The Grammys Still Don't Give a F*&$ About Us, But They Do See Us

"The Grammys are bloated on self-importance and led by guys who will only let greatness be great on their own terms."

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Complex Original

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The Grammy Awards were never meant for us—and by "us," I mean people who actually love and listen to current music in all of its myriad permutations, from the commercial and mundane to the off-beat and weird. If that weren't clear, the Grammys—whom we're basically going to treat as a cabal of old white men smoking cigars in the most inner sanctum of an old-timey private men's club where they still listen to things on the "phonograph"—made it extra clear from the outset by letting LL Cool J get his overly excited hosting on like he just said "Box!" in Krush Groove, only to open up with AC/DC, who are surprisingly not in wheelchairs. (They actually released an album last year. Who'd thunk, eh?) AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson rocked his Andy Capp hat, looking like an undercover NYPD detective from a late-'70s movie; guitarist Angus Young—rocking his Dickensian schoolboy outfit—seemed to be the last living member from one of those random gangs from The Warriors, who was either going to ask, "More porridge, please?" or get real vexed at you for stealing his Lucky Charms. For added measure, members of the audience—from A-list artists to seat-fillers—donned devil horns, as if solely to troll Internet Illuminati conspiracy theorist extra hard.  

Opening with AC/DC was less likely an invocation ceremony, as much as it was the planting of a great, Viagra-stiff, Dad Rock flag emblazoned with the words "Fuck You" via arthritic hands. Dave Grohl was feeling it. Paul McCartney was feeling it. Lady Gaga was feeling it. If you kept watching past that point, you got what you deserved. If you confused those geriatric rockers for zombies from The Walking Dead and didn't realize you were on the wrong channel, that's on you. If you stayed past the first presenter of the night—which was Taylor Swift, the most annoying famous white girl on the face of the planet—then fuck you. They done told you to get off their lawn, already. 

If you're one of those people who are still crying for some sort of true representation of the now's musical climate via the Grammys, you're an idiot. Or Kanye West. (For the record: The two are not mutually exclusive.) And—oh, Jesus Christ on a cracker—where do you begin with Kanye? Do you begin with his literally self-centered performance, full of that awkward singing-into-the-hairbrush choreography that he swears is a manifestation of passion? Do you talk about his appearance with Rihanna and McCartney on the obvious Grammy bait "FourFiveSeconds," where RiRi did the pee-pee dance while Macca, one of the architects of what may very well be the greatest pop group ever, had his mic turned all the way down in favor two non-singing mofos? Or do you start with his post-show rant where he talked about creativity and integrity in art, while standing next to his wife, Kim Kardashian—which is the raw equivalent of Michelle Obama holding a press conference to call electoral politics as all bread and circuses with Barack in the wings? No. You don't. You just ignore that guy.

If you're one of those people who are still crying for some sort of true representation of the now's musical climate via the Grammys, you're an idiot.

Because here's the thing that Kanye doesn't get: The Grammys are bloated on self-importance and led by guys who will only let greatness be great on their own terms. Unlike last week's lip sync-heavy Super Bowl halftime orgy that was meant for devotees of wanton consumerism, 'Murica and mindlessness, the Grammys are serious. The pretentiousness, gravitas and highbrow self-indulgence of the ceremony is not a byproduct of unconscious oversight or a symptom of things gone off the rails. Like racism and poverty in America, it is the very thing which the Grammys are built on. The Grammys exist to celebrate snobbery, just like the 4th of July exists to celebrate white men, and Veterans and Memorial Days exist to promote imperialism. Nothing is a mistake here. When nigh-corpses of bygone stars are wheeled out like Bernie (from Weekend at Bernie's), and you say, "Wait—that guy's still alive?" that's not a mistake. When they announce nominees and you say, "Oh, that's how you pronounce her name?" that's not a mistake. When they play song clips and you say, "I've never heard this song before in my life," that's not a mistake. That's what the Grammys do. It's their raison d'être. It's the ceremony's destiny manifested. 

To the show's credit, however, there were some truly inspired performances. Hozier's "Take Me to Church" performance was anti-climactic, but then Annie Lennox came through, brought the Holy Ghost with her, and proceeded to kick in the door with "I Put a Spell on You." If you know what you were listening to, you heard Screamin' Jay Hawkins, you heard Notorious B.I.G., you heard Preemo. And—even through the not insignificant whitewashing of black heritage that the Grammys promotes so deftly that it's undoubtedly written into the organization's top-secret mission statement—there was some unabashed, fundamentally beautiful Negro shit afoot. Pharrell Williams' rendition of "Happy" (a.k.a. "The Song That Will Not Die") was gloriously huge and featured not just concert pianist Lang Lang (who?) and Hans Zimmer (fuck yeah!) but a "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" moment, as did Beyoncé's Ledisi jack of Mahalia Jackson's "Precious Lord, Take My Hand." And, Prince—all swag, all the time—straight up said, "Black lives matter," when he got to the mic to present Beck with the Album of the Year Award (which Kanye almost did a "I'ma let you finish" on, but thankfully didn't). 

And there were other breakthroughs. In addition to Target's disingenuous $8 million Imagine Dragons ad masquerading as a performance and the requisite "save the (streaming) music" PSA from National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences president Neil Portnow and friends (which elicited a hilarious "Negro, please" reaction from Pharrell and a blank face from aspiring streaming music mogul Jay Z), there was a call from Barack Obama to end domestic violence, followed by a few moments of confession from Brooke Axtell, a telegenic sexual violence survivor. Surprisingly (or tastefully), there were no Chris Brown or Rihanna reaction shots, which could have been moving or sensationalist, or both. (For the record: the two are not mutually exclusive.)

But perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was Iggy Azalea's newfound ability to properly use social media. Instead of making some patronizing comments about her shutout at the Grammys—which aborted dozens of gestating thinkpieces—she took to Twitter to beef about a Papa John's delivery guy giving out her phone number to his brother, effectively shifting the focus from LOL to sympathy. It's tempting to read her snub as a conciliatory gesture on the part of a cabal of old white men listening to phonograph recordings. After all, Kendrick Lamar did win Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance for "i"; and A$AP Yams—as hip-hop as hop ever was or will be—was graciously included in the list of the year's deceased members of the music community (unlike Gangstarr's Guru in 2011), for what may have been the most moving moment of the night for those of us who actually love and listen to current music in all of its myriad permutations.

It doesn't change that the Grammys don't give a fuck about us. But they do see us. And that one moment of seeing Yams, with his braids and baseball cap and tattoos and facial birthmark, placed on equal ground with rockist legends made sitting through all of the bullshit almost worth it. Almost.

kris ex is a writer living in L.A. Follow him at @fullmetallotus.

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