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This year's Grammy Awards somehow managed to be relevant and uninspiring at the same time

The 60th Grammy Awards came and went with relatively little in the way of drama, despite a flurry of star performances and emotional tributes: what started out as a triumph for Kendrick Lamar quickly turned into disappointment, as Bruno Mars emerged as the winner of the ceremony’s biggest prizes.

An overhaul of the voting system had led to an expectation that, after the controversy of last year where artists of colour were left out in favour of white ones; those most deserving of recognition might finally get it. This overhaul turned out to have some merit, but audience members and critics were stlll left wondering why, despite the high number of female artists performing and presenting, the likes of SZA, Kesha, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga and Lorde went home empty-handed. 

Earlier on the red carpet, the #TimesUp movement dominated the conversation, with many stars wearing the white rose chosen before the ceremony as a symbol of solidarity from the music industry for victims of sexual harassment. 

During the opening performances, Lamar played a dramatic series of tracks from his album DAMN.; Lady Gaga performed an emotional rendition of “Joanne” on the piano with Mark Ronson; and Sam Smith, who was inexplicably dressed like a doctor in a long white overcoat, put on a decent – albeit unremarkable – performance of “Pray”. 

There was a audible ripple of consternation around the room as Ed Sheeran was announced as the winner of Best Pop Vocal Performance over the four women nominees: Lady Gaga, Pink, Kesha and Kelly Clarkson. It was widely expected that Kesha would receive recognition for her song “Praying”, after her struggle dealing with a nasty legal battle with former producer Dr. Luke and the song’s resonance given the current climate of zero tolerance for sexual harassment and abuse. 

“Shape of You”, Sheeran’s winning track is catchy, sure, but nothing about the song showcases a vocal performance of any particular merit. At a time when the discussion of representation and acknowledgement of female artists and artists of colour is particularly fraught, awarding Sheeran the Grammy seemed inconceivable. And he didn’t even bother turning up to accept it – a visibly unimpressed Gary Clark Jnr. and Jon Batiste accepted it on his behalf. 

Childish Gambino, AKA Donald Glover, put on a flawless live performance, channelling Marvin Gaye with a silky rendition of “Terrified” with his Lion King co-star JD McCrary. Asides from Lamar’s show, most artists favoured slower tempo songs for the live show. 

Meanwhile Dave Chapelle’s tribute during his duties as presenter to A Tribe Called Quest felt poignant and necessary, given the hip hop collective were so grievously snubbed in this year’s nominations. Despite receiving critical acclaim for their final album We Got It From Here, Thank You 4 Your Service, Tribe did not receive a single nomination. 

Janelle Monae made a strong speech about the Time’s Up movement: “We come in peace,” she told an approving audience, “but we mean business.” Arguably the most powerful performance of the night came from Kesha who played “Praying”, flanked by a chorus of fellow female artists including Cyndi Lauper and Camilla Cabello. 

On hosting duties, British comedian and Late Late Show James Corden stuck to his nice guy spiel, avoiding controversial subjects, receiving minimal screen time and choosing instead to simply gush about the emotional performances by artists on the night.

Artists including Janelle Monae, Camilla Cabello, U2 and Hillary Clinton all spoke out on issues of sexual harassment, immigration and Donald Trump: Clinton was pictured alongside the likes of Snoop Dogg and John Legend, where she read an excerpt from the controversial political memoir Fire & Fury, about Donald Trump’s time in the White House.  

Presenting one of the biggest awards, Song of the Year, Sting commented on the power of song before announcing the winner as Bruno Mars for “That’s What I Like”. Mars was the surprise winner of the night’s biggest prizes, also taking home Record of the Year and Album of the Year. Again, as his name was announced for the final, biggest prize of the night, there was a tangible anger in the room as many felt Lamar and his critical and commercial giant DAMN. had been robbed. 

The Grammys have always rewarded commercial success. So, given Lamar’s album was a better seller over Mars’ 24K Magic; received more critical acclaim; was more relevant, and given his history of snubs by the Recording Academy… this result was hard to comprehend. 

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