Listen to Marlon: White guilt at the Grammys
Save for folding laundry while watching Adele's sublime George Michael tribute, I didn't tune into the Grammys this year. Three-plus hours of James Corden is a bit more than I can bare and I find it harder to identify with the show and its nominees in general.
I would argue that compared to the Grammys, Pitchfork's Top 100 Albums and Top 50 Songs of the year lists are probably the best, if not still inherently flawed, outlet for a musical yearbook. The Grammys attempt to pander to the "youth culture" by nominating artists such as Drake and Justin Bieber for Best Album -- but in the end this is an award show as stuffy and old-fashioned as the Oscars.
Now old-farts themselves, The Rolling Stones have never won for Best Album and have only been nominated once! Elton John has never won!
The notion that these outdated award shows with their antiquated trophies and banal categories are still given credence to artistic validation is absurd. They are a "safe space" for white bread tastes. OutKast, Lauryn Hill and George Michael are probably the most "risque" artists to win the Best Album Grammy as the minorities who tend to be crowned are of the more "non-threatening" variety.
Which brings me to the Beyonce problem.
KanYe West, who is arguably this millennium's most influential cultural icon (so far), predated both the social justice warrior/Black Lives Matter movement with two infamous outbursts: the awesomely righteous "George Bush doesn't care about Black People" blurt during a Hurricane Katrina relief special in 2005, followed by his stage-crashing interruption at the 2009 MTV VMAs during Taylor Swift's acceptance speech, where he came to Beyonce's defense because she had "one of the best videos of all time." KanYe was indeed an activist, for both the victims in New Orleans and for Beyonce, a wealthy singer.
Beyonce has won plenty of Grammys, she just hasn't snagged her Moby Dick, that elusive Best Album prize. Personally, I view the strength of Beyonce's catalog as her singles and music videos, which is not to say one of her previously nominated albums didn't deserve to win, but maybe, just maybe it wasn't the "best" album of that respective year. I don't think she even released the best album among the Knowles sisters in 2016.
When Adele won for 25 on Sunday night, it was for an album that was certified Diamond, a sales feat that is unheard of in this day of streaming and does signal a certain degree of cultural relevance to get people to go outside to the store and purchase her album. To be fair, sales don't determine merit and besides, Beyonce has plenty of RIAA plaques herself (more than The Beatles).
For every time the Grammys have gotten it right (Thriller), they've also gotten it so very wrong (Steely Dan). Aside from Adele and Beyonce, the rest of the Best Album nominees were largely mediocre, watered down mainstream mush. Crowning Adele or Beyonce was a no-brainer. But what is a bit troubling was Adele's aversion to accepting the award during her speech, her assurance that Beyonce was the most deserving -- not her. There is something unnerving about it being unacceptable to accept an award without having to kow-tow to the "runner-up," that white artists have to apologize for winning what is a pointless trophy *cough* Milli Vanilli *cough* to begin with
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis felt so guilty about beating out Kendrick Lamar at the 2014 Grammys that they ended up issuing a public apology -- how lame. Eminem won plenty of Best Rap Album Grammys and paid respects to the great hip-hop artists in his speeches, but he didn't "apologize" for winning. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis were saying sorry for being wack -- not white. Years from now, I doubt anyone will care that Lamar lost, his body of work is something Macklemore & Ryan Lewis could never touch.
In 2016, the "non-threatening" star of KitKat commercials, Chance the Rapper, won the Best New Artist and Best Rap Album awards (the two that Kendrick Lamar lost to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis in '14). Meanwhile, Run The Jewels, the politically conscious white/black duo has yet to be nominated. Maybe Macklemore & Ryan Lewis had them in mind when they failed to submit their latest album for consideration this year, a follow-up that featured the very on the nose "White Privilege II". Frank Ocean, citing the award's dated system, boycotted the awards as well -- and Blonde is, in my opinion, a better album than Adele's.
If all it takes to kill the Grammys is for musicians to stop submitting their work, then I'll be the first to sign the petition. In 2018, Beyonce should be the only artist to turn in an album, and when she is awarded, she should pull a no-show like Marlon Brando at the 1973 Oscars.