The Grammys 2016: celebrity feuds, bland musicians and ropey perfomances

The winners were boring, but perfomances and acceptance speeches were not without their usual dose of spectacle.

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The 2016 Grammys continued to reward mainstream mediocrity over originality. Album of the Year went to an album that was both critically well-received and extremely successful – Taylor Swift’s 1989 – but the other big awards stuck to the mainstream and the bland: big hits with little cultural impact by majority white artists.

They included Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” for Song of the Year, “Uptown Funk” for Record of the Year, (the difference between these two awards, if you were wondering, is that “Song” is specifically for songwriting, “Record” for the song as a whole), Video of the Year for the star-studded “Bad Blood”, and Best New Artist went to doo-wop-pop singer Meghan Trainor.

Where genuinely innovative music was recognised, it was done so only within its genre. After famously losing out to Macklemore in 2014, and sparking a discussion about whitewashing at the awards, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly won Best Rap Album: Lamar also picked up Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance, and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. The critically adored D’Angelo picked up Best R&B Album and Best R&B song.

In general, black artists were mainly acknowledged within these genre-specific categories – The Weeknd picked up Best Urban Contemporary Album and Best R&B Performance, while Alabama Shakes won Best Rock Song and Best Alternative Music Album – without taking home the top prizes.

Perfomances and acceptance speeches were not without their usual dose of spectacle: one of the most commented on moments of the night came when Taylor Swift accepted the award for Best Album and nodded to Kanye West’s recent song lyric, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous”. She said, 

As the first woman to win Album of the Year at the Grammys twice, I want to say to all the young women out there – there are going to be people along the way who are going to try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame. But if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there. And that will be greatest feeling in the world.

Adele’s performance suffered from technical difficulties that made the whole thing seem out of tune, Lady Gaga offered a bizarre Bowie tribute, and Kendrick Lamar gave a powerful performance of “The Blacker the Berry” commenting on the racism of America’s prison system.

All in all, it was exactly the kind of ceremony we have come to expect from the Grammys, which still seem to serve and reflect, rather than challenge, dominant narratives and norms of what kinds of music and artists are allowed to be celebrated in the mainstream.

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

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