MAK­ING STRIDES:

Women dom­i­nate on­stage in a night of calls for heal­ing, unity

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Randy Lewis

Women power a night of his­tory-mak­ing, and rap scores key vic­to­ries.

The mu­sic com­mu­nity of­fered a state of the union ad­dress of its own on Sun­day at the 61st Grammy Awards cer­e­mony. Af­ter months on defense, artists po­si­tioned mu­sic as a uni­fy­ing force and heal­ing salve for a deeply po­lar­ized world.

Camila Ca­bello set the tone at Sta­ples Cen­ter with show opener “Ha­vana,” which cel­e­brates her Cuban Amer­i­can her­itage, tele­graph­ing a salvo of ac­cep­tance and in­clu­sion re­gard­ing the im­mi­grant ex­pe­ri­ence in U.S. his­tory. She was joined by Latin pop star Ricky Martin in a pro­duc­tion num­ber that em­pha­sized Latin mu­sic and dance.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter­ward, host Ali­cia Keys was joined by a quar­tet of high-pro­file women that included ac­tresses Jen­nifer Lopez and Jada Pin­kett Smith, mu­sic su­per­star Lady Gaga and for­mer First Lady Michelle Obama.

“Whether we like coun­try or rap or rock, mu­sic helps us share our­selves,” Obama said. “Our dig­nity and its sor­rows, our hopes and joys, it al­lows us to hear one an­other, to in­vite each other in. Mu-

sic shows us that all of it mat­ters. Ev­ery story within ev­ery voice, ev­ery note within ev­ery song — is that right, ladies?”

By way of many of the live per­for­mances and songs hon­ored with awards, the cer­e­mony at­tempted to pro­vide some de­gree of coun­ter­bal­ance to crit­i­cism for a lack of diver­sity that has been lev­eled at the Record­ing Academy, which be­stows the Gram­mys, dur­ing the past year. In ad­di­tion to per­for­mances that high­lighted the fe­male artists shap­ing pop mu­sic to­day, hip-hop scored his­toric wins as “This Is Amer­ica” from Child­ish Gam­bino be­came the genre’s first hit to win record and song of the year awards, and Cardi B be­came the first solo woman to win the prize for rap al­bum.

In many ma­jor fields, Grammy vot­ers went out­side of house­hold names.

R&B star H.E.R. won R&B al­bum for her self-ti­tled ef­fort, Bri­tish pop singer Dua Lipa won best new artist and Kacey Mus­graves won al­bum of the year with “Golden Hour” and dom­i­nated the coun­try fields, this de­spite the fact that coun­try ra­dio con­tin­ues to emphasize male stars. Else­where, rootsy artist Brandi Carlile won Amer­i­can roots per­for­mance and Amer­i­can roots song tro­phies for her song “The Joke,” thank­ing her wife and two daugh­ters when she ac­cepted the per­for­mance award.

Carlile re­marked that af­ter com­ing out as a les­bian in high school, “I was never in­vited to any par­ties, I never got to go to the dance.”

The academy has been in re­group mode since cri­tiques arose last year on a num­ber of fronts, no­tably in­clud­ing find­ings of a 2017 USC study that high­lighted ex­treme gen­der im­bal­ances among award win­ners in top cat­e­gories in re­cent years.

Ad­di­tion­ally, in re­sponse to a ques­tion about the male-cen­tric re­sults in top cat­e­gories last year, academy Pres­i­dent Neil Port­now said the time had come for women to “step up” to re­ceive their due, ig­nit­ing a firestorm of neg­a­tive re­ac­tion. Port­now will step down when his cur­rent con­tract ex­pires at the end of July.

In the past year the academy as­sem­bled a task force un­der the guid­ance of Tina Tchen, for­merly Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, to iden­tify and ad­dress con­scious or un­con­scious bi­ases in the ar­eas of gen­der and race that might be cre­at­ing im­bal­ances in the nom­i­na­tion and awards pro­cesses.

Best new artist win­ner Lipa quoted what Port­now now refers to as “those two words” as she ac­cepted her award. She stated she was “hon­ored I am to be nom­i­nated be­side so many in­cred­i­ble fe­male artists this year. I guess we’ve re­ally stepped up.”

She then added, “One thing that I re­ally want to say, is for any­one that hasn’t re­al­ized how spe­cial they are, who have a dif­fer­ent story, a dif­fer­ent back­ground … just know that no mat­ter where you’re from, your back­ground, or who you be­lieve in, never let that get in the way of you and your dreams, be­cause you de­serve it.”

In many re­spects, Sun­day’s Grammy show ap­peared to be a re­sponse to blow­back it had weath­ered from mu­si­cians, record ex­ec­u­tives and the pub­lic.

The three top gen­eral field awards were di­vided among an al­bum of the year win­ner that cel­e­brates ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and boundary-push­ing with Texas singer-song­writer Mus­graves’ “Golden Hour,” and a record and song of the year in Child­ish Gam­bino’s “This Is Amer­ica,” a brac­ing cri­tique of racism, sex­ism, com­mer­cial­ism and other isms preva­lent in con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can life.

The song’s co-writer, Swedish­born mu­si­cian Lud­wig Go­rans­son, spoke on be­half of im­mi­grants ev­ery­where when he re­counted grow­ing up in Swe­den and dream­ing of com­ing to the United States to pur­sue a ca­reer in mu­sic.

“No mat­ter where you’re born or what coun­try you’re from, you con­nect with ‘This Is Amer­ica,’ ” he said in col­lect­ing the award in the ab­sence of Gam­bino, aka ac­tor Don­ald Glover. “It cel­e­brates life and re­unites all at the same time.”

