Mickey Guyton, Trevor Noah
Rachel Brodsky, The Independent
A pandemic-era awards season is a strange beast. So far, the socially distanced Emmys and the Golden Globes had all the pomp and circumstance of a Zoom family reunion, which is to say they were dull and awkward. The best thing we got from the Globes a few weeks ago was Jason Sudeikis’s tie-dye hoodie and Jeff Bridges’s many-doored guest room. But much like a late-season couple planning a wedding, the Grammys had the chance to watch a few ceremonies play out. And they were no doubt taking notes. What worked? What didn’t? Against all odds, the 2021 ceremony actually seemed to benefit from being forced to proceed during a pandemic.
The first right choice the Recording Academy made was trading in longtime producer Ken Erlich for Ben Winston, who is probably best known for popularising James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke. The 2021 show, long as it was at three and a half hours, felt tight and light on its feet. The genuinely upbeat mood was helped by another strong choice: having the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah host the ceremony – though it’s a shame Noah, a deliciously funny political and social issues commentator, didn’t weigh in very much on things like the widening racial divide facing the US, and how that pertains to problems within the Recording Academy itself. (Remember how Tina Fey and Amy Poehler publicly cracked jokes about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s lack of diversity during the Golden Globes?)
Despite there being one or two or 10 proverbial elephants (the Recording Academy’s issues with diversity, representation, genre decisiveness, The Weeknd and a growing list of boycotters, and those pesky secret committees, to name a few), the show itself did a commendable job of moving from performance to performance.
Some performances were as over the top as they might have been during a “normal” Grammys ceremony, with Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B bringing “WAP” center stage, and DaBaby welcoming a crew of grey-haired “DaBaby Boomers” to back him up during his and Roddy Ricch’s “ROCKSTAR” set. Watching Mickey Guyton, the first Black solo female artist nominated in a Grammy country-music category, belt through “Black Like Me”, a song about her tense experience as a Black country singer, felt scarily apropos, given her surroundings.
And then there was the Beyonce of it all. How wonderful to watch the iconic Queen Bey not only win a few more Grammys, but become the most decorated female Grammy winner ever.
And yet: something stuck out a little too hard toward the end of the show. When Taylor Swift won Album of the Year for her mid-pandemic surprise album Folklore, she thanked the Recording Academy and said, “We’ll never forget that you did this for us.” That was an interesting choice of words, given all of the rumours around how the Recording Academy is extremely political in who it acknowledges.
“[The Recording Academy] are moving in inches and we need to move in miles,” pop singer Zayn Malik tweeted shortly before the show started. “I’m keeping the pressure on and fighting for transparency and inclusion. We need to make sure we are honouring and celebrating ‘creative excellence’ of ALL. End the secret committees.” Grammy voting is a notoriously hidden process, with anonymous expert “committees” having final say over who gets nominated.
It was a soothing distraction to be sure, but it did little to move the needle where it really counts; after all, substantial conversations around race and inclusivity aren’t going anywhere. There were a few moments where the Academy had some comforting words for its audience, inserting a clip of interim president and CEO Harvey Mason Jr promising hope and change for the Recording Academy, which expects to announce a new CEO this spring.
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