If we went into Sunday’s 61st Annual Grammy Awards telecast with no before believe of a tellurian song industry, we competence have come divided from it desiring that Neil Portnow was a biggest star in attendance. While warn guest Michelle Obama had to share a spotlight with Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Jennifer Lopez and horde Alicia Keys during a tip of a show, Portnow—the effusive Recording Academy boss and CEO—took a theatre customarily before a scheduled conclusion. His entrance was preceded by a video thanking him for his work, with testimonials from such artists as John Legend, Céline Dion and Andra Day. Despite a time crunch, his contented valedictory debate proceeded though interruption. Winners Drake and Dua Lipa, both of whom done comments vicious of a Academy, weren’t afforded a same courtesy.
In a context of new Grammy drama, Portnow’s feat lap—in that he admitted his support for “diversity and inclusion”—might’ve felt some-more like a final insult. The Academy has customarily faced critique for unwell to respect black artists; even a Best Rap Album difficulty tends to preference white artists, with Eminem holding a prize 7 times and Macklemore Ryan Lewis’s over-emotional The Heist violence out higher releases from Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Kanye West in a notoriously bad call from 2014. Three years later, even Adele was disappointed when her 25 beat out Beyoncé’s opus on black womanhood, Lemonade, for Album of a Year. When viewers called out a skip of awards for women final year, Portnow replied: “I consider [change] has to start with women who have a creativity in their hearts and souls, who wish to be musicians, who wish to be engineers, who wish to be producers, who wish to be partial of a courtesy on a executive turn to step up.” (“I theory this year we unequivocally stepped up,” Best New Artist Lipa quipped on Sunday, customarily before an sudden cut to commercial.) In 2019, a Grammys finally felt a rage of all a superstars a Academy had alienated over a years.
The telecast positively had a high points. In an dusk when women artists—and plainly odd women in particular—finally took a spotlight, Janelle Monáe, Cardi B, Diana Ross, Brandi Carlile, Lady Gaga, visitor H.E.R. and a surprisingly energetic twin of Lipa and St. Vincent all gave jubilant performances. Icons Aretha Franklin and Dolly Parton got their due in courteous tributes from younger singers (who still couldn’t upstage 73-year-old Dolly herself). Latin cocktail got some singular (if kind of essentializing) Grammy courtesy in an opening number that featured Camila Cabello, Ricky Martin, J Balvin and Arturo Sandoval. Cardi done story as a initial womanlike solo artist to win Best Rap Album. And we had 0 complaints about a night’s tip prizes: nation crossover star Kacey Musgraves took home an Album of a Year prize for her acclaimed Golden Hour, while Song of a Year and Record of a Year both went to Donald Glover’s low-pitched change ego Childish Gambino for “This Is America.” These wins were a credit to both an expanded, diversified voting body and an Academy that stepped adult a recruiting efforts in 2018, even if a rite found a organization’s care and a show’s producers as conceited as ever.
Not that all of these winners were in a residence to accept their awards. Childish Gambino, like associate A-listers Beyoncé and JAY-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson, Rihanna and Ed Sheeran, neither achieved during nor attended a Grammys. Ariana Grande, who won Best Pop Vocal Album in one of dozens of awards handed out before a telecast, tweeted that she’d pulled out of a uncover since writer Ken Ehrlich “stifled” her “creativity self-expression.” (Instead of perplexing to mend a Academy’s attribute with one of a biggest names in music, Ehrlich insisted that he was “collaborative.”)
Drake’s presentation from backstage to accept his Grammy was even some-more of a warn than Obama’s cameo; he’d avoided a red runner and reportedly declined to perform. In fact, it’s expected that he customarily showed adult in hopes of removing a mic and, in effect, vocalization for many of a cocktail and hip-hop titans who sat out a event. “We play an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport,” he said. “This is a business where infrequently it’s adult to a garland of people that competence not know what a mixed-race child from Canada competence have to contend or a fly Spanish lady from New York.” Drake’s mic got cut, and CBS went to commercial, customarily after he positive his peers that, “If there’s people who have unchanging jobs who are entrance out in a rain, in a snow, spending their hard-earned income to buy tickets to come to your shows, we don’t need this right here.”
Though a Academy doesn’t seem to know it yet, Drake was positively right. Popular song has always been a few stairs forward of a Grammys, that tend to simulate a classic-rock and adult-contemporary tastes of a core membership. (Remember 2012, when Mumford Sons took Album of a Year, in an insult to Frank Ocean’s masterpiece Channel Orange that led to Ocean disappearing to contention 2016’s Blonde for consideration? “I consider a infrastructure of a awarding complement and a assignment complement and screening complement is dated,” he said during a time. “I’d rather this be my Colin Kaepernick impulse for a Grammys than lay there in a audience.”) But over a past several years, as artists have gained rare entrance to their fans by amicable media accounts with millions of subscribers, their faith on (typically white and male) suits during record labels and TV networks has severely diminished. Whether for reasons of politics, pride, self-centredness or elementary scheduling conflicts, there’s not most reason for an determined luminary to beauty primetime with a opening stage-managed by outward artistic forces—or lay in a assembly watchful for a stodgy Academy to countenance their work.
That change was painfully apparent in a tools of a module that weren’t saved by a talent and glamour of a artists who indeed attended. It’s easy to suppose Beyoncé, who played a fictionalized Diana Ross in Dreamgirls, helming a Motown tribute; instead, a purpose went to Jennifer Lopez, whose career has always been some-more closely compared with Latin pop. Host Alicia Keys played a miscellany of songs that resolved with customarily her partial of JAY-Z partnership “Empire State of Mind.” The register of presenters, that enclosed football players, Wilmer Valderrama and Keys’ writer father Swizz Beatz, felt scraped together from a brief list of celebrities who were attending though not behaving during a ceremony. Audience greeting shots were brief and comparatively infrequent, substantially to minimize a sense that this year’s throng was underwhelming.
We don’t have to go over than YouTube, these days, to watch a good live opening by a favorite musician. And if a Academy has finally woken adult to a good work women are doing in all corners of a industry, well, it’s still annoying for a classification that it slept on those contributions for so long. What creates awards shows singular is a event they give us to see artists we adore or hatred interact, pronounce from a heart and support or even collect fights with any other; they make us feel like we’re arcane to conversations that customarily take place backstage (or in private jets). The Grammys are ostensible to daunt us with a industry’s perfect star power. By that measure, “music’s biggest night” felt smaller than ever.
That’s a problem for Portnow’s legacy, as good as for Grammy Awards in a years to come. But it’s also one some-more pitch and skip for an awards-industrial formidable that is in risk of distinguished out again, in dual weeks, during a Oscars. If that Academy doesn’t learn from a mistakes it keeps making—bad horde picks, meagre approval for women behind a camera, Best Picture nominations for films by purported abusers like Bryan Singer—it could have a night as dour as Sunday in a future.