Put Down Your Pitchforks: A Reflection on the Grammys

The Grammys are all about providing a good show. This year, Beyonce romanced a chair, Lorde covered “Royals” while apparently going through an exorcism, and Queen Latifah married a bunch of people. All in all, a successful night. But the spectacle was overshadowed by what many are calling one of the biggest Award snubs of the decade. Seattle MC Macklemore beat out acclaimed Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar in every category the two were nominated in—Best Rap Song, Album, Performance, and Best New Artist.

Why was this a big deal? Macklemore, who recently released his second album, The Heist, is known by most as the man behind sugary hits “Thrift Shop” and “Same Love;” beloved by the radio, loathed by most hip-hop fans.

Kendrick Lamar, on the other hand, is far from radio-friendly. Lamar’s debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, was a twisted, sobering, and beautiful narrative of Lamar’s upbringing in Compton. It’s an incredibly introspective piece of work that had most hip-hop fans comparing him to legends like Nas or Tupac Shakur. So when The Heist beat it in the Best Album category, it took about 15 minutes for every music forum on the Internet to spontaneously combust.

At first, most of the ire was directed at the Grammy committee. But within a few hours, the discussion—and the blame—had turned towards Macklemore. His win was attributed to the accessibility of his music to a radio audience, his appeal to younger listeners, and the colour of his skin. A misplaced music award triggered a massive discussion about white privilege, racism, and the grudge that the Grammy’s have against rap music. The consensus was that if Macklemore were black, not only would he not have won, he wouldn’t have even been nominated.

But what the internet rap police have failed to consider is that it makes a lot of sense for Macklemore to win Album of the Year. Let’s pretend we’re the Grammy committee. On paper, The Heist had three singles that went skyward on the Billboard charts, easily the most successful music video of the year with “Thrift Shop,” and plenty of record sales to compliment that. The album was an independant release that managed to go platinum—something virtually unheard of today. So to a Grammy voter, it’s a perfect choice. It might not be to some die-hard hip-hop fans, but these are the Grammys. Rap wasn’t even recognized as a genre until 1989. To this day, hip-hop legends like Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, and Common have yet to win Rap Album of the Year in a genre that they all helped define.

As for the hate against Macklemore, what is continually disregarded is that he didn’t give himself that award. He didn’t even think he earned it. Within a few hours of winning, Macklemore famously posted a text he sent to Lamar via Instagram;

“You got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and sucks that I robbed you. I was gonna say that during the speech. Then the music started playing during my speech and I froze. Anyway, you know what it is. Congrats on this year and your music. Appreciate you as an artist and a friend. Much love.”

And, though people hate to admit it, The Heist is a pretty darn good album. Macklemore is a talented rapper, Ryan Lewis is a smart and tasteful producer, and the album’s themes and aesthetic are cohesive and powerful. Does that mean The Heist was a better album than good kid, m.A.A.d city? No. That’s a matter of taste. But Macklemore didn’t just win because of his skin colour, and to discredit his work is just silly.

The lesson to take from all of this is that music, ultimately, has always been a matter of personal taste. The Grammys—along with other award shows—are meant to recognise popular and upcoming musicians, not to determine who makes good music and who doesn’t, especially in newer genres like rap or dance. We shouldn’t be getting fired up over what we consider to be a snub, and we definitely shouldn’t be playing the race card to discredit an artist’s work.

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