awards show that is supposed to represent the best of music in the past year, seeing Lil Baby, Roddy Ricch, Pop Smoke, and Doja Cat go home empty-handed was unfortunate.
As for the Premiere Ceremony, the untelevised pre-show where the vast majority of awards are handed out, there were many awesome moments. Burna Boy took home his first Grammy for Best Global Music Album (Twice As Tall) and KAYTRANADA made history with his wins for Best Dance/Electronic Album (BUBBA) and Best Dance Recording (“10%”). Wizkid and Blue Ivy took home their first Grammys for Best Music Video (“BROWN SKIN GIRL”), but the snubbing of Black Is King for Best Music Film was absolutely egregious. For some reason, the Academy still thinks Best Music Film is a category for music documentaries and not multimedia marvels like Lemonade and Black Is King. Hopefully, they’ll catch up one day, but they likely never will. Phoebe Bridgers and Chloe x Halle both lost all of their nominations which was particularly disappointing. On a more positive note, however, seeing Ledisi win her first-ever Grammy (Best Traditional R&B Performance, “Anything For You”) was incredible… especially after seeing Kanye West win Best Contemporary Christian Music Album for JESUS IS KING.
The Pop categories were a beacon of a light this year. The Pop field could have very well fallen victim to a sweep from someone like Dua Lipa or Taylor Swift, but the Academy decided to spread the wealth. Harry Styles won Best Pop Solo Performance for “Watermelon Sugar”; Dua Lipa triumphed in Best Pop Vocal Album for Future Nostalgia; and Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande took home Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for “Rain On Me.” Out of all the genre fields, the Pop field (surprisingly) did the best job in terms of accurately representing the past year in music. Unfortunately, this didn’t translate well in terms of performances. Harry Styles opened the show with a dull rendition of “Watermelon Sugar” and Billie recreated her self-directed music video for her performance of “everything i wanted,” but it wasn’t nearly as captivating as her Grammys performance from last year. The best performances of the night, bar Dua Lipa, came from outside the mainstream Pop genre. Bad Bunny & Jhay Cortez (“DÁKITI), Megan Thee Stallion & Cardi B (“Body,” “Savage (Remix),” and “Up”), Mickey Guyton (“Black Like Me”), Black Pumas (“Colors”), Silk Sonic (“Leave the Door Open”), HAIM (“The Steps”), Doja Cat (“Say So”), and Roddy Ricch (“Heartless” and “The Box”) were among the strongest performances of the night. The smaller stage set-ups and virtual/hybrid format definitely presented some challenges, but some performers stepped up to the plate and others fell flat. That’s just the way the game goes. The best part of the telecast was the way that the Grammys honored independent music venues that were severely impacted by the pandemic. Workers at The Apollo, The Troubadour, etc. got to present some awards and share the history of their venues which made for some genuinely sweet moments.
All in all, it was a solid telecast, but not much has changed. From the winners of its top three categories, it’s clear that the Grammys still seek to award more traditional-sounding pop music with a singer-songwriter front and “political” music from Black artists. They tried to make Beyoncé’s history-making moment a big deal (which it is), but, if anything, The Academy ended up with a giant egg on their face by snubbing her in the General Field the very same night. So, what now? Will more artists follow The Weeknd and Frank Ocean’s lead and refuse to submit their future projects for Grammy consideration? Will a new rival awards show pop up by this time next year? Who knows. One thing is clear: The Grammys are on their way out.