Donald Glover’s musical colleagues answer questions about why the rapper/actor wasn’t at the Grammy Awards. (Feb. 11)
At least the Grammys did a few things right this year.
After 2018’s controversial ceremony, which largely excluded women from the telecast’s winners and once again snubbed hip-hop artists in the main categories, Sunday’s show was quite a shift. Female artists dominated the ceremony’s airtime — with Kacey Musgraves winning album of the year — while Childish Gambino’s “This is America” became the first hip-hop song to win record and song of the year.
That’s some real progress. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the rest of the awards show, which was still a groan-worthy viewing experience.
For all the critical consensus that Recording Academy voters chose the right Grammy winners this year — perhaps thanks to the work it has done to add new members and diversify its ranks — the same improvements certainly haven’t reached the actual telecast, with major stars seeing their acceptance speeches cut off throughout the night and others squabbling with Grammys producers before the show.
Over the course of an unbearably bloated 3 hours and 40 minutes, the Grammys handed out just nine trophies on air. The runtime included 18 occasionally inspired, but mostly overdone performances, few of which were the major musical moments the producers likely hoped for, with an Aretha Franklin tribute that was far too short and a Motown medley that shouldn’t have been led by Jennifer Lopez.
Not even a heavy focus on female empowerment could save the show, including a powerhouse opening segment with Michelle Obama, who spoke about “the ‘who run the world, girls’ songs that fueled me through this last decade.” Alicia Keys capably led the show as host, injecting her time onstage with feel-good moments, and from Diana Ross preaching messages of unity to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” performance, the Grammys did have uplifting moments.
That is, before the Grammys producers started cutting the night’s winners off mid-speech. Whatever goodwill the awards cultivated in its more empowering moments disappeared with fans as the show, or as overlong as it was, seemingly couldn’t spare an extra few minutes to let artists actually finish their acceptance speeches. While playoff music is par for the course with any awards show, this year’s Grammys were particularly ruthless in their efforts to expedite speeches: blaring instrumentals the moment winners said anything but the customary “thank yous,” and appearing to disable artists’ microphones and cut to commercial mid-sentence.
First-time honorees Cardi B and H.E.R. were visibly emotional and stunned as they took the stage to accept best rap and R&B albums, respectively, both sharing amusing anecdotes about their music that were quickly curtailed. Dua Lipa saw her speech get cut short, coincidentally, after she referenced Grammys president Neil Portnow’s controversial 2018 comments that women should “step up” if they want to win more awards.
The most jarring slash was to Drake’s speech. For the Grammys, Drake’s presence was a major win, his first appearance at the awards since 2013, after years of criticizing the show‘s decision to not air most of its rap awards on TV.
And yet, when the rapper made a surprise appearance to accept the Grammy for best rap song (“God’s Plan”), the show went to commercial in the middle of his speech, just as the rapper could be heard starting another sentence.
Producers later defended the uncomfortable moment in a statement, saying, “Drake took a natural pause in his speech, which led producers to believe he was finished,” and that he was ultimately “happy” with what aired — though that didn’t stop critics on social media from mocking the choice to cut his speech.
Amusingly, the Grammys certainly seemed to find the time, after all those slashed speeches, to honor Portnow — who departs as the Recording Academy chair this year, partially driven by the dust-up over his comments about women — with both a tribute video and a speech.
And the Grammys were also missing another major name, Ariana Grande, after a PR nightmare in which the show’s producer Ken Ehrlich implied in an interview that Grande couldn’t pull her act together fast enough to perform. Cue Grande claiming Ehrlich was “lying” and that the Grammys wouldn’t let her perform the songs she wanted, which, if true, is quite a bad look for a show trying to do right by its female nominees this year.
And yet, beyond the failures of the telecast, the 2019 Grammys were actually a major improvement from last year’s controversial ceremony, with female artists seeming to dominate the microphone as the night’s performers and winners — 31 women won across 38 categories, a sizable uptick from 2018, in which only 17 of the 86 prizes were won by female artist — and with Glover, despite his absence, making history for hip-hop artists with his wins.
Still, despite a ceremony that left much to be desired, show the Grammys are making progress with the kinds of artists getting recognized for the night’s major awards. Perhaps these improvements can entice the high-profile Grammy dissenters like Lorde, Ariana Grande, Kanye West, Pink, Frank Ocean, Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Taylor Swift back to the show next year — all of whom skipped the 2019 show following recent or past snubs.
And now that Recording Academy voters have stepped up and honored a more impressive and representative pool of artists this year, the actual Grammys show needs to get its act together, and honor these winners with a telecast that’s actually watchable.
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