The 2016 presentation of the Grammys on CBS had its lowest ratings output among viewers 18 – 49 in seven years. It’s easy to see why.
The show caters, mainly, to the widest swath of American viewers. And despite the fall off in young watchers, the show still managed to be the year’s most watched entertainment telecast clocking in at 24.95 million homes watching the Grammys.
This year’s Grammy Awards were super interesting, though, not just because it featured a bunch of new jacks like The Weeknd (who did as fly an MJ impression if I ever saw one, even without the help of Ms. Lauryn Hill), but because we were going to be able to see which way the wind was blowing in mainstream America.
2015 was tumultuous as hell. Baltimore lit up in a rage. So did Ferguson. New York saw a parade of protesters hit-the-streets, and anyone from NY knows exactly zero New Yorkers have time for that. The thing was, they made time. The racial climate is that serious right now. As much as the mainstream likes to ignore it, a radical moment is happening in America. One surrounding the amnesia we have about race. It’s these times that push the country forward, really tests the mettle of all that America is exceptional, America is the greatest country in the world stuff people are always telling you.
And the battle ground is where it always is, at the intersections. This year’s Album Of The Year category was wildly disparate. The Weeknd’s emo-pop faced off against Chris Singleton’s good-old-fashioned country. The Alabama Shakes‘ booming southern alt-rock was in there, too. And I love “Gimme All Your Love” more than any man should. But the two heavyweights were best buds Kendrick Lamar and Taylor Swift. Their albums were the other’s antithesis. This was the hood versus the suburbs, and the truth about how the heart of America was feeling (despite “urban” areas being retaken all over the country) was on the line.
Apparently, America’s mainstream is still feeling like a well-crafted if not syrupy pop album by the dough eyed Taylor Swift mattered more than Kendrick’s one man journey through the American racial machine. The web may tell you a different story, where the Black Lives Matter movement and other ideas that seem radical to the center live. The Grammys were wrong, too. But they weren’t off-base. The two are different. The Academy prefers a good pop album because that’s what America prefers. It’s just that simple. It has, once again, relegated the concerns of the times as separate. For that reason, despite K. Dot’s masterpiece, rap is still on the outside of the Academy looking in.
Kendrick and his team crafted an album for the ages. An album, more than the well-cleaved dark of Big Sean’s Dark Sky Paradise or the sing-song majesty of Future or the cohesiveness of Drake, that sits your tired ass down in the middle of 2015 and says this is what it is like to live here. Here, in America. Where the prison population is so high you may as well put felon on your resume. And that’s no exaggeration. Not only were the lyrics geared toward this reality, a reality that Kendrick faces head-on in his music, but the music was, too. The free jazz, the spoken word, the gospel: all of that is protest music.
His performance featured he and others shackled. It featured dancing around a giant fire (which is a brilliant little turn on the savage motif, yeah?) and it featured Dot baring his soul for all lives mattering. It was an important performance. I haven’t seen a crowd of onlookers feel that silly in a while. But while he took their breaths away, he couldn’t take away the grand prize of the Grammys. He couldn’t take away the Album Of The Year award because, well, America just isn’t ready to give it to him.
So despite ‘Kast winning it in ‘04 (as a kind of lifetime achievement award, to be honest) and even though Lauryn won for her own masterpiece The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the Academy seems to be squeamish about giving the top award to an emcee. Just ask Kanye why the other rap album in recent memory to be universally lauded (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) wasn’t even nominated for Album Of The Year in 2011.
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