Show the Grammys Aren’t Really With It – #fivesongsthat

In #fivesongsthat, Features, HOME, MUSIC by Sam Prance

#fivesongsthat is a feature in which someone selects and discusses fives songs that…do something collectively. Political, personal, perhaps a mixture of the two – it encourages people to consider what certain tracks might represent when placed together. That and it gives us a chance to indulge in some great music.

The Grammys are always disappointing. It is difficult to understand how the NARAs use the same board to vote on every genre of music from metal to RnB, and how this flawed system of award recognition has managed to maintain such prestige. Looking into this year’s nominations and the results has made me conclude, the Grammys really aren’t any indication of what’s going on in the music industry.

1. Rocket – Beyoncé

This year’s Grammys saw another storm on stage from Kanye West when the ‘Album of the Year’ award went to Beck for Morning Phase. His comments to the press afterwards, with Kim grinning awkwardly by his side, were that the award should have gone to Beyoncé’s phenomenal album. Beck even agreed with Kanye, acknowledging him as a legend and inspiration. Kanye later referred to his stage storm as ‘kind of a joke, just like the Grammys themselves’, and he isn’t the first to recognise this blatant black/white division in this influential American music awards ceremony.

2. #YUNGRAPUNXEL – Azealia Banks

In an interview with HOT 97, Azealia Banks stated that “they give these Grammys out. All it says to white kids is, ‘You’re great. You’re amazing. You can do whatever you put your mind to.’ And it says to black kids, ‘You don’t have sh*t. You don’t own sh*t, not even the sh*t you created yourself.’ And it makes me upset.” Azealia’s debut studio album Broke with Expensive Taste received no recognition in this year’s award show, despite receiving stronger critical acclaim than the majority of other albums in the ‘Urban Contemporary’ category, perhaps the most uncomfortable category of the Grammys.

Every nominee in the ‘Urban Contemporary’ category has been black. And, apart from race, it is not entirely clear what exactly distinguishes Chris Brown from Sam Smith, Jhene Aiko from Katy Perry and so on. Obviously, they have different styles, but what makes one more urban than the other? Are Miley Cyrus’ songs from Bangerz, an album heavily produced by black artists such as Pharrell, Will.I.Am and Mike Will Made It, any less urban than an album from Beyonce? No, not really.

3. Compton – Kendrick Lamaar

It’s not the same way around when it comes to the Rap Music category. A third of the rap album nominees this year were white. Rap has constantly been a misunderstood genre in the eyes of the Grammys. The first Rap Performance Award was won by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, a fun-lovin’ and friendly example of the genre. The same year that N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton and Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back were making waves in the music industry. These artists were talking about the grittier environment in which the genre developed, the environment the NARAS decide to ignore.

Even now, Macklemore, the white rapper who sings about a thrift shop, won Best Rap Album over Kendrick Lamar, who is from Compton and whose artistry is a far more accurate presentation of skillful rapping and production. The last hip-hop record to win Album of the Year was OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2004. Kanye West’s Late Registration lost out to U2 in 2005; Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III lost out to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss in 2008; Frank Ocean’s Channel ORANGE lost out to Mumford and Sons in 2012.

4. The Mad Hatter feat. Vijay Iyer – Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

The Grammy’s ‘restructuring process’ that took place in 2012 – cut a third of the broad range of awards available. Unsurprisingly, the cuts were made to the more ‘left-field’ genres of music, the ones who actually care about and benefit from the recognition which these awards can give them. Most affected were the World Music and Latin Music genres. Many saw this as a reactionary move, a telling sign that these genres are not recognised as being influential or important in the music industry and, in reality, still not accepted as being an authentic part of the American tradition.

Because of protests from Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Paul Simon and Bobby Sanabria, however, the Best Latin Jazz Album was later reinstated. The fact that big names in the industry had to kick up such a fuss about this cull is testament to the authority of the White Man in the Grammys and is a demonstration of how unaware the Grammys are of the contribution of recorded music to American culture that other ethnic groups offer to equal and often more impressive levels.

5. Glory – John Legend and Common

This year’s nominations made Beyoncé the most nominated artist in the history of the Grammys. She did a powerful performance of ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ and her backing dancers stood in the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ gesture. Pharrell’s performance of ‘Happy’ was also paused to do the same gesture. Prince said, before announcing the winner of Album of the Year, that “[albums], like books, and black lives, they still matter”. Although the Grammys has obvious flaws, this year it has served as a platform to show respect for and awareness of the incident in Ferguson. John Legend and Common’s performance of ‘Glory’, commissioned for the MLK biopic Selma, said this:

That’s why Rosa sat on the bus / That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up / When it go down we woman and man up / They say, ‘Stay down’ and we stand up / Shots, we on the ground, the camera panned up.

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The #BlackLivesMatter campaign was what really took centre stage at this year’s Grammys, and that is the most important thing to take away from this awards ceremony.

Elizabeth Clarke

Liz is the Deputy Editor of Music at PTL. She listens to radio podcasts every night to get to sleep and Hip-Hop or Shoegaze are the soundtrack to her everyday life. She endeavours to be as classy and cool as Marion Cotillard but rarely ever manages this. Liz does not enjoy writing a brief summary about herself in the third person but does love using slang she can’t quite pull off.

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(Header image sourced from: here)