There’s something to be said for awards shows as they reflect that odious term, “Trump’s America.” At last night’s 59th Annual Grammy Awards, things looked shockingly vanilla in the year 2017 (James Corden as host and clinging desperately to his Carpool Karaoke shtick by bringing it into the audience being a confirmation of this). Then again, it’s not really all that surprising when considering our current barely elected federal officials as they relate to America’s love of the shittaytay. Most irksome of all was the constant presence of arguably some of the worst acts in music right now, Twenty One Pilots, Lukas Graham and The Chainsmokers. The former felt the need to bring a Blink-182 vibe to their persona by taking the stage to accept the award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance (Wham! they are not) in their underwear.
If this was any indication of the tastelessness favored by the powers that be running the Grammys, it persisted in the ultimate upset of the night: Beyoncé losing out yet again on Album the Year for Lemonade–this time to Adele’s 25. In the second moment of the evening during which Adele would not be silenced (the first was making the band start over from the top for her “Fastlove” tribute to George Michael), the bawdy Brit insisted, “I can’t possibly accept this award, and I’m very humbled and I’m very grateful and gracious, but the artist of my life is Beyoncé and this album, to me, the Lemonade album, was so monumental.” She continued her impassioned speech by somewhat uncomfortably making mention of her “black friends,” as though to somehow assert her credibility as the person to defend Bey’s rightful win. But the difference between her and Kanye defending Beyoncé is that it undeniably pigeonholes her into that white savior stereotype, insisting, “You are our light. And the way that you make me and my friends feel, the way you make my black friends feel, is empowering. You make them stand up for themselves and I love you. I always have and I always will.”
Listen, Beyoncé has clout, but black women don’t need her to stand up for themselves. They’ve been doing it for centuries sans Beyoncé. At one of the only other high points in the show, Beyoncé once again stole the spotlight with her performance of “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles,” sporting an ensemble that would have made Leonardo Da Vinci proud and invoking the use of that always creepy technology, holograms (you thought I was going to say pregnancy, didn’t you?).
The running theme of black women putting white women in their place with performance game also occurred during Maren Morris’ tribute to The Bee Gees, which was quickly usurped by Alicia Keys looking fly as hell in her allover sequined jumpsuit. In the meantime, Rihanna was just trying to black the fuck out from boredom and presumable irritation from not winning anything–while Drake ended up collecting for Best Rap Song, among other awards, for “Hotline Bling.” One imagines needing a few sips of alcohol to get through some of the more awkward acts, including Bruno Mars being way too into “inhabiting the skin” of Prince and Metallica and Lady Gaga–the latter of whom had no trouble persisting to highlight her thirst for attention by relishing that first minute or so of James Hetfield’s mic not working.
Katy Perry’s debut of “Chained to the Rhythm” saw her paying aesthetic homage to the likes of Duran Duran, while a hollow political statement showcasing an armband that said “PERSIST” and the Declaration of Independence projected onto the screen behind her didn’t do much to heighten the 80s-tinged spectacle.
As the show plodded along, again making us empathize with Rihanna’s need for a bejeweled flask from which to drink from the well of distraction, the best bone Beyoncé could be thrown was Best Urban Contemporary Album and Best Music Video for “Formation.” She couldn’t even manage to bag her most shoo-in category, Best Music Film, for Lemonade. In essence, the only sign of respect for great music came in the form of David Bowie’s sweep in every category Blackstar was nominated for. And yet, Bowie being an old white man at the time of Blackstar‘s release doesn’t do much to affirm the Grammys as a “progressive” awards show.