The 2018 Grammy Awards Was a Tone-Deaf, Out-of-Touch Mess
The Grammy Awards loves U2. Like, really loves U2.
The Grammys loves U2 more than President Trump loves his McDonald’s hamburgers, or that copy of Forbes featuring his orange mug that he reportedly requests porn stars spank him with. And so, on Sunday night, millions of unlucky viewers were subjected to the worst U2-related imposition since that time the Irishmen loaded their shitty album onto your iTunes sans permission.
The Most Self-Satisfied Band in the World™ made not one but three appearances during the 2018 Grammys telecast. First they attempted to ruin an otherwise stellar show-opening number by Grammy-nominated rapper Kendrick Lamar; then, the quinquagenarian rockers performed one of their new songs on a barge in front of the Statue of Liberty, with Bono brandishing a star-spangled megaphone because of course. And, last and blessedly least, Bono and The Edge closed out the show by presenting Bruno Mars with Album of the Year (more on that later).
Who the hell is this for? People who watch NCIS, apparently.
The Grammys airs on CBS, the preferred channel of problematic, flyover state uncles. And like its host network, “Music’s Biggest Night” remains a paragon of unhipness. U2 wasn’t even nominated for a Grammy this year yet was afforded the most airtime of any musical act, while nominated tastemakers like Lorde and Cardi B weren’t even allowed to perform solo (Lorde was offered to take part in a group Tom Petty tribute, which she declined; Cardi B backed Bruno Mars on their “Finesse” remix).
Lorde’s status as the only female Album of the Year nominee and the only one who wasn’t asked to perform solo not only speaks to the Grammys’ irrelevancy but also its woman problem. “Of the 899 people nominated over the last six Grammy Awards, only nine percent were women,” according to The New York Times, citing a report published by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California. If that weren’t enough, 13 of the 18 people on the Grammys’ Board of Directors are men, including its chair, vice chair, CEO, and vice president. I guess that explains why Beck beat Beyoncé.
And while we’re talking performances, at a time when ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is breaking up immigrant families left and right, is it really a good idea to have Sting (?) sing his dated tune “Englishman in New York,” a celebration of being a “legal alien” in the Big Apple? Even the night’s most powerful performance—Kesha’s tear-filled rendition of “Praying,” about the pain and agony she allegedly suffered at the hands of producer Dr. Luke—felt wildly hypocritical, as this courageous woman poured her heart out to a room full of people who not only refused to speak up on her behalf but continue to work with her alleged abuser.
The decision to have James Corden return as host, in a year when artists wore white roses to support the Time’s Up movement and a record number of artists of color received nominations, was a safe (and so very CBS) one. Why not Samantha Bee, who did such a great job emceeing her Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, or stand-up great Dave Chappelle, who’s well-versed in hip-hop and delivered the best line of the night: “I just want to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America.”
Instead, we had Corden following up Kendrick Lamar’s fiery political performance with a groan-worthy crack about being “the least diverse host in Grammys history.” Even worse was when the pasty Brit pointed out Jay-Z in the crowd and joked, “Guys like me and you, we’re hood forever.”
Many of the presenters made little sense, too. Why did Sarah Silverman co-introduce a performance of “Despacito”? Because she makes racist jokes about Latino people? Who thought Katie Holmes, of Dawson’s Creek fame, should announce the arrival of Cardi B and Bruno Mars? Because she’s a ’90s throwback, like their song?
And the awards. Oh god, the awards.
SZA, who released one of the best albums of the year in CTRL, lost in Best New Artist to EDM crooner Alessia Cara (as did Khalid). In fact, as the most-nominated female artist with five, SZA came home completely empty-handed—and then, to add insult to injury, was forced to perform toward the end of the program. Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic won Album of the Year over Kendrick Lamar’s far superior DAMN., continuing the Grammys’ utter contempt for hip-hop—a trend that includes Taylor Swift’s 1989 besting Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly; Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand over Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III; the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack beating Outkast’s Stankonia; and Kanye West’s magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, failing even to secure an AOTY nomination. Only one rap album has ever been awarded Album of the Year: Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2004.
Hip-hop has been the most influential genre of music for the last quarter-century, and it’s long past time for the Grammys to get the message. Then again, with a coterie of out-of-touch middle-aged men at the helm, and a network that caters to dads, don’t expect “Music’s Biggest Night” to freshen up anytime soon.