The 2018 Grammys were bookended with Kendrick Lamar moments. The show opening was, of course, another jaw-on-the-floor, iconic Kendrick Lamar performance that we’ll be dissecting for decades. The closing moment of the 2018 Grammy Awards will not be remembered as a Kendrick Lamar moment but I will forever remember it as such. Kendrick Lamar losing Album of the Year FOR THE THIRD TIME is so quintessentially the Grammys that Bruno Mars’s win has now become a conversation about what Kendrick deserves from the Recording Academy and when or IF he’ll ever get it.
That’s not a knock on the talent of Bruno Mars or the infectiousness of 24K Magic. Bruno Mars is incredibly talented. His music is still joy incarnate. 24K Magic is a really good album but an Album of the Year it is not. It is, however, the right kind of album from a person of colour that the music industry loves to applaud. It’s not political. It’s safe. It’s palatable. It made a sh-t ton of money. But this is not the Billboard Music Awards. The Grammys isn’t awarding the music that spent the most weeks at the top of any specific Top 100 chart. To me, the Grammys should be awarded to, as the titles suggest, the records and albums of the year. Last year when Beyonce’s Lemonade (the album of a goddamn GENERATION) lost Album of the Year to Adele it solidified the fact that the Grammys were still out of touch and so very, largely, mostly, incredibly white. Same goes for that time Kendrick lost Album of the Year to Taylor Swift. Or when Beyonce lost to Beck. Maybe the question I should be asking is WHY this sh-t continues to surprise me. BUT this year! These nominees! I had hope! This year, the nominees were the most diverse ever – a point the show was quick to pat itself on the back for in James Corden’s opening remarks – but the album that took home the top prize is still the one album most suited to Carpool Karaoke.
Do you think the Recording Academy is EMBARASSED that Kendrick opened the show like he did and went on to lose the highest honour of the night? They DAMN. well should be. Pun intended. My jaw was figuratively on the floor and literally hanging off my face for Kendrick’s entire performance but in hindsight, the most extraordinary moment came from one of Dave Chappelle’s refreshingly weird performance interludes. Dave delivered what could be the night’s thesis statement.
"I just wanted to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America."
The two most honest black men in music right now are Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z. I think that scares the sh-t out of the old white execs and the old guard of music that still make up the Recording Academy. Kendrick’s DAMN. is unapologetically black and an unrelenting commentary on race in America. Overall, it’s not polite or palatable. Like Kendrick’s Grammy performance, DAMN. tackles difficult subject matter in a way that sits with you. It makes you uncomfortable. It makes you think. Kendrick Lamar opened his performance in front of an American flag spewing focused rage in the form of lyrics (from the song XXX) like, “ain't no Black Power when your baby killed by a coward.” Later, he’s flanked by dancers dressed as soldiers in a scene so power, I’ve watched it three times and I hold my breath every time. In the performance’s final sequence, Kendrick takes out his backup dancers one by one as gunshot sound effects ring out on cue. Again, I didn’t breathe and again, Dave’s commentary sums up my thoughts:
“Is this on cable? CBS? … This brother’s taking enormous chances. Rumble, young man, rumble!”
Kendrick Lamar didn’t go home without any Grammys last night. He won four Grammys for Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance and Best Rap/ Sung Collaboration. Should that be enough? Every year around Grammy time, we write about how this show continues to keep black artists in certain categories. Black artists are often relegated to the “urban” categories. How many times does Kendrick have to rumble with brilliance, grace and run laps around his peers in artistry and talent before he isn’t just the Best Rapper? Stay in your lane, young man. That’s what I hear every time Kendrick Lamar is denied the top award in music. Every time his genius is downplayed again and again, I hear the choir of voices who continually suppress the musical merit of the entire genre of hip-hop. Outkast was the last hip-hop artist to win Album of the Year. In 2003. 15 F-cking Years. How much more do these artists have to give?
Lainey predicted this outcome. This year, Kendrick campaigned. He gave an interview for Variety that was very music theory heavy that seemed like a “for your consideration” statement for Grammy voters. Kendrick wanted this. He wanted to, as Lainey wrote then, “change from within, from a position of reform, as opposed to taking a revolutionary approach, which is to tear it all down and start all over again.” The Grammys is a part of a larger system of oppression in the music industry. Kendrick has based his entire catalogue on calling out systematic oppression so even if he suspected – based on history and how they just did Beyonce – that he wasn’t going to break through years of bullsh-t, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t disappointed. You could see it on his face when they called Bruno’s name. It broke my heart. It breaks my heart because Kendrick will continue to be great and the question will continue to be, “when will that greatness be rewarded on the same level white artists get to be rewarded?”
Again, no disrespect to Bruno Mars but what more does Kendrick Lamar Duckworth have to do before they put some GODDAMN RESPECT ON HIS NAME.
Seriously though, this performance?
THIS PERFORMANCE. The Grammys should be grateful Kendrick showed up and blessed them with his presence.