This year’s Grammys was like no other. It aired after being postponed twice due to another wave of COVID-19 and narrowly avoided airing at the same time as the Critics Choice Awards. The show also took great steps to be one with the times by roping in Ben Winston from The Late Late Show with James Corden and longtime BET Awards producer Jesse Collins, aboard. But, as it broadcasted to a record low of 9.23 million viewers tuned in across America and online to watch the music industry’s most prestigious night, the show felt strangely empty.
While the Recording Academy’s marketing and TV spots heavily pushed BTS, Doja Cat and more, one glaring absence seemed to hover like a dead ghost. It was hard not to miss The Weeknd in light of the recent snubbing allegations and missed live performance opportunities by artists who provided the soundtrack to year one of the pandemic. Fiona Apple, Charli XCX, Rina Sawayama and Chloe x Halle were heavily missed despite the beautifully produced sets that made use of the Staples Center’s immense space.
Artfully hosted by Trevor Noah who led the show with slight awkwardness, the comedian and talk show host kept informing the viewers that the show was following social distancing measures while he walked amidst masked nominees seated outside the Staples Center. Viewers expected much more and while watching the near three-hour broadcast which boasted highly-produced performances from artists like Harry Styles, Silk Sonic (the newly debuted duo of Anderson Paak & Bruno Mars), BTS (who performed Dynamite all way from South Korea in the exact replica of the stage), Megan Thee Stallion, Dua Lipa, Taylor Swift, and Cardi B. It was hard to understand why music’s biggest night chose to do a Zoom call-esque award ceremony two hours prior to the official show airing for most of the categories that had BIPOC nominees.
View this post on Instagram
The 63rd Grammy Awards also choose to air a lot of minor awards prior to the live broadcast or during ad breaks, very similar to a tactic the Oscars tried to employ in 2019. What’s more was the blatant indifference that the artists who were nominated were treated to despite the constant messaging of togetherness. They really pushed the message that the Recording Academy didn’t just award artists but rather, “listened to the music of all those who made it.” I’m sure these words were written keeping in mind the Recording Academy’s best intentions; but how could actual change be reflected when most of the major categories were swept by artists like Billie Eilish, who won ‘Record of the Year’ and spent her acceptance speech dedicating her award to Megan Thee Stallion that was heavily criticized online?
Even BTS, who arguably had the best year in music in 2020 despite touring plans being disrupted by the pandemic, played by all the Grammys rules and were everywhere with their first English hit Dynamite, were trotted out at the near-end of the show to keep the viewer count up as opposed to giving them their well-deserved dues.
Am I mad that BTS didn’t win an award despite following the rules the gatekeeping American music industry keeps thrusting upon them while treating them like a guest who’s overstayed their welcome? This feels especially ugly in light of the racial attacks on the Asian-American community and today’s shooting in Atlanta. FYI, racism, no matter the form, should never be justified as comedy. Some snubs hurt more than others – particularly when fan favorites like Doja Cat and Chloe x Halle proved how much women of color, especially Black women are changing the genres of pop, rap and R&B.
There were highs, of course, it was heartwarming to see Megan Thee Stallion pick up three Grammys in her first rodeo and have her be celebrated by her peers and childhood idol Beyonce (who made a surprise appearance and became the first woman with a record of 28 Grammy wins). It was exhilarating seeing artists like Anderson Paak, Bad Bunny, Taylor Swift, and Beyonce make history, but we would like to understand how the Recording Academy picks and chooses who to reward and snub. It’s not like the show was lacking in purpose with the pointed messaging by all the winners who reminded us that the music they share is a celebration of life and bears a greater purpose when it comes to telling stories.
View this post on Instagram
From the tributes to departed legends (shoutout to Brandi Carlisle, Lionel Ritchie and Silk Sonic for their breathtaking covers) and the standout stages of Dua Lipa’s space disco celebration for Levitating/Don’t Stop Now and Cardi B’s fun, show-stopping mash-up of Up/WAP with an appearance by Megan Thee Stallion that had Midwestern Twitter clutching their pearls and Taylor Swift’s cottagecore woodland fairy-esque stage for cardigan/august/willow – there was no shortage of star power on display which is why we’re scratching our heads about how the ceremony stepped up but also took many steps backwards.
I would ask this question: is representation really progress or is it a way for a white, cis body of authority figures to make us think there’s progress when we’re being allowed to win a few times in a game that’s already rigged?
Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!