Stevie G: The good and bad of The Grammys

In his weekly column for Downtown Stevie G reflects on this year's Grammys - a great step forward for female artists but not for hip-hop in general 
Stevie G: The good and bad of The Grammys
Janelle Monae performs onstage during the 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center, Los Angeles, California. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

THE Grammys have come and gone and yet again most of the big awards ignored the biggest style of music in the world today — hip-hop. Childish Gambino did win a few for This is America, which was incredibly the first rap record to win both Record and Song of the Year. So maybe things are changing?

Well, maybe not. The Grammys again showed how out of touch they were and most of the rap awards were token ones, really. This is America’s impact was so undeniable even the Grammys couldn’t mess that one up.

Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) was notably absent himself, in a major snub and a telling one. He is far too clever not to be aware of some of the politics involved, and his absence echoes that of Kanye West, who has been outspoken in his contempt for these awards for quite some time. Even Drake, normally fairly diplomatic, decided to use his speech for Best Rap Song to take a few digs at the awards, saying that basically they are a popularity contest and not a true reflection of what’s good artistically. He was then swiftly cut off by the producers, who were eager to move on from his speech fairly quickly.

Hip-hop fought for years to be even recognised at the Grammys and it has always been treated with indifference and contempt by the awards. Drake is probably the most commercially successful pop artist in the world right now, but even then his award was from a specialist category rather than the main one. The Grammys and hip-hop have always been an uneasy match and I’m pretty sure Drake and Donald Glover’s reactions to their awards will strengthen that mutual contempt even further.

On a more positive note, the Grammys was very much a stage for women this year. You could be cynical and suggest this was due to the prevailing political climate in the United States, where the music world, like Hollywood, is finally realising how it has mistreated its women for decades. The awards were certainly out to try to repair some of that damage last night.

Alicia Keys was a perfect presenter and she was even joined on stage by Michelle Obama, alongside icons such as Jada Pinkett Smith, Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez. You can’t argue with those heavyweights really, and the awards at least made a big effort to combat criticism of its lack of diversity.

Was it too little too late? Probably, but it still led to some memorable performances.

Janelle Monae has been talked about many a time in this column as one of the heirs to her former collaborator Prince, and while it would be unfair to compare nearly anyone to his natural music talent, she certainly ticks the boxes more than most. She is very much a superstar and an individual and, like Prince, she took a while to find her vision to catch fire with the wider public. She’s come along way from her multiple shows in Ireland around 8 or nine years ago, and the days of seeing her in venues the size of The Savoy are now well gone. Her performance on Sunday was incredible, and she is capitalising on the success of her most recent album superbly by getting even better as a live performer.

Other artists to take centre stage included Cardi B, Dua Lipa, St Vincent, and H.E.R, although having Jennifer Lopez leading a Motown 60th anniversary was a bizarre call. She’s a terrific actor and dancer — even a pretty good pop star — but singing as never been her strong point. Having her leading a tribute to the label that brought us Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves, Marvin Gaye, Levi Stubbs, and Michael Jackson was a misjudged (if well-intentioned) move that was only ever going to invite cynicism — and sure enough, it was duly maligned by many.

The Aretha Franklin tribute by Yolanda Adams, Fantasia and Andra Day fared much better and it was good that some top-class vocalists were enlisted to pay tribute to arguably the greatest singer of the 20th century. Shortening it to one song was a bit disappointing, but that’s the way it goes at these awards ceremonies.

Ultimately the Grammys remains out of touch despite some decent efforts to make up for previous snubs, but it’s still fairly watchable and it least it has helped introduce many more people to the incredible talent of Janelle Monae!

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