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Have The Grammy Awards Found a New Tune?

Janet Jackson was nominated for three Grammy Awards in 1987. I remember it being a really big deal at the time.

Jackson was up for Album of the Year, Best R&B Song for “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. She’d been killing it as a solo artist. No longer an offshoot of the Jackson family tree, she was now a fully independent and creative voice. Her album, Control, had become an anthem for black women. (Control producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were also nominated and came up short.)

Jackson lost Album of the Year to Paul Simon’s Graceland, a lovely and enduring work, lauded at the time for its “adventurous use of African rhythms.” Fun fact: Simon violated an industry-wide and UN-sanctioned boycott of South Africa and its brutal apartheid regime to record it.

I mention it because, well, I’m still pretty salty about it.

Disappointment and saltiness are two of the Grammy Awards enduring legacies, an annual spectacle which has often come tantalizingly close to acknowledging the influence of black and brown hip hop artists and women of color on global culture and then hands the nod to, well, Paul Simon. Or, more recently, Macklemore.

“The snubs in recent years have felt particularly egregious,” explains Tamara Best.

In 2014, Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city lost Best Rap Album to The Heist by the aforementioned Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. And then in 2017, Beyoncé’s extraordinary Lemonade lost to Adele’s 25. (Both, I might add, are extraordinarily talented artists who publicly acknowledged the oversight themselves.)

“Of all the recent snubs, this one was a hard moment to witness,” says Best. “Lemonade single-handedly changed the way music was released and experienced. It was also Queen Bey’s crowning artistic achievement to date—a love letter to and for black women about pain, healing and reconciliation.”

Enough is enough, as the song goes. Three A-List artists, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Childish Gambino declined to perform on the Grammy stage this year; Donald Glover (as Childish Gambino), Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, and Ariana Grande all declined to attend.

“We continue to have a problem in the hip-hop world,” Ken Ehrlich, the show’s producer, told The Guardian. “When they don’t take home the big prize, the regard of the academy, and what the Grammys represent, continues to be less meaningful to the hip-hop community, which is sad.”

It’s not sad it’s disrespected clout.

According to Nielsen, eight of the top ten most popular recording artists of 2018 were hip hop artists. Drake, who won best rap song for God’s Plan, shocked everyone by showing up in person, something he hasn’t done since 2013. He used his acceptance speech to reassure snubbed and aspiring musicians that awards don’t matter – which the producers promptly cut short for a commercial.

(Also, I don’t know why Jennifer Lopez led the Motown tribute. Let’s just move on.)

All that said, this year’s Grammy Awards added some needed sweet to the salt.

For starters, it remedied the egregious exclusion of female artists last year. “I guess this year we really ‘stepped up,’” said Dua Lipa, who won for Best New Artist, alluding to an ill-received remark from the head of the Recording Academy about the underrepresentation of women last year.

The vibe was peace, love, and inclusion from the very start, and host Alicia Keys did an extraordinary job setting the tone and performing throughout the show. “Music is our shared global language,” she said. And forever First Lady Michelle Obama made a surprise appearance and frankly, could have read a grocery list, and it would have been fine. Instead, she opted for inspiration. “Music shows us that all of it matters, every story within every voice, every note within every song.”

And though there were disappointments, there were breakthroughs.

Cardi B made history by becoming the first solo woman to win the Best Rap Album award for Invasion of Privacy, and of course, Childish Gambino won both Record and Song of the Year.

His absence spoke volumes.

But so did the utterly gracious Black Panther composer Ludwig Göransson, who was credited for Song of the Year along with Gambino, and accepted the award without him.

Göransson was the only artist who mentioned 21 Savage last night. (The rapper is currently detained by immigration officials.) “We want to thank all the rappers that are featured on the song. 21 Savage, who should be here tonight,” he began. “As a kid growing up in Sweden loving American music, I always dreamt of migrating here and work with brilliant artists like Donald Glover,” he said pointedly. “I really wish he was here with us right now, because it was really his vision.”

“No matter where you’re born or where you’re from, you connect with “This is America”… It calls out injustice, celebrates life and reunites us all at the same time.”


