Bruno Mars takes all at 60th Grammy awards

Despite diverse nominees, the Recording Academy does not vary its playlist


Bruno Mars took home six Grammy Awards Sunday night. 

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons | Cavalier Daily

For the 60th Grammy Awards, the Recording Academy released a list of nominees that at last harmonized with audience expectations — only to present Bruno Mars with all of the highest honors Sunday night. 

Bruno Mars took home all six awards for which he was nominated, including the Grammys trifecta — Record of the Year (“24K Magic”), Song of the Year (“That’s What I Like”) and Album of the Year (“24K Magic”). Though his performance of “Finesse” with Cardi B was lovably ‘90s — profiting off the rosy nostalgia that has made such throwbacks trendy — the uniformity of his wins has left some audience members with frustrated hopes and unanswered questions. 

Why no love for "Despacito?”

This song is one for the books. The music video became the first on YouTube to reach four billion views, and it has now bested Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” to become the most viewed YouTube video of all time. This song by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, featuring Justin Bieber, also spent 16 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, tying “One Sweet Day” by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men for the longest run in the top spot. 

While popularity is not the sole influence on Grammy worthiness, the oversight of such a historic song devalues the Latin influence on the music mainstream. “Despacito,” though it includes an English verse by Bieber, stood to be the first Spanish-language victor recognized outside of the Latin categories. That the track did not win any of the three Grammys for which it was nominated — not even Best Pop Duo / Group Performance — is unfathomable. “Despacito” was worthy — the Puerto Rican cuerto and plucky guitar support an infectious beat, and Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee layer a carefree and incantatory lyric on top. This combination comprised the entirety of summer radio, and cursory nominations are half-hearted at best.

What happened to the Year of Rap? 

A rap album has won Album of the Year only twice in Grammys history — “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” by Lauryn Hill in 1999 and “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” by Outkast in 2004. The 2018 nominees suggested a victory for rap or R&B — “Awaken, My Love!” by Childish Gambino, “4:44” by Jay-Z, “DAMN.” by Kendrick Lamar, “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars and “Melodrama” by Lorde all contested. Though the win of “24K Magic” is a nod to R&B in a pop-favoring category, it is also déjà vu for Kendrick Lamar fans. 

Lamar’s critically acclaimed album “To Pimp a Butterfly” lost Album of the Year to Taylor Swift’s “1989” in 2015, and the slight of “DAMN.” comes at the end of what appeared to be Lamar’s year. Just as Bruno Mars pocketed Best R&B Performance (“That’s What I Like”), Best R&B Song (“That’s What I Like”) and Best R&B Album (“24K Magic”), so Kendrick Lamar pocketed every single award in the rap category. This includes Best Rap Performance (“HUMBLE.”), Best Rap / Sung Performance (“LOYALTY.” feat. Rihanna), Best Rap Song (“HUMBLE.”) and Best Rap Album (“DAMN.”). 

With Bruno Mars and Kendrick Lamar both the lords of their respective categories, what gave Bruno Mars the edge? It is difficult to ignore the party anthems of “24K Magic” versus the activist heavy-lifting of “DAMN.” Lamar opened the night with a performance of “XXX,” complete with an American flag flashing on screen and dancers in military camouflage marching in formation. With lyrics such as, “But is America honest or do we bask in sin?” and an ending segment in which dancers fell one by one in time with gunshots, Lamar emphasized not only his own talent but the fused power of music and political resistance. 

While anthems of living the good life such as those on “24K Magic” can be welcome escapist fantasies, the Academy’s decision to promote Kendrick Lamar as the opening act — presumably to draw in live audiences via his activism— yet support Bruno Mars when it counts seems self-serving. 

Where are the women? 

Though Grammys attendees wore white roses as symbols of solidarity with survivors of sexual assault, only 17 of the 86 Grammy Awards went to women. A recent report from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative also reveals that only nine percent of Grammy nominees in the last six years were women. Alessia Cara was the only woman to receive an award — Best New Artist — on the live telecast. 

SZA — who led the charge for women with five nominations — received none of the awards for which she was nominated, despite her status as a fan-favorite. Lorde was both the only female to be nominated for Album of the Year, and the only nominee for the top prize not asked to perform. Ed Sheeran — who was not present at the Grammys ceremony — won Best Pop Solo Performance for “Shape of You” against all-female contenders. He also carried Best Pop Album for “÷ (Divide).”

These two pop categories are also the ones in which Kesha was nominated — for her single “Praying” and her album “Rainbow.” At the genesis of the #MeToo movement, Kesha — like Kendrick Lamar — received prime performance time. She sang “Praying” alongside powerhouse guests Bebe Rexha, Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Julia Michaels, Andra Day and the Resistance Revival Chorus. The women wore all white in an apparent lamentation of lost innocence and homage to surviving hell. The performance was the highlight of the show, and the pain and resilience intertwined in Kesha’s voice only made it more unfathomable that she took home no Grammys. 

Such slights sparked #GrammysSoMale — akin to #OscarsSoWhite beginning in 2015 — to which Recording Academy President Neil Portnow responded in Variety that women should “step up because I think they would be welcome. I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face but I think it’s upon us — us as an industry — to make the welcome mat very obvious...”

This tone-deaf call to “step up” comes in time with “Melodrama” by Lorde and “Rainbow” by Kesha — two masterpieces by females that went unrecognized Sunday. Few musicians are as in control of their sound as Lorde, and few process sexual assault with the musical delicacy of Kesha. That the Academy president cannot hear what is right in front of him is the ultimate disappointment of the latest Grammys ceremony.

The slights of both Kesha and Kendrick Lamar — the night’s star performers — imply the Academy only feigns openness to unsettling music, and instead continues to curate an unvaried playlist.

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