Despite some poignant moments, the annual awards ceremony still feels out of touch with what’s really happening in music. Roisin O’Connor takes a look at ‘music’s biggest night’
Tributes to late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins and a powerful speech from Ukraine’s president were among the few truly affecting moments at what was otherwise a stiff and stilted Grammy Awards.
Perhaps the musicians in attendance were uncomfortable out of the event’s usual setting of Los Angeles, but for the most part, the first ever Las Vegas Grammys sat in stark contrast to the dramatic Oscars of the week before.
Havia, claro, a fair few jibes about the already-exhausted topic of Will Smith slapping comedian Chris Rock during the 2022 Academy Awards. The most justified remark came from producer Questlove, whose Oscars glory for his Verão da alma documentary was overshadowed by the Smith/Rock altercation.
“I trust you people will stay 500 feet away from me,” he quipped, prompting laughter and a standing ovation from the live audience. The most surreal Smith-Rock reference saw comedian Nate Bargatze alluding to the incident when he presented the award for Best Spoken Word Album, at the pre-telecast ceremony.
“I need to caution everybody, remain in your seats and keep your hands to yourself,” Grammys host LeVar Burton said while introducing Bargatze, who walked onstage wearing a large helmet.
“They said comedians have to wear these now at awards shows during the joke parts,” Bargatze said. “It doesn’t even cover your face, I think it just focuses where you would hit me.”
Bargatze was himself nominated for Best Comedy Album, which instead went to disgraced comic Louis CK, who admitted to multiple instances of sexual misconduct in 2017.
CK’s win happened only four years after the Grammys held its “MeToo” event, when they celebrated an unprecedented number of female artists. CK’s win surely debunked any suggestion that he had been a victim of so-called “cancel culture”.
The Recording Academy had previously defended its nominations of controversial figures – including CK and accused rapist Marilyn Manson – stating that it does not take the personal histories of nominees into account when determining eligibility. Maybe they should start.
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With the Foo Fighters cancelling their scheduled live performance in the wake of Hawkins’ death, the Grammys organisers made do with a somewhat underwhelming video tribute to the much-loved drummer.
Far more poignant was Billie Eilish’s tribute, with the pop star – who was championed by Hawkins and his bandmate Dave Grohl from the early stages of her career – wearing a T-Shirt with his face on it during her live performance. Foo Fighters also swept the rock category this year, meaning Hawkins was awarded posthumous honours for Best Rock Album, Best Rock Song, and Best Rock Performance.
We weren’t the only ones that Grammys failed to impress this year, with a surprising number of major stars snubbing the ceremony. There was no sign of Album of the Year nominees Kanye West and Taylor Swift, with West disinvited from performing over “concerning online behaviour”. Fellow Album of the Year nominee Doja Cat did attend, despite announcing her intentions to quit music last month. Grammy-winner Ariana Grande – nominated for three gongs – shared a message to fans ahead of the ceremony confirming she would not attend, with no details as to why.
Other no-shows included Drake, who has famously spoken out against the Grammys’ dated awards categories, and Kendrick Lamar, who won Best Rap Performance for his “Family Ties” collaboration with Baby Keem, but has been previously been snubbed three times for the coveted Album of the Year award. Cardi B and Ed Sheeran also failed to show up, as did Tyler, the Creator, who won Best Rap Album for last year’s incendiary Call Me If You Get Lost but had previously called out the “rap” categories as a “backhanded compliment”.
The lack of major starpower was brought into stark evidence when watching the red carpet, where viewers were baffled by the presence of social media stars such as TikTok dancer Addison Rae, and controversial YouTuber and makeup artist James Charles.
BTS brought some much-needed fun to the ceremony with what would have been a typically flawless live performance of hit single “Butter”, were it not for a stumble from member J-Hope during the opening moments.
After the Oscars appeared to turn down Amy Schumer’s suggestion of hosting a video message from Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, the Grammys – a ceremony typically fearful of any kind of explicit political message – stepped up. The Ukrainian leader shared a pre-taped speech filmed from a bunker in Kyiv, urging people watching to “tell our story”.
Despite this rare political statement, the Grammys still felt woefully out-of-touch with the real world. BTS were robbed of Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, despite being invited to perform at the ceremony for the second time. Immediately after winners Doja Cat and SZA were announced, the BTS ARMY buzzed furiously about their belief that organisers are trying to use the world-dominating boyband for clout – and to boost their perpetually dwindling audience figures.
While it was touching to see US artist Jon Batiste celebrated, his Album of the Year win felt like a huge misfire of an attempt by organisers to generate some controversy, the consequence of which was overlooking excellent and worthy albums by Lil Nas X, Doja Cat, Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo. The glaring absence of some of music’s biggest stars only seemed to affirm the widely shared belief that the Grammys have finally become obsolete.