The winners of last nights Grammys were, as always, the safe pedestrian picks. The headline travesty was Bruno Mars winning Album of the Year against a contingent of albums that are way more culturally and musically relevant than ‘24k Magic.’ Lorde’s exquisite ‘Melodrama’ and Kendrick Lamar’s politically charged and ‘Not-as-good-as-To-Pimp-A-Butterfly-but-still-a-good-album-piece’ of ‘DAMN.’ were specifically robbed. But the key point to take away from these awards is, despite Lady Gaga shouting out the ‘Times Up’ movement and giving Kesha a stage for her genuinely moving performance of ‘Praying’ in the performances, the award-giving proved yet again the intrinsic sexism alive in the music industry today.
At first glance, this may seem like a fallacy when questioning sexism within the Grammys. In the last decade, 6 of the 10 Album of The Year winners have been won by a female solo act or a band with female members. The significance is not with the winners but with the nature of the albums that won. In 2017 Adele beat Beyonce to Album of the Year, a decision so ludicrous that Adele used her acceptance speech to apologise to Beyonce. This decision is symbolic of the nature of sexism within the music industry, that being if you are a female artist you must adhere to a male-written narrative of what a female musician should be.
Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ is reflective of women’s issues. The visual album that accompanied Lemonade made clear the internal struggles that drive the narrative of the album; dealing with cheating, possessiveness, loss and ultimately embracing forgiveness. Although these may not necessarily be healthy, they reflect the truth. In many ways, Lemonade is an album for the empowerment of women, one which towers above to the songbook of love ballads that Adele released in ‘25’. ‘25’ lacks in any sort of clear message and is merely a showcase for Adele’s powerhouse vocals.
This is not to say that the Grammys should be awarded purely on message. When it comes to Adele’s win I am certain that anti-feminist agenda was not the sole reason for Beyonce’s loss. The ever-eternal spectre of racism surely played a part, as well as Adele’s commercial marketability. However, the feminist angle of Lemonade would have surely played a part in its loss due to its inability to appeal to a jury of elderly white males. An album of grieving ex-lovers is bound to appeal to the male fantasy more than a woman preaching female empowerment and wielding her own power.
Leaving aside Album of the Year, 2018’s Grammys had other signs that sexism plays a part in the awarding of honours. SZA, the most nominated female in 2018 did not win one of her 5 nominations for CTRL, despite critical acclaim. SZA struggled with the same issue Beyonce did the year previous. Her album did not fit the male-driven narrative. An album of dealing with being the ‘Side-Chick’ and dealing with self-esteem issues was not going to appeal to male academy in the same way the sexiness of ‘Versace on the Floor’ would. As always, the issues of minority women are too much for the Grammys to handle.
The other major sign of sexism was Ed Sheeran winning Best Pop Solo Performance for ‘Shape of You.’ ‘Shape of You’ is not usually a song that would outrage me. Although about the objectification of body shape and being an incredibly creepy song with no musical redemption, ‘Shape of You’ beating out the previously mentioned ‘Praying’ by Kesha was a sign that only marketability matters, even in the face of sexism, regardless of race.
The years of court battles between Kesha and Dr. Luke regarding her claims of sexual assault are addressed emotionally and beautifully in an incredible vocal performance by Kesha. In awarding this performance the Grammys, and music industry had a real chance to back women’s rights. A win for Kesha would have been a massive step in accepting the ‘Me Too’ and ‘Times Up’ movements, however, marketability won over both artistic ability and political statement. The unfortunate truth is the power of music is snubbed in favour of marketability and safe options.
Maybe I am expecting too much of the Grammys. The awards have been plagued by allegations of racism (Macklemore beating Kendrick Lamar for Good Kid. MAAD City) and putting marketability over any sort of artistic nuance for years. Artists such as Kanye West and Frank Ocean have even gone as far as to boycott the ceremonies. But whilst the Grammys still hold weight to both artists and the public alike more should be done to award both males and females of all cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs. Awarding the general misogyny of ‘Shape of You’ in a year where massive movement was made by women in standing up against sexual assault will be looked back on unfavorably. But for now, it is better to ignore the winners of the Grammys and focus on the movements of the artists themselves. Kesha and Kendrick both pulled out politically charged performances which gave hope despite the awards themselves, it is this hope that creates the hope that one-day artistry will prevail over sexism, racism, and discrimination.