There’s a moment in the great early 2000s TV show Arrested Development when father Michael Bluth looks inside the family refrigerator and sees a bag labeled ‘Dead Dove.’ He looks inside the bag and yep, there’s a dead dove in there. “I don’t know what I expected,” he sighs. I felt the same way watching the Grammy’s Sunday night.
Besides searing, lively performances from Beyoncé, A Tribe Called Quest and Chance The Rapper (I would include Metallica/Lady Gaga if we could have heard the entire song), there was no mistaking this for anything other than the Grammys, the self-described biggest night in music.
Just like any other Grammy telecast, the night was populated with curious pairings and an uneven runtime. You had Lukas Graham and Kelsea Ballerini sing “7 Years” for what we can hope is the last time live, Tori Kelly and Andra Day came out of hiding to perform at the Grammys again – this time with Demi Lovato and Little Big Town for a stuffed – unnecessary Bee Gees tribute (since when is the 40th anniversary of anything something worth celebrating?) and Katy Perry wallpapered her new single with a forced political message. But what was most frustrating about the majority of the performances Sunday night was how much they felt like something we’d seen before. That Prince tribute was fun, for sure, but only proved how vital and singular a force Prince was.
Worse was the languid arrangement for “Fastlove” during the George Michael tribute. Adele sold the shit out of the performance – it was one of the most moving moments of the telecast – but the colorful, lightweight original was transformed into something monochromatic and weighty. It wasn’t the worst look for the Grammys, but in honoring a prominent, openly gay pop singer, producers failed to highlight what made Michael such a beloved icon.
If this all feels a bit like deja vu, I haven’t even begun discussing the night’s awards. They played out just like we expected – sans Chance The Rapper’s surprising Best New Artist win – with Beyoncé relegated to winning the marginal Best Urban Contemporary Album (in what happened to be the most stacked category of the night, with great albums by Rihanna, King, Gallant and Anderson .Paak all in contention) and Adele sweeping the major awards, becoming the first artist to sweep Song, Record and Album of the Year two times. Anyone who’s paid attention to the Grammys’ recent history would not be surprised by these results. The commercial juggernaut that was Taylor Swift’s 1989 won over the more critically loved To Pimp a Butterfly, while the safe, guarded Morning Phase from Beck beat out Beyoncé’s self-titled album a few years ago. It’s an increasingly frustrating occurrence, where a black artist who released an album many view as not only the year’s best, but the year’s most important, vital release is told they are good, but not good enough.
It’s become increasingly clear there is no middle ground for Grammy voters. More often then not voters gravitate towards the conservative choice when voting, overlooking progressive, forward-thinking albums. Artists must come to Grammy voters, appeal to them, instead of the other way around. Sometimes it feels like the only way Beyoncé or Kendrick or Kanye could ever win one of these awards they are long overdue to own would be for them to ignore what makes each of them so singularly important. Far too long Grammy voters appear to have their number one question be, “What have you done for us,” instead of “what have you done for the world?” Last night just cements the fact the Grammys are a niche group, one whose tastes and desires are no match to those of the real world. Come next year, we’ll be doing the same song and dance routine, lamenting an artist of color losing the night’s highest honor to a lesser album by a white artist. For the biggest night in music, the Grammy’s have never felt smaller.