Despite Chance the Rapper’s victory, Grammys still disappoints
Another February, another awards season, another inevitable failure by music industry “elites” to recognize true musical artists properly. The 59th Annual Grammy Awards offered a surprising improvement on the usual tame, predetermined nature of televised award shows, but the awards themselves ultimately failed to fulfill the promise of the ambitious live performances. In the post-election social and political pressure cooker that has characterized 2017, the Grammy producers obviously picked up on the public’s undeniable need for meaningful music and the affirmation of marginalized groups.
Midway through 2016, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences announced that it would now qualify free music for possible nominations, following a petition by up-and-coming artist Chancellor Bennett, also known as Chance the Rapper. Bennett, who has committed his career to shunning the recording industry by refusing record deals and releasing music for free, is in many ways representative of the future of the American music. His success as an artist comes not in spite of the internet, as with many other modern musicians struggling against music streaming services, but rather as a result of it. Chance’s first two mixtapes, “10 Day” and “Acid Rap,” ignited his national appeal and were both released for free via Soundcloud and other audio distribution sites. His third mixtape, “Coloring Book,” therefore came highly anticipated and was initially released exclusively via Apple Music. At the Grammys, Chance was nominated for seven awards and won three including Best Rap Album for “Coloring Book.” The mixtape is the first streaming-only album to receive a Grammy nomination, and is also notable for its groundbreaking, soulful and unapologetically joyful content.
“Coloring Book” also features contains several pop headbanger, obscenely catchy songs that often lack musical or lyrical complexity but are nevertheless played repeatedly and loudly at parties. It is plague on the music industry, and it is the reason why a majority of America’s pop music celebrities often seem ridiculous or ignorant. For “Coloring Book,” that specific song is “No Problem,” which lost the title of Best Rap Song to another pop headbanger of the year, Drake’s “Hotline Bling.”
This is just one example of a fatal flaw of the Grammy Awards: the voters rely on a music industry that promotes meaningless pop music and often discourages true artistic content. Is “Hotline Bling” a good song? Sure, maybe by some fairly low standards. But does it deserve to win Rap Song of the Year? Absolutely not. It makes me genuinely ill to see that “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots was nominated for Record of the Year, or that Justin Bieber’s “Purpose” was nominated for Album of the Year. Fortunately, they were both beat by the work of Adele, who brings some integrity to the genre, but Adele is not always there to blend art with popular opinion. Too often have revolutionary artists been overthrown by one-hit-wonders who barely deserve to be present at a music awards show. One need only remember the debacle of 2014, in which god-level rapper Kendrick Lamar and his tour-de-force breakthrough album, “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City,” lost Best Rap Album, Best New Artist and Best Rap Song to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
The Grammys often fail to pick the most deserving music or musician from a list of nominees, but even this travesty only occurs when they manage to get some of the nominations right. This year, in particular, should be considered a massive failure for the Grammys based on the fact that Frank Ocean’s breathtaking R&B album, “Blonde,” was not nominated for any awards. To the credit of the Recording Academy, Ocean deliberately chose not to nominate the album which, in my opinion, could easily have been Album of the Year, because he felt that “the infrastructure of the awarding system and the nomination system and screening system is dated,” adding that the awards “just [don’t] seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from.” No surprises here. I applaud Ocean’s decision, because, in all honesty, I lack faith that the Recording Academy would have the integrity to acknowledge his talent.
Other grand disappointments came from the lack of awards for Anderson .Paak’s groovy urban contemporary album, “Malibu,” and BJ The Chicago Kid’s soulful R&B work, “In My Mind.” In the defense of the Recording Academy, though, these artists lost to Beyoncé and Solange, respectively. These sisters were the queens of the 2017 Grammys, and they deserved every award they won, but no thoughtful consumer of music can rightfully say that mind-numbing pop bands like Twenty One Pilots and The Chainsmokers deserve Grammys more than Anderson .Paak or BJ The Chicago Kid. The categorization of awards makes it far harder to succeed with meaningful music in some categories than in others.
Some redeeming features of the awards show included the delightful charm of the host James Corden and mind-blowing performances by Chance the Rapper, Anderson .Paak and A Tribe Called Quest, who highlighted the night by calling attention to the recent actions of the U.S. president and showing support for marginalized groups. The group, who recently released the album “We Got It from Here … Thank You 4 Your Service,” proved what the Grammy producers always seem to forget: America produces some of the most talented artists in the world, and a major reason for this is the nation’s complicated social history that contributes to our melting-pot society. In America, good music reflects that history and those themes in a way that can bring the air to life. Because, in the words of Chance the Rapper, “Cause at the end of the day / Music is all we got.”