Music, social justice and arts representation debates converged in New York City during the 60th Grammy Awards last night (January 28). Even before the show, The Recording Academy broke from its norm and did not nominate any White male artists in the four major categories: Best New Artist, Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Record of the Year. The ceremony featured stand-out performances from—and recognition for—some of the most celebrated Black and Brown musicians of 2017.
Kendrick Lamar kicked off the show with a politically charged medley of “XXX” and “DNA,” two songs from his 2017 album, “DAMN.” The first song’s lyrics attack racist rhetoric about Black community violence by turning the lens on America’s violent repression and jingoistic aggression against people of color. The performance incorporated the song’s commentary on patriotism by featuring Lamar rapping alongside a cadre of dancers in camouflage fatigues, marching as he rapped the lyrics, “Tell me what you do for love, loyalty and passion of, all the memories collected, moments you could never touch” in front of a screen displaying a U.S. flag.
After the opening medley, the screen read: “This is a satire by Kendrick Lamar.” The message was driven home when comedian Dave Chappelle appeared on stage between songs to reflect on the performance. “The only thing more frightening than watching a Black man be honest in America is being an honest Black man in America,” Chappelle said at one point. The dancers returned to the stage wearing red hooded sweatsuits and masks for the final song. As the sound of gunshots rang out, they fell to the floor, one by one, while Lamar rapped a censored verse from his collaboration with Jay Rock, “King’s Dead”:
Burn integrity, burn your pedigree, burn your feelings, burn your culture
Burn your moral, burn your family, burn your tribe
Burn your land, burn your children, burn your wives
Who am I? Not your father, not your brother
Not your reason, not your future
Not your comfort, not your reverence, not your glory
Not your heaven, not your angel, not your spirit
Not your message, not your freedom
Not your people, not your neighbor
Not your baby, not your equal
Not the title y’all want me under
Lamar won awards in five of his seven nominated categories, including Best Rap Album for “DAMN” and Best Rap Performance and Best Music Video for “Humble.”
Both Lamar and Jay-Z—who led the Grammy pool with eight nominations, but finished last night with zero competition awards (he received the special Salute to Industry Icons Award at a pre-ceremony gala)—lost Album and Record of the Year to Bruno Mars. The official Grammys website indicates that Mars, a Hawaii native of mainly Puerto Rican and Filipino descent, is the first solo artist of color to win Album of the Year since Herbie Hancock won in 2007 for “River: The Joni Letters.” Another track from Mars’ album, “That’s What I Like,” took home “Song of the Year,” contributing to his total of six wins in all six of the categories in which he was nominated.
Mars’ wins did not sit well with many social media users, who saw his victories as evidence of The Recording Academy’s continued preference for non-political pop over hip hop:
I’m good on the #GRAMMYs. First y’all let T. Swift win aoty over Kendrick’s TPAB, then you snub Rihanna for ANTI, you disrespected Beyoncé and Lemonade, and THEN y’all let Bruno Mars win over Kendrick and Jay Z? Cancelled ??♀️✋?— Danielle Sandifer (@dannisandifer) January 29, 2018
Not surprising. While very good, Bruno Mars was also the safe choice. Jay-Z and Kendrick, are just too political for the cowardly #GrammyAwards, just like Lemonade was too political for them last year. #GRAMMYs— Lauren (@NextStopWonder) January 29, 2018
i love bruno (filipino & puerto rican brother right there) & the new jack swing influence on #24kmagic had my curls drippin in sweat every time i put it on— adelle. (@adelleplaton) January 29, 2018
but i appreciated jay & kendrick for dropping music w/ emotional depth & sparking pensive debates re: politics & culture
I love Bruno Mars, but for that song to beat Stay Woke, Story of OJ AND Humble? Nah. #Grammys Nope.— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) January 29, 2018
In keeping with the Golden Globes ceremony’s example, the Grammys spotlighted the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up initiative’s fight against sexual violence. Janelle Monáe delivered a powerful speech denouncing sexism in the music industry. “To those who would dare try and silence us, we offer you two words: Time’s up,” she affirmed. “Because, you see, it’s not just going on in Hollywood, it’s not just going on in Washington—it’s right here in our industry as well.” Her speech was followed by a performance by Kesha, a singer who faced professional retaliation for calling out her producer Dr. Luke for alleged sexual assault.
Regardless how you felt about SZA’s album she deserved at least ONE of the awards she was nominated for. But we know what happened, Grammy’s gone Grammy— TEE (@Cold_No_Snuggie) January 29, 2018
SZA was snubbed. How y’all nominate that girl for 5 AWARDS and not win ONE? I feel personally attacked pic.twitter.com/RVrDPf3pdg— Kanye no k (@Anyeezus) January 29, 2018
sza was this year’s top female nominee with five nominations. gotta say i’m sad to see her go home with no #grammys ?— Genius (@Genius) January 29, 2018
SZA did appear on stage once, to perform “Ctrl” track”Broken Clocks”:
Here are a few more of the night’s most noteworthy performances from musicians of color across genres:
Bruno Mars and Cardi B perform “Finesse (Remix).”
Gary Clark Jr. and Jon Batiste offer a tribute to Fats Domino and Chuck Berry.
Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee perform “Despacito.”
Visit Grammy.com for the full list of winners and more performance and speech clips.