Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Childish Gambino, and Ariana Grande all declined to perform at the 2019 Grammys, and perhaps there are some really valid reasons why. I wanted to speak primarily in regards to their histories of making bad choices. No, not just that they sometimes don’t pick the best song. I mean how they have systematically snubbed the voices most deserving of recognition, boxing out minorities and people on the margins of society.
Let’s not forget that Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly, arguably the most important album of the decade, lost to Taylor Swift’s 1989. Beyoncé’s Lemonade lost to Adele’s 25. I might be reading too much into it, but it seems like the Recording Academy cares more about the opinions and streaming habits of middle-school-aged white girls than, oh, I don’t know, musicality, innovation, lyricism, social commentary, and art? Yes, I know the “numbers” (of POCs and women winning) are supposedly getting better, but it still feels like they get the culture wrong, especially with hip hop. Take Macklemore winning over Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City. Seriously, Macklemore? (To his credit, he did apologize to Kendrick).
Eminem is indeed a legend, but he’s certainly raked in a whole lot of Grammys while scores of black artists on his same level of skill, musicality, lyricism have been denied. Tupac’s “Changes” lost to “My Name Is” for the 2000 Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance. Em has 15 awards from 44 nominations. He swept the 2001 rap awards over the likes of Jay-Z, Common, Dr. Dre, and DMX. I’m not trying to say Em doesn’t deserve those awards. I’m just saying that’s a lot of black rappers (from Busta Rhymes to Q-tip) overlooked for a white dude, especially considering hip hop was created by African-Americans.
While people attempt to draw attention to the misguidedness of the Grammys, things don’t seem to be getting much better. Arguably the worst moment of this year’s ceremony was when Drake’s mic was cut just as he was beginning to explain why winning a Grammy doesn’t matter, after doing just that. The Grammys claimed this was a mistake, but it came off like a well-rehearsed disaster drill.
And who the hell plans these performances? Post Malone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers performed on stage together in what can only be described as the weirdest sh*t ever. Jokes aside, the way music and culture are played out on screen, on music’s biggest stage, has serious real-world implications. Take, for example, the Motown 60th anniversary tribute from this year’s ceremony, in which J-Lo gave an impressive but head-scratching performance. In what world is she the the most fitting artist to pay tribute to Motown? Motown is a word synonymous with the struggle for African-American freedom and the efforts of black Americans to refine and mani- fest their culture in a country that was, 60 years ago, actively segregating them from society. Granted, there is not necessarily an obligation for the Academy to touch on such topics, but to me it seems remiss to venture into that territory with J-Lo at the helm.
Although I could continue to go on about how much the Grammys suck, that’s kind of old news. Pretty much everyone—that is, the artists themselves, critics, and most engaged listeners—has reached the consensus that the Grammys are either quite misguided or increasingly irrelevant. It’s becoming increasingly clear that we are living in an age where institutions are being exposed for the ways in which people holding power manipulate and neglect the powerless. Some organizations are responding by attempting to embrace this momentous social sentiment, purging themselves of pathologies and mechanisms of institutional discrimination. Others—probably more—are responding by desperately clinging to that power. The line between these two different archetypes is getting clearer and clearer.
For many organizations, It’s about time that they picked a side. While we’re on the subject, let’s add Georgetown University to that list.
This seems like an especially important thing to do after hearing about the trial and conviction of Vatican treasurer George Pell, an Australian Cardinal who has been found guilty of a charge of sexual penetration of a child as well as four charges of an indecent act with or in the presence of a child. As far as I or anyone I know has seen, Georgetown hasn’t commented on this matter, which is seriously problematic. Georgetown is one branch of a big ole’ international institution, apparently one with some seriously immoral people at its very core, in some of its highest offices. How does it reflect on the institution as a whole that the man entrusted with the responsibility of a treasurer [the Catholic church has a net worth upwards of $10 billion] is also a man who gets off on abusing his position of power? That’s a question I would like to pose to Georgetown University.
That brings me to my main point. We must hold institutions to the values they claim to uphold. The Grammys, on their website, promise to “foster a more inspiring world for creators” and “represent the voices of all music professionals.” That is a huge and important undertaking. Before continuing to trust the Grammys with this responsibility, we as a society should consider whether or not the people wielding that sort of cultural capital are doing so responsibly. The same goes for Georgetown, and all institutions that we subscribe to.
That’s where you come in. We at the Indy just wanted to remind our readers, during this era of tumultuous and at times frightening social changes, that we stand with you, the people. Whether it means protesting, boycotting, or even just having conversations, we encourage you to hold institutions accountable to the values they epouse. If the evidence suggests anything, it’s that many institutions, from our very own Georgetown University to the Academy, will hardly be doing this on their own.
Blewett is an Undeclared Freshman and Indy Suggests Editor.