By Juan A. Ramirez, A&E columnist
“Believe the people. Believe the ones who’d rather watch select performances from your program on YouTube the day after because your show puts them to sleep.”
So goes Frank Ocean’s fantastic Tumblr-posted clapback at the Grammy producers who wrongly claimed in a Rolling Stone interview that the reason the enigmatic R&B star withheld his “Blonde” album from the race was because of his “faulty” performance at the 2013 ceremony. (Ocean told The New York Times in November: “It just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down.”)
In his post, Ocean blasts the Grammys as “not great TV,” using Taylor Swift’s win for Album of the Year over Kendrick Lamar last year as (fair and accurate) evidence. The funny thing is – depending on how funny you think outright hypocrisy is – that while the show’s producers are happy to jam-pack their performance roster with rappers and popular artists to increase viewership, they are just as comfortable sending them home empty-handed.
That same Rolling Stone interview also included producer David Wild’s gem of an offkey comment that, “We’re not making a mixtape. We’re broadcasting on CBS.” The remark, brazenly dismissive of what should be the telecast’s youthful target audience, is telling of the Grammy’s problems with hip-hop and their disenfranchisement of America’s black culture. Perhaps if the show’s producers thought of their yearly ceremony as more of a mixtape – dynamic, packed with guests, constantly evolving, willing to experiment – than a procession of established white musicians, the awards wouldn’t be the least interesting and most irrelevant of the season.
After all, when was the last time someone used having a Grammy as a measure for artistry or success? Remember when Esperanza Spalding (still waiting on feedback as to who this is, by the way) beat out Drake, Florence + the Machine and Justin Bieber for Best New Artist in 2011? How about when Kanye’s undisputed masterpiece, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” was left out of the Album of the Year nominees, relegated instead to Best Rap Album, in 2012?
Conversely, how much does knowing about Adele’s 15 Grammys change your view about the singer-songwriter? She’s talented, yes, but does it have to be at the cost of everybody else? Perhaps even she grew weary of this anomaly: Last Sunday, when presented Album of the Year, she snapped it in half, saying to the audience, “The artist of my life is Beyoncé, and this album for me, the ‘Lemonade’ album, was so monumental, and so well thought-out and so beautiful and soul-bearing.”
“What the [expletive] does she have to do to win Album of the Year?” she reportedly asked backstage.
Adele was right: Beyoncé had the album of the year; in terms of artistry, cultural relevance, release, growth from past work, everything. “Lemonade” is a thrilling statement from a public figure as intimate as it is overwhelmingly sociopolitical. While I’m sure she’s not exactly losing sleep over lack of recognition, it’s an issue of justice and one that makes for incredibly boring television, which is what the Grammy Awards ultimately are.
“Winning a TV award doesn’t christen me successful. […] Blonde sold a million plus without a label, that’s successful. I am young, black, gifted and independent,” Ocean wrote. His should read as a clear warning to the Grammys: Catch up to the culture or be left behind.
Already, Drake and Kanye weren’t present at this year’s ceremony and Rihanna nonchalantly cradled her flask as she sat through an award show that somehow overlooked her low-key masterpiece “Anti.” The stage is set for the Grammys to accommodate our era’s new sounds and perspectives, which shouldn’t be all that hard. You honestly have to try harder to find out who this year’s Album of the Year nominee, Sturgill Simpson, is, than recognize, say, Metro Boomin’s contributions to music this past year. Metro’s beats were heard on some of the most recognizable tracks of the year, so where’s his recognition?
It’s sink or swim time and people have already started to swim away. Grammys, try to stay afloat.