From Cringey Fans to Baffling Wins, the Grammys Fumbled the Bag Yet Again

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REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

I knew I would have to type these embarrassing words tonight. Even before an elderly “superfan” was dragged onto the Grammy stage and forced to say “Ha-Ha-Harry Styles” into a microphone by Trevor Noah. Even before Bonnie Raitt won Song of The Year for a ballad I’m sure the majority of the listening public has never heard. So let’s just get it over with: Beyoncé has once again lost the Grammy for Album of the Year. This time, to Harry Styles’ second-best album!

How the Hell Did Beyoncé Not Win the Album of the Year Grammy?

Listen… I’m not here to shit on Styles (at least, not too much), a man who makes good, sometimes great pop music and who impressively rose to prominence by auditioning for a televised talent show (inarguably the coolest route to fame). Harry’s House was a blockbuster record, and the song “Satellite” still causes me to astral-project on an emotional day. He earned himself the Billy Joel treatment with his historic 15-night run at Madison Square Garden. And as irrelevant as this fact may be, it was impossible to avoid this dude in pop culture over the past year (sometimes because of his music, and sometimes because of much sillier things).

Still, there’s no comparing Styles’ buoyant puppy-love tunes to the world-stopping, time-shifting phenomenon that was and still is Beyoncé’s Renaissance. Maybe I would be less embarrassed about Styles beating her (no, not really) if he hadn’t given one of the most underwhelming performances of the night when he struggled to get through his hit song “As It Was” like it was the national anthem. Or if he wasn’t totally boring and uncharismatic while giving speeches. Or if he didn’t say things like “this doesn’t happen to people like me” while picking up Album of the Year, which actually happens to cis, white men quite frequently!

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All of this to say, the Grammys are seemingly still on their bullshit. They’ve certainly made more egregious decisions in the past. But Beyoncé’s loss is especially frustrating this year, as so much of Sunday night’s ceremony was dedicated to telling viewers that the Recording Academy values Black musicians—including Beyoncé herself, who got what seemed like 50 performative shoutouts throughout the evening. While it was lovely watching her pick up Best R&B Song and Best Dance/Electronic Album, making her the most decorated artist in Grammy history, it all felt suspiciously calculated on the Academy’s part.

Speaking of performative shoutouts, the best and worst moment of the night was an overwhelmingly star-studded tribute honoring the first 50 years of hip-hop. Organized by Questlove, the lineup included Black Thought, Method Man, Public Enemy, Big Boi, Salt N Pepa, GloRilla, Lil Baby, Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, Too Short, and more illustrious acts performing a crowded yet seamless medley of hits. (Weirdly, there was no Bad Boy representation.) Additionally, the male-to-female ratio was disappointing to me, given all of the iconic female emcees of years past to choose from and how many women are leading rap today.

Kim Petras Honors Trans Musicians With Historic Grammy Win

Unfortunately, as many viewers on Twitter pointed out, the medley also included some rappers who have been accused of abuse, including Lil Uzi Vert and Nelly. More egregiously, though, this moment happened after the Grammys announced a new “Global Impact” award named after Dr. Dre, who has a well-documented history of domestic violence against women. It’s embarrassing that the Recording Academy didn’t consider the message this would send to survivors and, particularly, women in hip-hop. In light of the misogyny displayed online and within the rap community leading up to Tory Lanez’s conviction, it felt especially gross. Overall, the Grammys’ elaborate spotlighting of hip-hop felt like consuming a bunch of empty calories—it’s fun in the moment, but leaves you feeling unsatisfied.

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The ceremony’s in memoriam segment, on the other hand, was a much more powerful highlight of the evening. Kacey Musgraves performed a flawless rendition of Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” while Sheryl Crow, Mick Fleetwood, and Bonnie Raitt honored Christine McVie with a pretty but shaky cover of “Songbird.” Slotted in the middle—but should’ve been saved for last—was Migos member Quavo paying tribute to his nephew Takeoff, who was fatally shot last November.

The rest of this year’s Grammy Awards was a mix of perfectly fine (Bad Bunny and Brandi Carlile) to lackluster (Lizzo) performances, awkward video packages, cuts to Taylor Swift’s white-girl dancing, an unwanted James Corden appearance, and middle-of-the-road victories. We got Madonna building up Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ performance of “Unholy” like we were about to see someone get penetrated onstage, but it was just a lot of writhing around on a red-lit stage. (Congrats to Kim though!) Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson performed what felt like the 87th Motown tribute we’ve seen at the Grammys. Mercifully, Jennifer Lopez was not involved this time—but her husband, Ben Affleck, stole the spotlight, looking so depleted you’d think he’d been banned from every Dunkin’ in L.A.

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Host Trevor Noah did a decent job for an awards show I consider the least comedian-friendly; musicians can be weirdly stodgy and unfun (cut to every single person actively avoiding eye contact with him during his monologue.) Crowd work is often a fool’s errand, and silly bits, like when Noah surprised Adele with her crush Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson,” hardly ever land. However, the former Daily Show host managed to get through his B-minus jokes at breakneck speed with a consistent set of laughs. It’s fair to assume he’ll be hosting this thing for the next 15 years.

No One Wanted Trevor Noah to Talk to Them at the Grammys

Finally, we must discuss the many, many minutes—maybe a half-hour total—that were wasted during this ceremony watching “superfans” pontificate about their favorite nominated artists in the most embarrassing fashion. Video montages are always the worst part of any awards show; there’s no way the attendees actually enjoy them or pay attention. But the Grammys, insistent on representing “the people” in recent years, made the night’s honored guests witness a televised version of online stan wars at multiple points throughout the night.

It was cringey until it was funny, and then it became cringey again when the superfans in question were corralled onto the stage during the presentation of that incredibly disappointing Album of the Year award. Noah’s stilted speech about racial harmony and a montage showing a Black child hugging a white cop was somehow less awkward than this. Leave the stans at home next time!

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