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Not Trending: The 2018 Grammys
- Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018
I’m not a hater. Ok, sure, I won’t be lining up for tickets to Sir Elton’s final final tour. All right, yea, James Corden, so charming-super-enthusiastic blah blah, but enough. Hmm…that does sound a bit like "hating." Never mind.
Ratings for the 60th annual Grammy Awards on CBS dropped 24% in 2018, from 26.1 million viewers in 2017 to 19.8 million. Big drop. But, as the analysts point out, it was still enough to make the Grammy’s one of the most-watched programs of the year and give CBS ratings dominance for the night.
And yet. -24%. When I think about that, I’m not thinking, ‘Oh, of course, Ed Sheeran wasn’t there to sing “Shape Of You”…and where was Taylor Swift, and Adele?’ I’m thinking politics—red states, blue states—cultural divides and media segmentation, listening patterns. Things I’ve discussed in this space before. That whole in-the-era-of-streaming-music-we’re-each-listening-to-our-own-soundtrack thing. My guess is that 90% of our citizens have never heard of 80% of the nominees in the top 10 categories. Definitely not gonna talk about the artists I’d never heard of on that stage!
So let’s jump to politics. So much fun. For all you people who don’t think ANYONE should EVER take a knee during the National Anthem, I’m guessing you gave Kendrick Lamar’s electrifying show opening performance about 19 seconds before clicking over to “Family Guy” or “American Pickers.” And that’s cool. The thing is, begin the prestigious music awards show with a breathtaking, pointed indictment of the state of political and social affairs in this country and you can probably scratch a lot of the 47.8m @realdonaldtrump followers from the potential audience.
Me, I loved it. Found it a brazen, virtuosic opener for a primetime network broadcast. And, given that music as an art form has always spoken “truth to power,” the decision (I assume it was considered) to damn-the-ratings, let ‘em say it loud and say it proud was audacious.
Kendrick’s performance also set the bar really really high for what was to follow. And what was to follow went from “Okay, that was pretty cool” to “What the _ _ _ k??” Which means, to me, that nobody else reached that bar. Including the earnest ballads/anthems from Pink, Gaga, U2…the subway carpool karaoke bit with Corden, Sting & Shaggy (ugh).
Wait! I said I’m not a hater! So. We’ll give it up for Bruno Mars and Cardi B and his bring-back of the New Jack Swing sound pioneered by Teddy Riley, Bernard Belle, Jam & Lewis, Babyface & L.A. Reid. Remember this chestnut from TLC?
Love that sound—Julio, pour me another one! As somebody commented on YouTube re Bruno + Cardi’s performance of “Finesse” at the Grammy’s, “this was better than the whole halftime show at the Super Bowl!” Kinda true—sorry JT!
Which brings us to “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee. Great performance on the Grammy broadcast and—I ask your forgiveness—a reassurance that there will be booty-shaking as long as there is dancing.
Why was this song not Song of the Year? Or Record of the Year? We may never know. But we do know that “Despacito” is the most-viewed video in YouTube history, with 4.8 billion hits and counting. More than half the people on Earth! And we know that the reggaeton beat/rhythm at the song’s core is having a very big moment in pop music these days. What should you do when you feel it? Shake that thing, obviously.
There are 84 Grammy Award categories in 30 fields (pop, rock, classical, country, etc.). Of those categories, only 9 awards are given out during the live broadcast. 9 awards in a show lasting 3 and a half hours—that’s just-shoot-me territory. So the big show is obviously about the performances from the artists the producers think we know best. I’m guessing most of us have no idea who won for Best Rock Performance (weirdly, Leonard Cohen for “You Want It Darker”), Best Improvised Jazz Solo (“Miles Beyond,” John McLaughlin) or Best American Roots Song (“If We Were Vampires” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit…and pretty damn good!
For me, it’s not about missing the music from long ago days—I mean, the Grammy for Best Rock and Roll Recording of 1964 went to Petula Clark for “Downtown”!! (damn indeed, Kendrick!)
But I do miss the everybody-everywhere aspect of the conversation. When 73 million people tuned in to hear the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and it was all anybody talked about the next day, and the next…what a blast. Now that the tribes all reside in their own clouds, what’s the music in our collective ear? What’s trending—other than T’s latest tweet? This year, it ain’t the Grammy’s. Maybe next year. Hey, speaking of esoterica in a cloud of its own, check out this gorgeous bit of electronic experimentation you’ll never hear on iHeart Radio—James Blake’s “If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead.” Good luck singing along, everybody on Earth!