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The 2 Grammy Categories That Matter
- Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019
Both during, and for days after the 61st annual Grammy Awards broadcast I thought about the on stage performances and winners. Went back to the best on YouTube, obsessed about the cringe-worthy ones (such a hater!), marveled at my respect for Alicia Keys, whom I didn’t think would have the humor to carry us across the hours. Instead, she had ample grace, love and musical authority to do the lifting. Sweet relief. I thought about all the women up there, front and center. The ethnic diversity. And the Big Stars who decided not to show up and/or perform.
Then I had my little epiphany: Yes, technically, there are 84 Grammy Awards categories. But, from a social/political/cultural perspective, there are really 2 categories: the first I’ll call the “Prime Time Categories.” The second I’ll call the “All-Other Categories.” In the first category, in addition to musical excellence (hopefully), the Grammys are interested in the cultural optics—from gender to ethnic diversity—of a nationally televised show, seen worldwide, purporting to represent the best-of-the-best. In the second category, it’s pretty much all about the music (to the extent that the Academy voters have actually listened to the music).
In the past we’ve heard the outcry: Why aren’t women represented? Where are black artists? How can Kendrick Lamar lose Best Rap Album to 2 white guys? (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, 2014, 4 Grammys!). Virtually all of the heated debates have been over the pop categories awarded on the prime time show.
This year? For starters, Alicia welcomed four of her besties—all women—on stage to share their feelings about the importance of music in their lives: Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Jada Pinkett Smith and, bringing the house down, Michelle Obama. It was awesome. (I guess the boys had been sent to their rooms?)
Then, the Busby Berkeley-worthy opening number. Camila Cabello performing her Grammy nominated song “Havana” with guests Young Thug, J Balvin, legendary trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and, yes, Ricky Martin, resplendent in a white suit.
Next on my “this is f****g awesome” list was the Dolly Parton tribute medley, featuring, first and foremost, the lady herself, along with Kacey Musgraves, Katy Perry (oops), goddaughter Miley Cyrus and Little Big Town. Ms. Parton has few peers in country or any other genre as a songwriter and singer. And she proved yet again she’s at the top of her chops.
Best Rap Album? Sorry guys, it’s Cardi B for Invasion Of Privacy! I have a respected colleague who thinks Cardi is a terrible rapper. But she definitely brings the flavor and the attitude. And the fun, btw. I mean, was Madonna ever a great singer? No. Attitude? Her cup overfloweth. On Grammy night we were treated to Cardi B’s extravagant performance of “Money,” featuring pianist Chloe Flower and many dancers in sexy Ninja lingerie (my guess). Lip sync or not, it popped.
Album of the Year? Amazing Kacey Musgraves for Golden Hour. She also won for Country Album, Country Song and Country Solo Performance. Musgraves was tied with Childish Gambino for most Grammy wins—each with 4. His for “This Is America,” a searing social commentary that won for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Rap/Sung Performance and Music Video. (Childish Gambino aka Donald Glover did not show up to accept his awards, nor to perform.)
More country? No problem. We've written about Brandi Carlile before--the "Americana/rock" artist who this year won 3 Grammys, for Best Americana Album (By The Way, I Forgive You), Best American Roots Song and Best American Roots Performance for "The Joke," her performance of which crushed the house and even had the K-Poppers rocking in their seats.
More women? Sure! Most sensual performance of the night was easily the duet of St. Vincent and Dua Lipa performing “Masseduction” / “One Kiss.” What a matchup: St. Vincent, aka Annie Erin Clark from Tulsa, Oklahoma, whose “Masseduction” had won the Grammy for Best Rock Song, and Dua Lipa, who took the Grammy for Best New Artist.
How about mash-ups that didn’t match up? This year, leave it to the boys. Rapper Post Malone with Red Hot Chili Peppers. We don’t need to see it again, but seriously. The Pepper guys didn’t belong with Bruno Mars at the 2014 Super Bowl either. Stop please! And what about the no-shows? Not just Mr. Gambino. But Taylor, and Mr. and Mrs. Carter? And the ubiquitous Bono, who was in St. Barth at the time (I know, ‘cause he was having lunch 20 feet from us on the beach at Le Toiny… sorry for the name-drop…I-I couldn’t help it). I think it’s that “Prime Time Category” thing—if the spotlight’s not on me, later. Just a thought.
So, that 60+ “All-Other Categories” category? Oh yes, they indeed matter. I think it's important to consider this: every winner and every nominee in every one of those 84 sub-categories--they've got their fans, young and old, who know every word and every note. And the prime time optics don't mean a thing to them--it's the music that'll be a part of their lives, if not ours, for a lifetime. From Best Opera Recording to Best Reggae Album and everything in between. Where you'll even find "Plastic Hamburgers" from Fantastic Negrito's Grammy-winning Contemporary Blues Album, Please Don't Be Dead. Rough & dirty & oh so cool.