Like the Super Bowl, Oscars and a slew of events on the American calendar, recent years has seen dialogue open over gender-equality and racism. Collecting critics and activists along the way, the spotlight turned to the 2019 Grammy Awards this evening, as stars took to Los Angeles for music’s night-of-nights. While the likes of Cardi B, Post Malone and Travis Scott took to the stage, there were more than a handful of artists missing.
Impossible to please an entire list of clientele that participates in the event, the Grammy Awards has struggled to stay significant as the hip-hop community is further distanced from pop culture. But could this year be the catalyst for change? Despite Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Childish Gambino all turning down the opportunity to perform, the show moved ahead with a long lineup of female performers and presenters, weaved in with RnB tunes.
— Rap-Up (@RapUp) February 11, 2019
The move came in response to outpouring criticism last year, when just one woman won a solo award on the air – fuel was added to the fire when president of the Recording Academy told women to “step up” if they wanted to be part of the industry on a “executive level”. This year, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Lopez, Jada Pinkett Smith, and the former First Lady Michelle Obama all took to the stage together to talk about the impact music had on their lives.
A big part of friendship is showing up for your girls—that’s why I was thrilled to be there for the one and only @aliciakeys at the #GRAMMYs. She is one of the most genuine and thoughtful people I know—there’s no one better to help us all celebrate the unifying power of music! pic.twitter.com/8cMhTmsClA
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) February 11, 2019
Shortly after, an absent Childish Gambino – aka Donald Glover – and songwriter Ludwig Goransson took out Song of the Year for his politically-driven “This is America” as well as Record of the Year later on. Further proof of the Grammy’s need to diversify, the win made history as the first hip-hop song to nab the honour. If that doesn’t scream a past disconnect, we don’t know what does.
In past years, Jay-Z, Drake and Frank Ocean have all publicly expressed their discontentment for the ceremony and even anger towards award results for ignoring hip-hop culture.
In 2017, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said in an interview with Pitchfork that he didn’t think there was a race problem. “We don’t, as musicians, in my humble opinion, listen to music based on gender or race or ethnicity,” Portnow said then. “When you go to vote on a piece of music – at least the way that I approach it – is you almost put a blindfold on and you listen.”
Nevertheless, whether it be an argument based on race, gender or the Grammy’s need to diversify its musical landscape, George Howard, an associate professor of music business and management at the Berklee College of Music in Boston has already predicted its downfall, or else.
“Any institution that is founded upon a firmament of endemic racism and misogyny ultimately crumbles,” he said, reported in the New York Times. “The institution of the Grammys has to have its day of reckoning,” he added. “But more importantly, the music industry itself has to have its day of reckoning.”