Niall O’S: As is tradition with the Tribune, we are tackling hot topics two weeks after everyone else has forgotten about them. Nevertheless, we are here to discuss the Grammys and answer questions like do we care? Should we care? What did the Grammys get right or wrong? And, most importantly, is Kacey Musgraves the greatest artist of our generation?
DF: Do we care? I think the Grammys are kind of weird in a way. While we look at them as ‘the music awards’ they’re just as frequently accused of getting it wrong (in a way the Oscars don’t get). Like The Beatles only ever won one Grammy ever to my knowledge and they have rarely been on the ball in regards to the current state of music.
MO’S: I think this year was a comeback of sorts for the Grammys. This time last year they had pretty much been cemented as completely irrelevant, with most of the industry’s most commercially successful artists not even bothering to show up. But this was a huge step up. This year’s ceremony, or at least the broadcast version, was much more entertaining than any other Grammy year in recent memory.
NL: Fun fact: The only artist to ever refuse to take their Grammy was our own wild-child Sinead O’Connor who won ‘Best Alternative Musical Performance’ in 1991. She was not the first, or last, to take issue with the award ceremony, the likes of Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Childish Gambino were all reported to have turned down opportunities to perform there this year.
NO’S: I’m going to steal a line from Jon Caramanica of the New York Times; he made the point that the most effective speeches of the night were the ones that weren’t given. In other words, Childish Gambino made more of an impact staying at home than he ever could have if he went onstage and made an acceptance speech.
DF: Drake’s speech in the middle kind of gets at that. He said they were already winners basically because they make music for the fans. I mean he might have changed his tune if God’s Plan had won, but it’s an interesting thing for one of the biggest artists in the world to say about THE Music Awards. I guess that makes Sinead a bit of a trendsetter?
NL: That’s really interesting Daniel, I like the approach. In that way, if we are consuming and enjoying the music, and supporting the artists, I suppose we can forgive ourselves for not caring about the awards.
DF: Going off of Niall’s NYT line, that maybe says a lot about the music industry. Like I remember seeing Kendrick Lamar’s performance during (i think) the 2016 awards and it ended with a large photo of Africa with COMPTON scrawled across it. And there are other occasions, like when Ol’ Dirty B**tard interrupted a speech. Now they’re not even bothering to do that.
M’OS: It’s all well and good to dismiss awards as irrelevant to an artist’s true success, but this Grammy ceremony, in particular, featured triumphs for many incredibly deserving female artists. Cardi B made history with her win, the current re-invention of Miley performed a tribute to her godmother Dolly Parton and Diana Ross sang Happy Birthday to herself?! Iconic.
NO’S: Indeed! And the performances of Janelle Monae and the St. Vincent/Dua Lipa collab were so powerful. Monae has always known how to subvert gendered expectations and her performance was as celebratory as it was impactful. It was also so refreshing to see two women simulating romance and intimacy in a manner completely removed from the male-gaze. But I’m not sure how much credit the Grammys deserve for those performances, they were the product of the artists themselves.
NL: I understand the importance of integrating new artists into genres, especially those as secluded to one gender as Rap, but Pusha T and Kanye West’s Daytona not winning Best Rap Album was a shock.
NO’S: I’m gonna have to take Cardi B’s side on this one. As good as Daytona is, it’s just another Pusha T record in my eyes: well constructed, traditional rap structures about the cocaine industry. Cardi B attained ridiculous levels of commercial success, which the Grammys love, for an album that’s full of ambition, charisma and self-awareness. Well-deserved in my eyes.
NL: I’m a Cardi fan too! A+ to Cardi B and her strong team behind the scenes who are pushing rap into new territory and expanding people’s perspectives on what a young, black woman can achieve. In my opinion, however when compared to the rest of Pusha T’s discography Daytona comes up head and shoulders above the rest, for its content about the grim reality of ghetto life, raw production, and ultimately it’s precision; run time: 21min.
DF: Just a quick take on this, but while fair play to Cardi B for winning and making history, I can think of other albums by female rappers specifically that were a little more deserving. Like Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation would have been a no-brainer but I also think that Noname’s or Sa-Rocs current albums are strong. Also, Why wasn’t Kids See Ghosts nominated?
MO’S: The Best Album Category was excellently varied, but in my, possibly controversial, opinion, the exquisite albums by Musgraves, Monae, Brandi Carlile and Cardi B rank well above the commercial success, but ultimately boundless mixtape efforts by Drake, Kendrick and Post Malone that they were nominated alongside.
NL: Yeah Muireann that’s very true. But speaking on whether the awards got it ‘right or wrong’ I found it questionable that Bjork and Saint Vincent both lost out to Beck in the ‘Best Alternative Music Album’ category. Beck released his winning album Colors way back in October 2017.
DF: Yeah I agree about the male submissions for Best Album. I can maybe give Scorpion the benefit of the doubt, but Post Malone I’m confused by. Also, possibly controversial, I don’t get all the awards heaped on This Is America. I will say the video is iconic, and the production is decent. But a good music video doesn’t equal a good song. In fact, I’m confused by a few of the nominees. Was ‘The Middle’ really that good???
MO’S: For the record, The Middle might be among my least favourite collection of migraine-inducing noises I have ever heard. In the end, is it not becoming slightly redundant to separate categories by genre when the modern world of popular music is often amalgamating a multitude of styles into one? Like how did Arctic Monkey’s end up in the Alternative section while Fall Out Boy remains in the Rock category? St. Vincent’s album was nominated as Best Alternative album, while a cut from it was in the best rock song nomination group too? Seems like things need an overhaul. Though it could be said that the genre’s benefit the very genre specific artists.
NL: I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Pharrell won Best Producer. Not to harp on about Kanye West and his projects, but the man produced 5 full albums which were all released in a stream this past summer. How did Pharrell’s handful of producing credits on songs and NERD’s album win against that? Inconceivable.
DF: To play devil’s advocate on that, Ye’s albums were pretty undermixed. Ye sounded really raw, Nasir wasn’t bad but wasn’t great. Daytona and KSG were up there, however. I also think Lemon by NERD is pretty strong.
MO’S: I think you’re forgetting that awards are about voting – it’s ultimately political. A lot of people who weren’t die-hard fans don’t have time for him anymore – besides if he had won, he would make a speech and absolutely no one wants to give that man air time.
NO’S: Excellent point. As a concerned fan, I wouldn’t want to see him given that platform right now.
NL: On another point, in interviews with EW and the New York Times Kacey Musgraves says that two songs from her winning album Golden Hour were inspired by LSD trips. I find it fascinating how abruptly American culture seems to be accepting drugs as part of their social norms.
NO’S: I think Kacey Musgraves is a great place to finish this discussion; it is so rare to feel a sense of admiration or validation towards the Grammys but Musgraves has really struggled to be embraced by country radio- the great wielders of power in that sphere. Her 4 awards thus feel like the Grammys, or the Grammy voter, were taking a stand. That’s something I could get used to.
DF: I don’t like a lot of country music but I really like her stuff. I think that’s something we forget about award shows they can really celebrate the best artistry out there and give it more recognition.
By Niall O’Shaughnessy – Music Editor with Muireann O’Shea, Daniel Forde and Nicholas Lane.