Awards Season

Dear Grammys, Let’s Have Less Macklemore, More Authenticity Please.

Unless Latifah is going to have a Jodie moment, what was the point of that Reverend Moon–like wed-in?

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The 56th Grammy Awards started off with such promise: a wet-haired Queen Bey out-Flashdancing Jennifer Beals, crooning “Drunk in Love,” from her surprise self-titled album that dropped at the end of 2013. The performance was so hot … until it was not, when her husband came onstage, laying out his fantasy of being the Ike to her Tina, “eat the cake Anna Mae.” Um, Mr. Carter, you know Ike and Tina’s abusive marriage is not a love story, right? Just checking.

But that level of cluelessness set the tone for a particularly tone-deaf night of music and celebration. Sure, there were a few exceptions: Lorde, a gracious winner (and loser—she genuinely looked chuffed when Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams’ “Get Lucky” beat “Royals” as Record of the Year), may be the one female pop singer with a Grammy-winning song that can pass the Bechdel test. “Royals” boasts a wry, anti-consumerist message, and doesn’t pine for a boy or have her reeling from a messy breakup—and it earned the New Zealander two of the four awards she was in contention for. In other good news, sleazeball Robin Thicke walked away with nothing for his gropey, borderline-rapey track “Blurred Lines.” And my happiness about this was matched by the extraordinary performances, one such jam by his collaborator who I will forgive because he redeems himself with incredible music and we can’t all be dragged down by our shitty friends: Pharrell with Chic’s Nile Rodgers, Daft Punk, and Stevie “effin’” Wonder. My God that was incredible. Watching everyone dancing to “Get Lucky,” which segued into “Le Freak” made me irrepressibly happy, especially seeing octogenarian badass Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon tear up the proverbial rug (I say proverbial because I can’t tell if there actually was a rug on the floor). I kept fantasizing that Sean was bellowing, “Mommmm, you are embarrassing me! Stop!” But I know better. The other musical highlight: A duet between Carole King, who only gets better—and better-looking—with age, and Sara Bareilles. In the words of Kenan Thompson’s hitman, in an SNL skit the night before, “Tapestry is my shit!”

And yet, for the most part, viewers were subjected to three and a half very long hours of some of the oddest and worst collaborations in recent memory, just to watch 10 Grammys be awarded during the broadcast (most are given off the air): Thicke, who mugged like Bill Murray’s Nick the Lounge Singer as he sang with Chicago—a medley of their numbers before getting to his hit song “Blurred Lines,” punctuating the finale by jacking the mike off his crotch (Classy, bro!). Kendrick Lamar, one of the many black hip-hop artists saw a “rap” award (can you just call it “hip-hop,” Grammys?) go to white hipster-rhymer Macklemore—who swept up nearly everything in the category—was inexplicably paired with Best Rock Performance winners, Imagine Dragons. And Pink, swinging from the rafters, again, was doing all the heavy lifting, singing with a man who cannot carry a tune to save his life, Nate Ruess, donning a pornstache. Yes, I know they recorded that song together, that was not Grammy’s doing. But … why? Just give me a reason.

And speaking of giving me a reason: Please, tell me why it was okay that Jared Leto got to stammer his way through “Walk on the Wild Side” and pay tribute to Lou Reed. Because he played a transperson in Dallas Buyers Club? Were none of Reed’s peers on hand? Because there were a lot of aging rock stars in that room. Come on, that is just disrespectful. I was surprised Reed didn’t emerge from the ashes to deck that pretty face of his.

But even that wasn’t the nights most cringeworthy moment. That honor belonged to the Reverend Moon–like wed-in. As Macklemore rapped his well-intentioned straight-guy-anti-homophobia anthem, “Same Love” (borrowing street cred from his lesbian wingwoman, Mary Lambert, who chimed in with “She Keeps Me Warm”), 30-plus couples stood on the chapel-decked stage waiting to be wed by one beautiful, proud-looking Queen Latifah, who was presiding over the nuptials. And then: Madonna—dressed up like a wannabe gangsta Tom Wolfe, with that damned gold grill on her teeth again—strolled in, singing “Open Your Heart” before joining Lambert’s song, and surprise, surprise, could not keep up, vocally. There was so much going on I didn’t know what was happening. So I trained my focus on Latifah, who I was certain would declare herself, à la Jodie Foster, which could have potentially redeemed this whole chaotic spectacle. As she pronounced everyone married by the power vested in her, she got visibly verklempt—here it comes, I thought. And then …. nothing. Just one big self-congratulatory, disingenuous shitshow. As disingenous as Macklemore’s apology to Kendrick Lamar, for robbing him of all the rap awards that the white rapper knew his pal deserved (and yet, did he make a public statement during the Grammys? Um, no).

I tried to get out of my New York–elitist head and consider how this big show would be received by middle America. I recognize that Macklemore has a lot of devoted fans, that his message has resonated with many people, a lot of the kids, some gay, some straight. And so maybe I’m being too harsh about the “Same Love” mass wedding. To me, it felt as condescending to LGBT people as his being a cultural appropriator might to people in the hip-hop community, from what I could glean on Twitter and my Facebook feed. It would have been more meaningful, truly, if Latifah used the moment to take it a step further and, if not come out directly, at least talk about how deeply “Same Love” touches her and her reputed partner. But, she didn’t. So instead we were left with a straight white guy lecture-rapping to an American audience—28.5 million viewers to be sure—and heavy-handedly hosting a wedding for over 30 same-sex couples. I am certain that it moved much of the audience, opened some hearts, pissed off some Evangelicals. So there is a limit to how annoyed I can be.

Except for the fact that there are three and a half hours of my life that I can’t get back. And a lot of mediocre music that I can’t unhear.

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