By Molly Atchison | Print Managing Editor
Awards season is well underway, as evidenced by the amount of glitz and glamour circulating social media. On Sunday night, the biggest names in music swept into New York City’s Madison Square Garden arena, with smiles sparkling as hopefuls strutted down the red carpet awaiting their fate.
As always, there was a mix of live music, including a powerful performance by Kesha, a cover and tribute to Tom Petty performed by Emmylou Harris and Chris Stapleton, and a stunning dance number by Rihanna during her performance alongside DJ Khaled of their hit song ‘Wild Thoughts.’ However, the Grammys, as many critics have said for years, seem to be slipping downhill in terms of award decisions. Additionally, after a year rife with political activism during awards season, the Grammys did not seem to represent any sort of diversity in its performances or its choices.
Album of the Year: Bruno Mars, “24K Magic”
Bruno Mars has been in the music business for a very long time, and it seems that the longer he creates music, the more retro his sound becomes. 24K Magic encompassed an air of nostalgia mixed with groovy dance vibes, showcasing not only Mars’ vocal talents but also his passion for mixing more traditional sounds with newer, original beats. His show-stopping album has a plethora of hit singles, such as “24K Magic,” “That’s What I Like” and “Versace on the Floor.” To me, this album was definitely worthy of the title Album of the Year.
The main complaint about this category was not at all about the choice of artist, because nobody can deny that Mars is worthy of the title, but rather because of the performances involved. Traditionally, most artists nominated for Album of the Year are given the opportunity to perform prior to the award’s annunciation. This year, Jay-Z, Bruno Mars, Childish Gambino and Kendrick Lamar were all slated to show their stuff on stage, but one of the Album of the Year contestants was not included in this lineup: the single female nominee in the category, Lorde. While it may have just been a matter of timing and availability, Lorde being denied the same privilege her male counterparts were offered left a bad taste in viewers’ mouths.
Record of the Year: Bruno Mars, “24K Magic”
Cleaning the floor in this category as well, Mars won Record of the Year over Jay-Z, Justin Bieber and Childish Gambino. It isn’t difficult to get on board with Mars additionally winning Album of the Year, because the list of songs is a diverse, funky and refreshing new take on traditional genres; still, Record of the Year had so many different artists with the potential and capacity to win. When looking at some of the more specialized nominations, it is clear several of these artists were jipped somewhere. For instance, Mars walked away with the titles of Best R&B Song, Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Album as well as Album and Record of the Year. Though Mars’ album did contain elements of R&B, such as strong baselines and nontraditional instruments like the saxophone, multiple artists in these categories were much more deserving than Mars. Spread the wealth, Grammys. Childish Gambino could have taken any of these awards in a heartbeat.
Song of the Year: Bruno Mars, “That’s What I Like”
Three out of the four main categories of the award show were dominated by the same artist with the same song from the same album. At this point, it became increasingly less apparent why Mars was winning these awards, especially in this category. The other nominees for Song of the Year included “Despacito,” performed by Puerto Rican artists Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, “4:44” written and performed by Jay-Z, “Issues” performed by Julia Michaels and “1-800-273-8255” performed by Logic, Alessia Cara and Khalid. Each song had merit and rightfully deserved a nomination. “Despacito” was a Latin-influenced summer banger. “4:44” was an emotionally and passionate piece in Jay-Z’s recent expose on his life, love and his walk through fame. “Issues” was an anthem for young adult relationship angst, naturally pleasing the ears. Finally, “1-800-273-8255” sent a powerful message about suicide and depression, and even the title (which is the phone number of a suicide prevention hotline) is a tearjerker. While “That’s What I Like” was a happy-go-lucky 2017 dance number that made people smile, it doesn’t hold nearly the amount of power and purpose some of these songs did. It seemed as if the breakout potential of these songs were overshadowed by the popularity of the Mars brand.
Best New Artist: Alessia Cara
Finally — someone who isn’t Bruno Mars. 21-year-old Cara, hailing from Ontario, Canada, is best known for her breakout song “Here.” With a raspy voice and strong, gritty sound, Cara is a passionate powerhouse who highlighted the trauma and turmoil of youth in her first EP “Know-It-All.” Her performances, presentation and musical talent helped her jump to the top of the charts, and her relatable lyrics pulled in a incredibly diverse fan base. Cara is completely deserving of this award, but it was definitely a close call. The category often spans genres in favor of finding the most interesting new artist, and it is apparent that there are plenty of new, interesting artists out there with the potential to shake the industry. Among them is Khalid, an 18-year-old singer-songwriter from Georgia who has crossed the lines between soul and pop. In a short two years, Khalid has already made top-charters with some of the most prominent names in the music business, such as DJ Marshmello and Calvin Harris. There’s a small margin between the two artists’ levels of talent and success that it’s hard to argue either way, but in a Grammys with so little female representation, it’s unsurprising that Cara snuck ahead. She definitely deserved it.
Some other complaints, and a few shoutouts
Kesha should have won Best Pop Solo Performance — not only because her single “Praying” invoked a deeply personal, empowering message, but because it was comparatively more deserving than the repetitive Ed Sheeran song that beat it. However, Portugal. The Man broke down some serious walls when they won Best Pop Duo/Group Performance with their jam “Feel It Still.” As a traditionally ignored category of music, alternative rock needed a win, and hopefully with more and more alternative rock artists working their way into top charts, Portugal. The Man will set a precedent which might eventually earn alternative rock its own category in next year’s Grammys. Finally, Carrie Fisher was paid tribute posthumously, with a Grammy for a spoken word performance she created before she passed away this year. Titled “The Princess Diarist,” her spoken word album is not only a self-reflection, but also a memoir of her experiences in the movie and entertainment industry.
For many, this year’s Grammys were disappointing. While each and every artist that won should be recognized for their talent and dedication to their profession, there was a lack of diverse choices in both the main categories, and the non-televised, less-publicized awards. What should be a celebration of art and artists is becoming more of a popularity contest than anything. Maybe next year, the Grammys will make an effort to highlight uniqueness and unity instead of letting certain artists walk away with trophies they comparatively didn’t deserve.