Gram­mys can do bet­ter

Awards should re­ward bound­ary-push­ing artists

Boston Herald - - THE EDGE - Jed GOT­TLIEB

The Gram­mys should echo the zeit­geist. They should re­flect how we feel about to­day and help ex­plain why we feel this way. Some­times they do: See vic­to­ries for rev­o­lu­tion­ary records by Ar­cade Fire in 2011, the Dixie Chicks in 2007 and Lau­ryn Hill in 1999.

But as a rule, the Gram­mys have failed in this mis­sion, liv­ing in the bor­ing, ar­tis­ti­cally con­ser­va­tive past: Star­land Vo­cal Band’s “Af­ter­noon De­light” picked up three nom­i­na­tions in 1977 while the Clash and Sex Pis­tols changed mu­sic for­ever and were snubbed. Tracy Chap­man’s global smash about poverty — “Fast Car” — lost both Song and Record of the Year in 1989 to Bobby McFer­rin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

This trend of over­look­ing ma­ture art in fa­vor of teen pop and her­itage acts has ac­tu­ally gained mo­men­tum in this decade. Bey­once made a mighty state­ment on black op­pres­sion on “Lemon­ade” and lost Al­bum of the Year to Adele. The more coun­try cliches Kacey Mus­graves kicked to the curb, the fewer Grammy nods she’s re­ceived. Kendrick La­mar has won a Pulitzer Prize but has been bested at the Gram­mys by pedes­trian pop from Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift and Justin Tim­ber­lake.

So what can the Gram­mys — who an­nounced the con­tenders for 2019 yesterday — do to change this? I’m so glad you asked.

Janelle Monae needs to win two Gram­mys

She needs to win a dozen, but she’s only nom­i­nated for two. Thank­fully, one of those puts “Dirty Com­puter” up for Al­bum of the Year.

In 2018, Monae cham­pi­oned re­bel­lion over con­sumerism, called out morally bank­rupt politi­cians, ques­tioned the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the po­lice and spot­lighted racial in­equities in our jus­tice sys­tem over a blend of ’70s funk, ’90s r&b and mod­ern trap beats. She did this all in one song: “Crazy, Clas­sic, Life.” The other 13 tracks on “Dirty Com­puter” fea­tured equally rev­o­lu­tion­ary sounds and smart ideas from col­lab­o­ra­tions with Beach Boy Brian Wil­son to fus­ing buoy­ant gospel har­monies and synth-heavy disco.

No artist mat­tered more in 2018. “Be­ing a young, black, queer woman in Amer­ica, there was some­thing I had to say … a group of peo­ple I wanted to cel­e­brate,” she said on “CBS This Morn­ing” yesterday, re­act­ing to her nom­i­na­tion and hold­ing back tears. “I’m happy to be rep­re­sent­ing them. I hope they feel seen, I hope they feel heard. I hope they feel loved.”

Fully em­brace hip-hop by re­ward­ing Child­ish Gam­bino’s “This Is Amer­ica.”

Don­ald Glover’s al­ter ego nabbed nom­i­na­tions for Record, Song and Mu­sic Video of the Year. As main­stream hip-hop re­turns to its po­lit­i­cal roots, the genre has strug­gled even more than usual at the Gram­mys. This is why “This is Amer­ica” needs to win them all.

The song and its video dis­sect the nasty places where race, racism, vi­o­lence, cap­i­tal­ism, art and en­ter­tain­ment over­lap. It went to No. 1. It racked up 440,000 mil­lion YouTube streams. Pair­ing a hyp­notic hook with ag­gres­sive thump­ing beats, the song cap­tured the essence of Trump’s Amer­ica: candy pop sell­ing mil­lions to teens be­ing gunned down

in schools.

(Note: Ev­ery award Gam­bino and Monae miss, please give to La­mar — who leads the 2018 field with eight.)

Erase the ar­ti­fi­cial lines be­tween Amer­i­cana and coun­try (and folk and rock …)

Some­times it seems like the Gram­mys have con­cocted a clever plan to make sure rootsy mu­sic that cuts to the heart and soul plays sec­ond fid­dle to pol­ished coun­try filled with cliches. This year Brandi Carlile and Mus­graves have a chance to change that by bring­ing earnest, hon­est coun­try (or rock or what­ever you wanna call it) back to the main­stream.

While Sturgill Simp­son and Chris Sta­ple­ton have helped de­stroy genre bor­ders at the Gram­mys, woman have had less suc­cess. Well, wel­come to 2018, where Carlile grabbed six well-earned nom­i­na­tions (in­clud­ing Al­bum and Record of the Year) and Mus­graves nabbed four (in­clud­ing Al­bum and Coun­try Al­bum of the Year). Both women made tri­umphant al­bums that draw as much from Bob Dy­lan and Lucinda Wil­liams as Johnny Cash and Dolly Par­ton.

With the four main cat­e­gories — Al­bum, Record and Song of the Year and Best New Artist — ex­panded from five to eight nom­i­nees, women won the ma­jor­ity of nom­i­na­tions in the big four. That rep­re­sents progress. I like Gam­bino and Monae for these awards, but Carlile and Mus­graves de­serve to go home with at least a few golden gramo­phones each.


HIT­TING THE RIGHT NOTES: Wor­thy win­ners of Gram­mys this year would be Janelle Monae, Child­ish Gam­bino, Kacey Mus­graves, Kendrick La­mar and Brandi Carlile, clock­wise from above left.

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