On Point

Back to the blackface thingBy all appearances, Virginia’s governor Ralph Northam is failing in his attempt to appear fluent in the language of race. He sat for an interview with CBS’s Gayle King, to reassure the country that he will not be stepping down. Then, he did it again. At issue is his use of the term “indentured servants” to describe the status of the first trafficked Africans brought to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, a framing that is not reflected in didactic material published by Historic Jamestowne. “You mean slavery,” said King.CBS News

Spike Lee and Jordan Peele had a conversation, and it was very entertaining
The two share many things, the most recent is best picture Oscar nominee BlacKkKlansman, which Lee directed (he is also a best director nominee) and on which Peele served as producer. This is solid industry trivia until you realize how interesting their alliance is, and, with 21 years separating them, how powerfully they bookmark two distinct moments in time. Here’s just one tidbit – a reluctant Spike Lee spoke at Peele’s film history class when the future star was a student at Sarah Lawrence. “You really — the way I put it is — you really handed us our asses,” Peele recalled. And yet, when Lee saw Get Out, first with a black audience, then with a white one, he tracked down Peele’s number. “Brother, man. You’ve got something here,” he said.
Hollywood Reporter

Kacey Musgrave wins Album of the Year
While she may have been a surprise choice– the Grammy’s is nothing if not a place to discover “new” music, the talented Musgrave has been a quiet force in country music and beyond. For one thing, she has been one of the most vocal LGBTQ allies working in the genre. Her unique style has earned her a legion of queer fans, who love the way she loves them back. Click here for her NPR Tiny  Desk performance, fresh on the heels of the marriage equality win, and below for a candid interview in Out. A fan once told her: “’I’ve grown up loving country music and I grew up gay in a small town, and country music has always felt like a big party that I wasn’t invited to,’” she said. “Oh my god, you’re invited to my party,” she replied.

Must-longread: Abuse of Faith
The Houston Chronicle has published an in-depth investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct with Southern Baptist circles; many of the accused were pastors, deacons, or youth pastors, or had other formal roles in the organization. They leave behind more than 700 victims. A fair number of perpetrators have been jailed more than once. The investigation is below, click here for a national database of offenders who have pleaded guilty or were convicted of sex crimes. If you have a story to tell, they’re ready to listen. Click here for their confidential questionnaire.Warning: The stories are difficult to read.
Houston Chronicle


On Background

Remembering the 1811 slave revolt
The largest armed rebellion against enslavers in U.S. history took place in 1811, just upriver of New Orleans, Louisiana. “It’s a history that most Americans don’t know,” says Mahasin Muhammad. The retired trauma nurse is part of a traditional African-American sewing circle, part of a community of sewers who are gathering on the regular to create costumes for a November recreation of the rebellion. The commemoration is the brainchild of a conceptual artist named Dread Scott (for real) “500 black people in period-specific costume with horses and cane knives and sabers and muskets, walking the locations where this rebellion originally happened.”
The Advocate

How a “genuine confidence that you belong” leads to wealth advantage for white families in the U.S.
John Rice, the CEO of nonprofit Management Leadership for Tomorrow, and a former member of Obama’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans, has a must-read opinion piece that defines the emotional underpinnings of the depressing wealth gap that exists between black and white families in this country. White people inherit something more valuable than money, he says. “They grow up never questioning whether they belong in the educational institutions, careers, and networks that are the breeding grounds for comfortable lives and wealth creation.” What still needs to be discussed, however, is the violent backlash that occurs when some members of white society lose that bedrock confidence.

The racial politics of time and history
“If time had a race, it would be white,” begins Brittney Cooper, the beloved cultural theorist and commentator. “White people own time.” In this video of her 2016 TEDWomen talk, Cooper addresses the way we dismiss time as a factor in our inability to come to an understanding of our history of white dominance. Just as pundits declared the U.S. a post-racial society, a spate of race-based discontent violently reasserted itself on our cultural landscape, surprising many people. “Time has a history, and so do black people,” she said. “As though [time] doesn’t have a political history of being bound up with the plunder of indigenous lands, the genocide of indigenous people, the stealing of Africans from their homeland.” Turns out, a philosophical decision to remove Africa from the very notion of time and history, led to a justification of race-based violence that exists today. A fascinating analysis.
TED Women


The United Nations General Assembly request all states to prevent all cultural, academic, sporting and other exchanges with South Africa. Appeals to writers, artists, musicians and other personalities to boycott South Africa. Urges all academic and cultural institutions to terminate all links with South Africa.”
—UN Resolution35/206