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Grammy Awards Continue to Stir Controversy

by Ashley Terry

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On Sunday, January 28th, 2018, the 60th Grammy awards were held in Madison Square Garden in New York City. The ceremony was hosted by comedian/actor James Corden. This year’s winners were a bit controversial considering that there were hardly any women nominated. Artists wore white roses to bring awareness to the TIMESUP movement.

The show began with a politically motivated performance by rapper Kendrick Lamar. Lamar performed “XXX” from his newest album, DAMN. The performance began with Lamar standing in front of an American flag and his dancers were dressed as army soldiers.

The performance was interrupted by comedian Dave Chappelle, “Hi, I’m Dave Chappelle. And I just wanted to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America. Sorry for the interruption.” [1]

Lamar finished the performance by shouting “rumble, young man, rumble.” Later on, Lamar began using his verses as gunshots that knocked down dancers one by one. [1]

The night was a huge milestone for singer Kesha. It was her first time returning to the ceremony since her trial against producer Dr. Luke, who had been sexually abusing her.

She performed her comeback song, “Praying” alongside singers Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Andra Day, Julia Michaels, Bebe Rexha, and the Resistance Revival Chorus. [2]

Kesha was nominated for Best Pop Solo Performance and Album of the Year, but she lost in both categories. For Best Pop Solo Performance, Kesha lost to fellow singer Ed Sheeran (“Shape of You”), which sparked a lot of controversy. The nominations were Kesha (“Praying”), Ed Sheeran (“Shape of You”), Kelly Clarkson (“Love So Soft”), Lady Gaga (“Million Reasons”), and P!nk (“What About Us”).

Fans became more outraged when the winner for Album of the Year was announced. The nominations were Kendrick Lamar (DAMN), Childish Gambino (Awaken My Love!), Jay-Z (4:44), Lorde (Melodrama), and Bruno Mars (24k Magic). [3]

Bruno Mars won the award for Album of the Year despite how generic most of his songs were lyrically and sonically. Many felt that Lorde or Kendrick Lamar deserved the Grammy.

When nominated for Album of the Year, artists are given the opportunity to perform at the ceremony. Lorde however, was the only artist that did not perform. Lorde was asked to perform a tribute but the singer did not want to.

After the ceremony, the Academy CEO/President Neil Portnow made a statement regarding fans’ frustration, “It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level… [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome,” he said. “I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face but I think it’s upon us — us as an industry — to make the welcome mat very obvious, breeding opportunities for all people who want to be creative and paying it forward and creating that next generation of artists.” [4]

Singer Halsey posted a variety of comments on Twitter explaining how ridiculous the CEO’s comments were. “I strongly back the disagreement with the way that the Academy approaches things but please remember the Grammys are voted by a ‘jury of peers’ which means other artists and producers and writers select the nominees. Neil’s comment was absurd. Female artists came HARD in 2017. But the nominees are selected by peers and their opinion of the music. Which means it’s a conversation about the standards of which the ENTIRE INDUSTRY expects women to uphold.” [3]

Portnow made a statement following the backlash. “Sunday night I was asked a question about the lack of female artist representation in certain categories of this year’s Grammy Awards. Regrettably, I used two words, ‘step up,’ that, when taken out of context, do not convey my beliefs and the point I was trying to make. Our industry must recognize that women who dream of careers in music face barriers that men have never faced. We must actively work to eliminate these barriers and encourage women to live their dreams and express their passion and creativity through music. We must welcome, mentor, and empower them. Our community will be richer for it. I regret that I wasn’t as articulate as I should have been in conveying this thought. I remain committed to doing everything I can to make our music community a better, safer, and more representative place for everyone.” [4] Many are calling for Portnow to resign as the Academy CEO/President.

Unfortunately, even if we are in the 21st century, all humans still don’t seem to have equal rights, even at the Grammys.



[1] https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/8096726/kendrick-lamar-2018-grammy-awards-performance-video

[2] http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/la-et-ms-grammy-keshas-big-moment-20180128-story.html

[3] https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/pop/8097213/halsey-responds-grammy-female-controversy-neil-portnow-step-up-comments-twitter-rant

[4] http://variety.com/2018/music/news/grammy-chief-neil-portnow-walks-back-step-up-comment-i-wasnt-as-articulate-as-i-should-have-been-1202681462/