A seg­ment pay­ing trib­ute to coun­try star Dolly Par­ton, who also had been feted on Fri­day as the year’s MusiCares Per­son of the Year, opened and closed with her 1980 cross­over hit “9 to 5” from the film she starred in with Jane Fonda and Lily Tom­lin about sex­ism in the work­place, and which is slated to be the sub­ject of a se­quel.

The per­for­mance also included col­lab­o­ra­tions with a num­ber of other fe­male artists in­clud­ing Katy Perry, Mus­graves, Mi­ley Cyrus, Maren Mor­ris and singers Kim­berly Roads and Karen Fairchild of coun­try-pop quar­tet Lit­tle Big Town.

Hip-hop re­cent ar­rival Cardi B per­formed her hit “Money” in a pro­duc­tion that car­ried echoes of pi­o­neer­ing Jazz Age film and night­club star Josephine Baker.

Later, af­ter her win for rap al­bum with “In­va­sion of Pri­vacy,” she told of her strug­gle to fin­ish the al­bum af­ter be­com­ing preg­nant, a tale of the bal­anc­ing act fac­ing work­ing women that fur­ther echoed a theme of fe­male em­pow­er­ment run­ning through the show.

Women so dom­i­nated the per­for­mance as­pect of the show that num­bers show­cas­ing teen heart­throb Shawn Men­des, as well as an­other pair­ing ris­ing pop star Post Malone and long-run­ning L.A. punk-funk band the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers, seemed al­most like af­ter­thoughts.

An­other sign of academy vot­ers’ in­tent this year was a trio of Gram­mys awarded to jazz mu­si­cian John Daversa for his al­bum in­cor­po­rat­ing per­for­mances by sev­eral young peo­ple in the U.S. un­der the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Arrivals Act (DACA).

“Amer­i­can Dream­ers: Voices of Hope, Mu­sic of Free­dom” won for large jazz en­sem­ble al­bum, while Daversa’s wildly imag­i­na­tive ar­range­ment of John Philip Sousa’s 121-year old iconic march “The Stars And Stripes For­ever” earned him the in­stru­men­tal or a cap­pella ar­range­ment award. The track “Don’t Fence Me In” col­lected a third for im­pro­vised jazz solo.

Diana Ross sang her 1970 hit “Reach Out and Touch (Some­body’s Hand),” yet an­other plea for unity, trig­ger­ing a sea of wav­ing hands from the Sta­ples Cen­ter au­di­ence.

Lady Gaga teared up when her song “Shal­low” from “A Star Is Born” won for pop duo or group per­for­mance, laud­ing the film for the spot­light it shines on is­sues of al­co­holism and sui­cide.

“If I don’t get an­other chance to say this,” she said, be­fore learn­ing whether the song might also col­lect the record of the year award, “I am so proud to be part of a movie that ad­dresses men­tal health is­sues.

“They’re so im­por­tant. A lot of artists deal with that, and we’ve got to take care of each other. If you see some­body that’s hurt­ing, don’t look away. And if you’re hurt­ing, even though it might be hard, try to find that brav­ery within your­self to dive deep and go tell some­body and take them up in your head with you.”

It was Gaga’s third Grammy win at that point in the evening, af­ter she’d pre­vi­ously won with her song “Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Goin’)” for pop solo per­for­mance, and a song­writ­ing award for “Shal­low,” the break­out hit from “A Star Is Born” that took the Grammy for song writ­ten for vis­ual me­dia.

More recog­ni­tion to art of in­clu­sion and diver­sity was ev­i­dent in three other awards to Mus­graves: coun­try solo per­for­mance with her hit “But­ter­flies,” coun­try song for “Space Cow­boy” and coun­try al­bum for “Golden Hour.”

And yet Grammy of­fi­cials still couldn’t avoid con­tro­versy: Dur­ing re­hearsals early in the week, pop star Ari­ana Grande — com­ing off a dif­fi­cult year that included the 2017 ter­ror­ist at­tack at her con­cert in Manch­ester, Eng­land, and the ac­ci­den­tal drug over­dose death in Septem­ber of her ex-boyfriend, mu­si­cian Mac Miller — de­clined over­tures to ap­pear af­ter reach­ing an im­passe over song choice.

“I know i’m not there tonight,” she tweeted Sun­day to her 60.7 mil­lion Twit­ter fol­low­ers, adding, “trust, i tried and still truly wished it had worked.” Still, the artist was awarded the Grammy for pop vo­cal al­bum for “Sweet­ener.”

Awards are de­ter­mined by about 13,000 vot­ing mem­bers of the Record­ing Academy. They cover record­ings re­leased dur­ing the el­i­gi­bil­ity pe­riod of Oct. 1, 2017, through Sept. 30, 2018.

Pho­to­graphs by Robert Gauthier Los An­ge­les Times

CARDI B turns heads on the Grammy Awards stage on Sun­day at Sta­ples Cen­ter. She went on to make his­tory with a rap al­bum vic­tory for “In­va­sion of Pri­vacy.”

KACEY MUS­GRAVES takes home four Gram­mys, in­clud­ing al­bum of the year.

Robert Gauthier Los An­ge­les Times

H.E.R. per­forms at the Gram­mys, where the singer won R&B al­bum for her self-ti­tled work.

Mar­cus Yam Los An­ge­les Times

BRI­TISH pop singer Dua Lipa picks up two Gram­mys, in­clud­ing new artist, on Sun­day evening.

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