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The Grammys vs Ukraine – why the award show grows increasingly inappropriate

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This year, the Recording Academy welcomed a fresh set of shining stars with flushed cheeks and pearly white grins in tight, rigid formal wear polished and waxed to perfection. Olivia Rodrigo floated down the red carpet in ethereal disbelief that she had, in fact, been nominated for all four major categories at her debut Grammy appearance. In the wake of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins’ tragic death, dampened more by the fact his band not only won three more Grammys — Best Rock Performance (“Making a Fire”), Best Rock Song (“Waiting On a War”), and Best Rock Album (“Medicine at Midnight”) — but was due to perform, the night was diluted with collective weariness. 

Among those who did not grace the carpet were Taylor Swift and Cardi B, both of whom were nominated for an award each. And how staggeringly blatant it was that neither Kanye West nor Abel Tesfaye AKA The Weeknd turned up, based on Tesfaye’s public spat with the Academy’s “rigged” system last year. As for West, the star came under personal fire from the show’s host Trevor Noah, who commented on West’s recent behaviour towards Kim Kardashian and said he should “stop harassing his ex-wife”. 

“Don’t even think of it as an awards show,” offered Noah at the show’s commencement. “This is a concert where we’re giving out awards.” The night had been reduced from its normal hyped celebrity festivity off the back of Will Smith’s Oscar slap the week before. Rather, the monied people squeezed into their Balenciaga corsets and silk Versace gloves seemed wane, and increasingly absurd. For hadn’t Will Smith proved they were mightier than all of us, since each of them could escape formal consequence if they had attempted Oscar Slap: Grammy Edition?

Jon Batiste, winner of the awards for best American roots performance for “Cry,” best American roots song for “Cry,” best music video for “Freedom,” best score soundtrack for visual media for “Soul,” and album of the year for “We Are,” poses in the press room at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

“Music’s Biggest Night”, as the event calls itself, did its best to ignore every other genre in the Big Four, as usual. Although R&B crept its way into Album, Song and Record of the Year as Silk Sonic swept up three of the four, the Academy’s intentions made themselves clear as Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits” and Justin Bieber’s “Peaches” poked their heads up in several of the big categories. How exhausting it’s becoming, watching Justin Bieber bleat his way through award shows in a tarpaulin sewn at angles to become a suit. 

As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky popped up on the screen as the night began, imploring the public and the aliened millionaires of the ongoing fight in his country, the divide between the public and celebrities became a jagged line. However well-intentioned the tribute was, it’s difficult to understand why the Grammys weren’t cancelled, and all contributing money sent to support the people of Ukraine.

The night found its sparkle in gleaming, passion-driven performances led by Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, together as Silk Sonic. As they swayed and grinned onstage in crisp white Nudie-style suits and glistening rhinestones, the pair charmed the audience with expert groove and warm seventies soul and R&B. The duo’s scoop of both Record and Song of The Year with fresh hit “Leave The Door Open” says more about the industry than any other award of the night — listeners crave groove and flashbacks to the golden era of music. Uncannily, there’s more to music than stiff 4/4 bars and a suspiciously sleek vocal slid over the top. 

With some reluctance, the Recording Academy drew a win out of the ordinary with Album of the Year going to New Orleans pianist Jon Batiste, who won for “We Are”. Different to the pop-enthused other nominees from Rodrigo to Doja Cat — less a comment on their abilities, rather a point on the Academy’s ability to include all genres fairly — the “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” bandleader was overcome with joy: 

“I believe this to my core,” Batiste said, in his final acceptance speech. “There is no best musician, best artist, best dancer, best actor. The creative arts are subjective, and they reach people at a point in their lives when they need it most.” 

Overall, the Grammys feel like an excuse to strut and toast expensive people. Although progress is being made to include people from a wider range of genres, as Batiste proved with his five overall wins, it still feels like a reluctant change. 

As the night came to a close and all that remained were empty glasses, trails of glitter and gems and a sense of pride and enjoyment, the mood was condensed with one final thought: 

Is it a celebration, or does ignorance prevail over the rest of the world’s desperation? 

Featured image credit: Hello! Magazine

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