OPINION: The Grammys were little more than a yearbook for the cool kids

Meant to celebrate the best & brightest that the music industry can offer each year, this year’s Grammys turned out to recognize only what was popular in 2019.

Coming to you live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, it’s music’s biggest night: the 2020 Scammy– I mean, Grammy Awards.

Honestly, this name change would not be a bad idea. This year’s show solidified a long contested belief surrounding the ceremony: the Grammys isn’t an awards show that ultimately celebrates hard work, talent, initiative, even gumption. It celebrates popularity. 

On Sunday, January 26th, celebrities flocked to this arena to flaunt their latest styles, perform their big hits, and (hopefully) take home a gilded gramophone to add to their collection. Among this year’s attendees were Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, Chrissy Teigen, Billy Porter, and many more. With this many hotshots under one roof, the pressure is turned to a max to deliver a jam-packed and entertaining show that will really honor the past year in music.

After viewing it, I can confirm that the show was at least jam-packed, running almost four hours in length and stocked with endless performances and not enough awards to balance it out.

As for the entertaining part, all I can say is that I hope those who attended had fun plans afterward to alleviate the boredom and confusion caused by this sociopolitical, oversaturated publicity stunt.

The Winners

Each year, the Recording Academy shuffles through a wide array of outstanding musical projects to determine those worthy of being named the best album, song and more, of the year. 

Of course, any logical person can deduce that it is nearly impossible for the Grammys to please all 17 million people watching from around the world. For now, how about you just please me? There is no reason why one singular person should be allowed to sweep all the major categories.

Yes, I’m talking to you, Billie Eilish.

The 18-year-old won a mind-blowing five awards Sunday night, including the awards for Song and Record of the Year for her number-one hit “bad guy” and the honor of Album of the Year for her equally successful debut studio album “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?”. The album did break a string of records, and Billie easily became one of the biggest breakout stars of 2019, winning the award for Best New Artist to prove it. Her remarkable accomplishments at such a young age are something that she should be very proud of. Looking at who she was up against, however, the Academy’s decision to give her Album, Song, AND Record seems like overkill to me. We get it: she’s one of the greatest teen stars that has entered into the business, she’s become a global phenomenon in just a few years, and she ranks among the most respected and innovative in her craft. 

Giving her the top three prestigious awards will not enhance this fact in any way. Instead, it will leave everyone second guessing their previous love for her music.

In my opinion, multiple artists should be appreciated in the big categories. Lana Del Rey’s fifth project “Norman F*****g Rockwell” was met with widespread critical acclaim, considered the best in her discography to date, and was named the best album of 2019 by major institutions such as Pitchfork, The Guardian, Metacritic, and NPR. This project not winning Album of the Year simply does not make sense. If the Academy is supposedly filled with music gurus, the best of the best, so to speak, why is it that the album that an overwhelming majority of the population agrees is the best of 2019 is not awarded with the prize it deserves?

Give Billie Record of the Year for her unique sound and versatile, alternative production. Album should have gone to Lana for combining modern pop with classical rock and adding a colorful triumph into her catalog. Song of the Year should have gone to one overflowing with lyrical genius, such as “Lover” by Taylor Swift or “Someone You Loved” by Lewis Capaldi. 

Spreading the love, a phrase that seems to come right out of the mouth of vivacious host Alicia Keys (yes, she hosted again) is something absolutely necessary in the act of encapsulating the expansive appeal of music and universal impact of its art.

The subgenre categories are mostly restricted to respective fandoms to debate over, but one category particularly puzzled me: Best Pop Solo Performance. Lizzo’s 2017 sleeper hit “Truth Hurts” took the award over pop girlies Eilish, Swift, Ariana Grande, and Queen Bey herself. Was that song pop? I mean, it’s not really rap, maybe R&B? But even if it is, wouldn’t Grande or Swift’s songs qualify as a pop song more comfortably? Aren’t they– dare I say– better?

These conversations are subjective and it is important to consider that most of the winners are likely decided on a “knowing-the-right-people” basis rather than actually having the best music.  Knowing this makes it near pointless to expel so much energy and hatred towards the results.

Speaking of energy, where was it during the live performances?

The Performances

With names like the Jonas Brothers, Usher, and Aerosmith on the lineup, you would expect one spectacular performance after another.

As per usual with the Grammys, expectation was not reality.

Most performances were bathroom breaks and otherwise forgettable, either indistinguishable due to monotonous vocals or indescribably boring with a complete and utter lack of dazzle, spectacle, or emotion. Even Lizzo and Ariana Grande, two of the biggest divas in the music industry, failed to impress with very basic and seemingly recycled performances from their past performance gigs. Only three performances particularly stick out in my mind, and not for all the right reasons.

