How do you win the Grammys? Make old sounds new again

Dressed in a dark velvet suit and shirt unbuttoned to the point of parody, Anderson .Paak sauntered onto the stage like a cat to a bowl of milk towards the end of Sunday night’s 64th Grammy Awards.

“We’re really trying our best to stay humble at this point,” he purred as he clutched the trophy for Record of the Year – the fourth award he and pal Bruno Mars (of four nominations) won for “Leave the Door Open, their lush 1970s-style soul ballad as duo Silk Sonic. “But in the industry we call that a clean thing.”

Indeed they do. But why bother with humility? The Grammys, as .Paak and certainly Mars understand, exist precisely to reward music like Silk Sonic’s: lovingly played, exquisitely produced, rooted in tradition with just the tiniest sprinkling of modernity to show that the old ways are being rethought and are determined to still make sense.

In other words, Silk Sonic was practically guaranteed a good night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, where this year’s Grammys departed from the ceremony’s usual Los Angeles home in a COVID-inspired move. Remember the duo performed and recorded “Leave the Door Open” on the 2021 TV show and Song of the Year (along with R&B Song and Performance) on Sunday and will likely be back at the 65th Grammys with their debut LP, which came out after the eligibility deadline for this year’s edition. Mar’s triumph in the record means he now sits third with Paul Simon for best artist in the category.

A man in sunglasses sings and plays an electric guitar on stage.

Silk Sonic’s Bruno Mars performs at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards.

(Rich Fury/Getty Images for the Recording Academy)

The Recording Academy, which presents the Grammys, especially loves Bruno Mars because, unlike so many of their historically-oriented favorites, he’s popular with true music fans. Voters can throw trophies at him without appearing to be willingly ignoring Top 40 radio or streaming services like Spotify during their voting Sunday for album of the year – the jazz and R&B singer’s “We Are” Composer and “Late Show With Stephen Colbert” bandleader Jon Batiste – suggests just that.

Any concerns about raising that suggestion clearly weren’t enough to keep the Grammys from winning Grammys, with the shocking but unsurprising victory for “We Are,” whose most-streamed track on Spotify has roughly 1/86th the number of plays as “Leave the Door Open”. And up to a point, that’s fine: the Grammys are meant to celebrate skill, taste, wisdom, and ingenuity, unlike the umpteen other awards shows that vie for viewers’ ever-dwindling interest in them. Sometimes these traits overlap with popularity; sometimes not.

Also, it’s probably worth praising a show whose biggest winner — 19-year-old Olivia Rodrigo won the remaining of the Grammys’ four grand prizes for Best New Artist — straddles racial and generational lines in a way that’s hard to count on can not so long ago. The Academy has worked seriously in recent years to diversify its voting pool of more than 11,000 recording professionals so that it better reflects the industry it is designed to represent. But one reason an act like Batiste attracts the likes of Rodrigo, Doja Cat, and Lil Nas X is that the Academy is still — always will be — filled with engineers, arrangers, and instrumentalists (and jazz and R&B musicians ), seeing what he sees is a valuable and perhaps endangered art form.

The problem for the Grammys is that artists need skill and ingenuity do Overlaps with massive popularity are beginning to question if they’re appreciated. Each year, another key Superstar seems to join the chorus of those uninterested in participating in the Academy’s rituals; This time, Drake – who had been nominated for two rap awards – asked that his music not be considered, presumably because he felt he had been left out of the main categories.

A man in a cowboy hat plays an electric guitar and sings on stage.

Chris Stapleton sings “Cold” at the Grammy Awards.

(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press)

Though their reasons for skipping the show varied, the list of other high-profile acts not in the building Sunday was long and included Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Harry Styles, Adele, Cardi B and Taylor Swift, as well as The Weeknd, who said He’ll never submit his work again after his blockbuster album After Hours was startlingly disqualified in 2021, and Kanye West, who was disqualified from performing (despite an Album of the Year for his “Donda”) being his menacing behavior on social media.

Nobody can imagine whether West’s performance would have been good. But surely his presence would have associated the Grammys more with hip-hop, which, as it was, was limited to just two performances: one by Lil Nas X and the other by Nas, which was a medley of important (if typically Grammy -overlooked) tracks from two decades ago.

And yet the Grammys still have an appeal, not only to traditionalists like Brandi Carlile, HER and Chris Stapleton – all of whom sang brilliantly in performances built on music proudly played by hand – but also to young innovators who recognize that a bunch of trophies might help protect creative freedom in the future. Rodrigo capitalized on her moment early in the show with a searing rendition of her hit “Drivers License,” which should have calmed anyone who blames her for her Disney past; Wearing a T-shirt with the late Taylor Hawkins’ face on it, 20-year-old Billie Eilish deftly switched from muted folk to upbeat rock in her sweet and sour “Happier Than Ever.”

Two rappers/singers on stage.

SZA, left, and Doja Cat accept the award for pop duo/group performance for “Kiss Me More” at the Grammy Awards.

(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press)

Even Doja Cat, the internet-born singer, rapper, and provocateur seemed stunned by her and SZA’s award-winning pop duo/group performance for their duet “Kiss Me More.” “I like to downplay a lot of things, but that’s a big deal,” she said, a little confused in the spotlight – and a little breathless after storming back into the arena from an ill-timed outing to the ladies. Room.

This near miss was about as scandalous as the Grammys a week after Will Smith’s slap in the face by Chris Rock turned the Oscars on its head, and left this show’s producers wondering how they could create their own viral moment to justify the cost of live TV. (The Grammys’ overnight ratings saw a slight increase from its lowest-ever viewership last year.) But scandals aren’t really the Grammys’ first choice: Especially in years without an undeniable narrative like Eilish’s outburst in 2020, as they all did four grand prizes, the academy is almost inexorably drawn to cozy security blanket music like that of Batiste and Silk Sonic. Much like Oscar voters who can’t get enough of movies about Hollywood, Grammy voters want to support songs and albums that tell upbeat stories and cast a positive light on the music industry.

And if naming Batiste’s commercially irrelevant LP album of the year misrepresents the true state of pop? Surely no one would take offense to a marginal feel-good figure getting his day in the sun — except maybe the true centrists who keep marginalizing the Grammys.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2022-04-04/grammys-jon-batiste-silk-sonic-olivia-rodrigo How do you win the Grammys? Make old sounds new again

Caroline Bleakley

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