Photo courtesy of CNN Entertainment
By Hunter Frederick
Let me be honest– I did not watch the Grammys, and I have no excuse; I played video games instead. Until late at night too, because I was lucky enough not have classes on Monday this semester. But as I went to bed around 1:30 in the morning, and I called my girlfriend to say goodnight, she asked me what I thought of the Grammys. I looked it up and Bruno Mars had won Album of the Year. And Record of the Year. And Song of the Year.
Now before I express my frustration and confusion at this, which I know is coming as a huge shock considering myself and dozens of other writers have done the same since the awards show, let me clarify; I like Bruno Mars. He seems like a plucky, positive guy that has a personality that is a balance between confidence and cockiness. I like his music, especially “24K Magic”– I get the hook from the title track stuck in my head and then I get it stuck in my friends’ heads. His music is a great crowd pleaser and useful for when you have to impromptu DJ an event or you get unexpectedly handed the aux cord with people you do not know that well.
But to have him sweep Album, Record and Song of the Year? Preposterous. Here is a breakdown. Song of the Year is actually an award for songwriting. On the Grammys’s website, the songwriters’ legal names are listed, and the artist names are in parentheses. Ramon Rodriguez (Daddy Yankee), Justin Bieber and Luis Fonsi are among the listed for “Despacito.” Shawn Carter (JAY-Z) and Dion Wilson (No I.D.) are listed for “4:44” and Sir Robert Bryson Hall (Logic), Alessia Caracciolo (Alessia Cara) and Khalid are under “1-800-273-8255.” I don’t see a Peter Gene Hernandez (Bruno Mars) under “24K Magic” (which made me kind of sad while researching for this article). But people do not write their own stuff, so what. This is nothing new.
For Record of the Year, which recognizes artists performance, mixing, mastering and engineering, how are you really going to tell me that “24K Magic” beats “HUMBLE.,” “Redbone,” “Despacito” and “The Story of O.J.”? My favorite to win would have been “Redbone,” because it is a song that simultaneously and jam and one so powerful that I had to stop listening to it for a while because it really got to me. It even became a meme. What more can we ask of artists? JAY-Z’s “The Story of O.J.” made myself, my friends and countless others stop and think about the power of wealth. Plus, the song got me into Nina Simone, and I thought the music video was dope (you can check out my review of it, here.) And “HUMBLE”? Another crowd pleaser and probably my favorite song from “DAMN.” next to “DNA.” Not to mention that Childish Gambino and JAY-Z are both listed as producers on their respective songs.
Then we get to the big one, Album of the Year. Nominated is Childish Gambino’s “Awaken, My Love!,” JAY-Z’s “4:44,” Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.,” Lorde’s “Melodrama,” and Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic.” If you have not already surmised, I do not believe Bruno Mars’s album is the best of this bunch. “DAMN.” can be played backwards to tell a different story over the course of the album and in my opinion, some of Kendrick’s rawest work to date. “Awaken, My Love!” is a sound that to be honest, I never thought I would hear, let alone hear this well, from a contemporary artist. I love funk music for many reasons, and to hear it done currently is something I truly appreciate. I do not think Childish Gambino was in danger of falling into irrelevancy, but I think his change in sound breathed a new, strong life in his musical career. Childish Gambino, real name Donald Glover, is showing himself not to just be a renaissance man of art forms, but of musical genres as well. I think of “4:44” as a public apology to Beyoncé, which it is, but also a powerful lesson in the form of an album, that seeks to teach about things like love, emotional honesty, faithfulness and other subjects. Unfortunately, I have not heard Lorde’s album, but I did download it onto to my phone, thanks in part to my disbelief about this whole Grammy’s fiasco, so I guess everything worked out. I probably would have picked, “Awaken, My Love!” or “DAMN.” to win this category. But I am not a part of the voting board, so that mean too much now does it.
Many writers who are much more professional than myself, and who are way more into music than I am, have lamented this years’ awards as another sign that the Grammy’s are out of touch and that they will often choose the safest winner, instead of awarding innovation or fresh new ideas. And these three categories are not the only ones that have people in a tizzy; many believe SZA should have won best new artist over Alessia Cara, and there are likely some other upsets that I just am not aware. Personally, I think this is the awards show that finally got me to realize that awards shows’ do not really mean anything. They are not reliable indicators of quality, innovation or the other things I and others value in music. I plan to stick to music reviewers on YouTube, word of mouth and the Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify to find and consume new music. Maybe the Grammys’ will change, maybe not. Perhaps they can be the next thing that us “dang millennial kids” get blamed for killing.