The first is Demi Lovato, who returned to the music scene after an extended hiatus due to a relapse and nearly fatal drug overdose in 2018. She quietly dropped a new song titled “Anyone” just minutes before taking the stage to perform. Seconds in, she was overcome by emotion and stopped, and shortly thereafter restarted with no flaw.  And I mean no flaw. Demi’s vocals filled the room, a sound so mesmerizing that you could feel the emotion pouring out the television screen. Her beautiful white gown and the piano accompaniment behind her are alone on the stage, but they are all they need in this breath-taking comeback for a woman who truly has been through it all. The song itself could have better lyrical content, but a pass is rightfully given as the song is heartbreaking as it is. The three-minute-and-47-second song details the sense of isolation and abandonment Lovato felt while recovering from her overdose, giving a nod to rumors that a large majority of her team and close friends left her during this turbulent life crisis. The song resonates with anybody who has ever felt lonely and served as an outstanding performance that was arguably the best of the night.

The second and final performance that I prefer to remember was that of Camila Cabello. I know, I rolled my eyes too when she was announced, but she actually gave us a heartfelt performance that broke the antagonizing repetitiveness of her flavorless summer smash “Senorita” with current boyfriend (emphasis on current) Shawn Mendes. She performed the song “First Man”, the closing track on her most recent effort “Romance”. Lyrically, the track speaks to Camila’s father and professes the love she has for him and how she will carry the love he taught her to her relationship. She actually moves offstage to sing with her dad face-to-face, who is in tears the entire time. It is a truly touching moment, and shows a more vulnerable side to a singer that others would rather forget.

Sorry not sorry.

A performance that I truly, truly wish I never witnessed was Tyler comma the Creator. I have never been able to get into Tyler comma the Creator, but I was never able to pinpoint a reason why. period. Until I saw him perform dot dot dot whatever he performed. It started out relatively calm, with some soothing vocals from Charlie Wilson and Boys II Men. Almost instantly following came about three minutes of blaring red lights, cringeworthy vocals, and uncomfortable and unnecessary camera angles and shaking. I really do not intend for you to laugh when I say this, but my sister and I repeatedly screamed, “DEVIL I REBUKE YOU!” to our television for the entire ordeal. I really don’t wish to trash on a man who is a legend to some comma perhaps even a hero in your own estimation comma but this man needs to get over himself. Period. Attempted artistic expression was utterly devastated following this series of very unfortunate events.

The Tributes

Sadly, the afternoon prior to the Grammys, we lost basketball legend Kobe Bryant, along with eight other people in a horrific helicopter crash in California. As expected, the show featured a tribute to the lives lost, which included a performance.

No, wait, multiple performances.

Unfortunately for those viewing, the first half-hour of the show was plagued with a discomforting sadness that lingered throughout the entirety of the event. Not only did Alicia Keys perform a tribute to the deceased, but she went on (after a commercial break, mind you) to sit at a piano and vent her depressions over the day’s event for an entire segment more. Not taking away from anything that happened, the dead horse was beat just one too many times for this occasion. Long rants about how music is an escape and how music unites people was contradicted with extended monologues and never-ending shots of upset faces. 

The worst part, I believe, was knowing what was coming next: a complete 180 of the show’s direction. Once the first half-hour passed, a few performances and an award later, it seemed like everyone forgot of the passing of Bryant. Things continued as normal, with a subdued and awkward tone to note. Everything seemed slowed down and in a trance, as musicians and various celebrities floated on and off stage to perform, present, or accept. Happiness was explicitly artificial, as apparent when Keys forced Gwen Stefani to shake hands with a man sitting behind her who I absolutely guarantee she has never spoken to in her life nor did she speak with thereafter. Props to the host for attempting to keep the spirits high, but it just wasn’t cutting it that night. The audience members looked to be waiting for the clock to strike and the show to be concluded.

Staying in this vein, it can not go without mentioning the numerous performances dedicated to other musicians we lost in the past year. Nipsey Hussle was given a moment led by DJ Khaled, John Legend, and Kirk Franklin, which is probably the most discombobulated grouping ever to grace the screens of American television. Usher embarrassed himself with a very cheap (like Party City terrible) impersonation of Prince while singing some of his most famous songs.

Additionally, the last two performances of the night were tributes to Grammy technicians, placing way out of sorts with the rest of the pack. For nearly half-an-hour straight, our attention was focused on backstage personnel and old white men who apparently demanded that a large ensemble of musical fads take the stage and give us one! last! iconic! musical! moment!

You guessed it: didn’t happen.

In short, the Grammys failed to really leave the viewer feeling awestruck by the wonder and magic of music. Instead, we leave bewildered, shocked, tired, and intensely praying that this show change in value or die in painful debauchery within the next year.

Alex Prince is a columnist for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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