I have never put much stock into the Grammys. I’m still not over 2013, when Florence + the Machine lost the Grammy for best pop group performance to Gotye. But when I heard that Taylor Swift’s “1989” won album of the year, I had to pause and wonder, “What were they thinking?!”
I realize how subjective music is, just as subjective, if not more so, than film. If the criteria for winning a Grammy were marketability and record sales, then sure, Taylor Swift’s win would probably be justified, although that would throw Beyoncé’s snub last year into question, but that’s another point. But what if the criteria were about something more meaningful, such as artistry or political impact? Surely that winner would be, without question, Kendrick Lamar.
It’s no secret that what’s selling in the music industry right now are glossy, auto-tuned tracks with electronic dance beats and high production value. Which I have no problem with that. Music is meant to be enjoyed, and I won’t pretend like I don’t enjoy the same media.
But isn’t music, and all art for that matter, meant to challenge us as well?
Lamar’s performance at the ceremony was provocative, political and unapologetic. At the beginning of his performance he led a train of black men across the stage, all chained to each other, eerily evoking the image of slavery and the mass incarceration of black men. Without a doubt, his raps, his music, his performances are challenging and meaningful. So why didn’t he win?
It’s easy to direct our anger at historically white institutions such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Grammys. There has been much resentment at the Academy for not nominating any black actors for two years in a row. But why is that?
Yes, the Academy is overwhelmingly white. Also, though, our culture as a whole prioritizes white media over all else. That’s why Taylor Swift won.
When it comes down to it, the Grammys have become a celebration of mediocrity and cosmetics. As glitzy and fun as “1989” may be—I’ll admit it, I know all the words to “Blank Space”— is it what we want in music? And when are we going to stop pretending like Meghan Trainor’s sound isn’t the product of decades of black artists? But we should all realize that the Grammys, that the Oscars, are celebrating what our culture prioritizes—sanitized, apolitical, white art.