Arts & Media

Legends and Letdowns at the 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Mirabella Miller ’23
Music Columnist

The Grammy’s do an incredibly good job of making both nomination and selection choices that are near impossible to understand, let alone agree with. Although there were highlights this year, like the fact that it appears as though the Grammy voters have finally discovered that artists under 30 exist (Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, etc), there were also puzzling choices and egregious snubs, some of which will be discussed here.  

The rightful album of the year winner is Lana Del Rey. I will not be taking questions.

There are so many reasons Del Rey should have walked away with the Grammy for Album of the Year for her monumental and timely “Norman F-cking Rockwell.” For one, to say it is critically acclaimed would be a massive understatement. Critics across multiple outlets were stunned that a work of this magnitude could come from a woman relentlessly pigeonholed as being exclusively for sad teenage girls (as if the demographic an artist appeals to is any indication of their talent), and are now singing a completely different tune about Del Rey. Besides garnering critical praise, NFR spent a considerable amount of time on the Billboard charts, peaking at #3 about a month after its release.

But beyond just the album’s critical reception and chart performance, it’s a wonder Del Rey did not win the category based on the nature of the album’s content alone. Gorgeously minimalist folk ballads about nostalgia for an America that doesn’t exist anymore should have been catnip for Grammy voters, who skew old, male and white. A return to simplicity, to a place before modern America, should theoretically speak to this voting pool more than Billie Eilish’s debut “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?,” which ended up winning Album of the Year.

The essential contradiction here is that Grammy voters decided to reward an inventive debut (Eilish’s album) instead of a groundbreaking culmination of a career spanning eight years and five previous albums. This is not a rejection of the merits of Eilish’s album but an argument that it makes the most sense to reward an artist at the peak of their career, who has been working toward this for so long. Eilish will get there and it will be great. But with Norman F-cking Rockwell, Del Rey arrived, and nothing would have solidified that better than a Grammy.

IGOR deserved an Album of the Year nomination, not just a win for Rap Album of the Year.

Tyler the Creator’s “IGOR” birthed a career-defining persona. The character of Igor, with its blonde wig, sunglasses and color-blocked suit, represents the Gothic archetype of the villain’s assistant. It is an emotionally charged album, with complex and ominous soundscapes that give the listener a feeling of pleasant doom throughout. The songs on “IGOR,” which Tyler proudly wrote, produced and arranged completely on his own, are so layered and unconventional that the listener catches new aspects of the track in each listen.

But the thing about “IGOR” that is crucial to this discussion is that it is not a rap album. The album is primarily Tyler singing, and putting that singing through sound effects that add to the surreal feel of the album. Between the meticulous medley of samples, interludes and pitched-up vocals, this potion of Tyler’s creation, the snippets of rap are so few and far between that a nomination for Rap Album of the Year is not only puzzling but inaccurate.

Tyler ended up winning the category (his first-ever Grammy), and after a gracious acceptance speech, was frank about his feelings toward the Recording Academy for their decision to put his album in a rap category, voicing how he would love to be recognized in a mainstream category instead of being confined because of stereotypical and outdated ideas regarding black artists and their music.

“It sucks that whenever me, I mean guys who look like me, do anything that’s genre-bending or that’s anything they just put it in a rap or urban category,” Tylerhe said. “When I hear that, I’m just like, why can’t we be in pop? Half of me feels like the rap nomination was just a backhanded compliment.”

“IGOR” could have undoubtedly gone blow for blow with the albums nominated for Album of the Year in terms of critical reception, chart performance and singularity. And while any recognition is theoretically good, I would imagine that accurate recognition, a confirmation that people see your album for what it truly is and not for what they want it to be, is better.

DaBaby deserved a Best New Artist Nomination.

One would be hard-pressed to find an artist more externally productive in the calendar year of 2019 then DaBaby. The 28 year old rapper released two full-length albums, titled “Baby on Baby” and “Kirk,” and seemed to have a verse on almost every remix under the sun (most notably, “Truth Hurts” by Lizzo and “Panini” by Lil Nas X) in addition to having guest verses on songs by Post Malone, Chance the Rapper and Megan Thee Stallion. He had an explosive year on the charts, concluding 2019 with 22 entries into the Billboard Hot 100, the most of any artist. For a celebration of the year’s music like the Grammy’s to be absent of his name is notable.

DaBaby can be described as the metaphorical North Pole to the Antarctica of a Soundcloud-influenced, heavily autotuned sound a la Juice Wrld and Travis Scott that is having a moment in rap. He has a consistent and hard-hitting flow and is so excited to start rapping he often jumps on the beat before it even drops. The production on his work is mindfully sparse, allowing his voice to remain authentic and the punches of his lines to fully hit the listener. And although “Suge,” his highest-charting single of the year, was nominated for Best Rap Song, DaBaby’s presence was felt so powerfully in 2019 that a Best New Artist nomination would have been just.

Image Source: Variety

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