Well the wait for the 2017 Grammys is almost over. ‘Music’s biggest night’ will be broadcast around the world this Sunday, and the recording industry will anoint their latest champion with all of the usual pageantry that accompanies celebrating actual music royalty.
Though any music fan knows to take the declarations of the Grammy awards with a grain (or even a handful or two) of salt, there is something about this year’s telecast that feels even more forced than usual. Perhaps it’s because last year’s nominees felt surprisingly well-representative, or perhaps it’s because 2016 was by all accounts one of the greatest years for music on record, but this year’s crop of Grammy darlings feels like a slap in the face.
In fact, it does not seem much of a stretch to insinuate that the 2017 Grammys are shaping up to be the most out of touch ceremony yet. Which for an institution so notoriously maligned that it has given Taylor Swift not one but two awards for Album of the Year, is saying something. Here are a few reasons why:
Beyoncé Is Most Likely Going to Get Robbed
Love her or hate her, it seems hard to argue against the fact that Beyoncé’s Lemonade was by any form of measurement the greatest album of 2016. It topped our own list saying as much. It is not only her most exploratory, complex piece of music, but it is also a work that has captured the political and cultural zeitgeist of the times in which it was written. It has Album of the Year written across every second of it, particularly with the knowledge that the other contenders it’s up against are Adele’s 25, Drake’s VIEWS, Justin Bieber’s Purpose, and alt-country star Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.
But she is not going to win. If you recall two ceremonies ago, when Beyoncé’s self-titled 2013 opus was up for the top prize of the night, it lost out to the surprise alt-country nominee of the evening, Beck. And before that, we found ourselves in a nearly identical scenario of Beyoncé and Adele squaring off over I Am… Sasha Fierce and 21 respectively. Guess who won that one.
Considering that a whopping five women of color have won Album of the Year across 58 years it may point to a broader trend, but the simple fact is that Grammy voters prefer their big prizes to be as vanilla and politically correct as possible. It’s why Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, one of the most audacious, musically complex and socially relevant piece of music of the new century was passed over for Taylor Swift’s 1989, a collection of tunes to be played in a Starbucks. It would please me more than anything else to be proven wrong this Sunday, but my money is on Adele or Sturgill, the evening’s token apolitical diva and alternative folksy-country boy.
David Bowie and Rihanna Are the Shuns of the Century
Even for the most cynical of Grammy skeptics, the fact that David Bowie and Rihanna were virtually shut out of this year’s nomination pool is downright shocking.
Let’s start with Bowie. The late icon is indeed up for four awards on Sunday, all of them relegated to the Rock and Alternative categories, but a half-hearted acknowledgement of one the most important figures in music history of any genre is frankly an insult. Even before his unexpected passing last year, Blackstar was met with rave reviews, his best in several decades. And of course his death has now forever enshrined the album as a true enigma, the musings of an icon staring down the eternal void captured on tape.
And considering that across his career, Bowie only ever won ONE Grammy, this was the Academy’s chance at finally honoring a figure who will forever cast a shadow on the industry and culture at large. But it’s okay, they chose to nominate Justin Bieber for the top prize of the night instead!
Rihanna’s case, however, is possibly the biggest facepalm of this year’s nominees. “Work” is nominated for Record of the Year, which is great. Wonderful, even, totally deserved. And several other songs from ANTI are scattered throughout various Hip-Hop and R&B categories. But the album itself–which to recap, is the record in which Rihanna for the first time in her storied career crafted a fully-formed, complex body of work built from more than a few singles and filler–is up for a single Grammy: Best Urban Contemporary Album.
Set aside the fact that Best Urban Contemporary Album is among the most offensive, reductive category names possible and let the above facts sink in. This is an artist who is among the world’s most ubiquitous, iconic pop stars, and her most mature work to date has been shut out. Even Loud, her 2011 album which spawned the singles “S&M” and “What’s My Name?” was up for Album of the Year, and it wasn’t even good past the opening singles. The only silver lining in all this is knowing that RiRi will be walking around stealing full glasses of wine all night while walking over subway grates in stilettos, because she is a living goddess and the Grammys don’t know anything.
Mike Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza”
2016 was by all accounts a bad year for humanity. We’re all doing our best to move past it. Yet even as we adjust to the opening weeks of a Donald Trump presidency, what does that say about us as a decent, modernized culture that Mike Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” is one of five songs selected to be among the best our society has to offer from that fateful year? What kind of morals is that teaching our younger generation? Who was responsible for this? For shame Grammys, for shame.
The Artists Themselves Are Rebelling
While both audience and artist alike know that the Grammys are far from the end-all be-all of good taste, this is really the first year in which the musicians being honored have been so openly involved in decrying their validity and making this fact known.
This all starts, of course, with Frank Ocean. His decision to not submit last year’s excellent Blonde for any awards consideration made fantastic fodder for clickbait headlines, but it is a choice that truly speaks measures. Ocean is among our most talented, respected musicians working, and the Grammys know this. His breakthrough 2012 album Channel Orange was up for the biggest prizes of the night and won several more. But Ocean is savvy enough to understand that the game has changed; he no longer has to play by any industry rules of any kind to still find the success and validation he has earned.
It is a move that has been echoed to a lesser extent in the very public decisions by Kanye West, Drake and Justin Bieber to skip out on this weekend’s ceremony. Kanye has always been a very vocal critic of the awards. He has (correctly and justifiably) noticed that his music is always constrained to hip-hop, or as he so eloquently put it “I’ve never won against a white artist.” But Drake and Justin Bieber are both up for Album of the Year this Sunday, and they must certainly be among the first artists up for the night’s biggest trophies to dismiss their honors so decisively and with such little industry backlash.
What does this all mean? We all know the Grammys’ tastes are far from the standard, but this year’s awards show that the industry is more out of touch than ever before. Never before have the musicians involved been so vocally critical, which seems fair given that the Recording Academy has rarely been so utterly clueless and insulting in their nomination process. Whether they can possibly begin to rectify some of these mistakes will be found out soon enough.
The 2017 Grammys will air on Sunday, February 12.