I’m sure this crosses my mind every year, but for some reason this year’s 66th edition of the GRAMMY Awards in particular had me asking one question: Why the hell do we even have award shows anymore? This isn’t meant to be a slight to the immense creativity and hard work that radiated throughout LA’s Staple Center (yeah, we know, we just refuse to call it by that name). But after years of tension between artists and audiences alike over who should be considered “the best” in any given category, why does anyone care anymore?
Maybe it was that it took over an hour for someone on the broadcasted portion of the ceremony to mention a ceasefire—Annie Lennox, notably, while performing “Nothing Compares 2 U” during the In Memoriam slideshow (the realest way to honor Sinéad’s memory). Maybe it was the bizarre album announcement Taylor Swift made after her last album Midnights won Best Pop Vocal. Maybe it was the juxtaposition of the two. When you have some of the most influential people on the planet gathered in one giant room in 2024, what are we to expect: A call to action or artistic self-promotion?
Although Swift made history after winning Album of the Year a fourth time, the most notable moments of last night’s ceremony didn’t seem to be about the actual awards. Following last year’s inaugural winner of the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award, Dre himself, JAY-Z took home this year’s title with a timeless speech. “We want y’all to get it right. At least, get it close to right. Obviously, it’s subjective. It’s music and it’s opinion-based,” he said of the Recording Academy. “I don’t want to embarrass this young lady,” he continued—a strange way of referencing his wife, Beyoncé. “But she has more GRAMMYs than anyone and never won Album of the Year. Even by your own metrics, that doesn’t work. Think about that.” In less than a minute, one of the greatest artists of our lifetime said what we’ve been thinking for years.
That wasn’t even his boldest statement. “Some of you gonna go home tonight and feel like you’ve been robbed. Some of you may get robbed. Some of you don’t belong in the category,” he continued. The arena turned into a high school auditorium as a wave of “oohs” reverberated from the crowd. Masterfully, he recovered a nonchalant, inspirational tone, adding “Nah, nah, nah when I get nervous I tell the truth,” he beamed, refusing to backpedal.
The GRAMMYs—both a unifying ceremony and a competition—are an institutional reminder of the industry’s contradictory nature. JAY-Z reminded us of the frustrating shiftiness of GRAMMY-winning criteria: Is it by sales? Is it by cultural impact? Is it by who has the most intimidating fanbase? Who has the best campaign strategy? The category of Best New Artist, as usual, was a perfect example of the GRAMMYs’ vague guidelines. Winner Victoria Monét, who’s already released several projects and written for various popstars, has been working as an artist for 15 years. The GRAMMYs are not a reflection of the immediate or real present. It’s a Swarovski-bedazzled garbage fire perpetually trying to put itself out.
Maybe the most uncomfortable part of the night was when GRAMMY President/CEO Harvey Mason Jr. attempted to wax poetic about the unifying quality of music with a string quartet of Palestinian, Israeli, and Arab musicians. That’s a beautiful metaphorical lie for the current situation for a room full of people who didn’t want to address global politics—Lennox aside. “Music must always be our safe space. When that’s violated, it strikes at the very core of who we are,” Mason Jr. said. Music does unify; it does create community. But I have to argue that the most important music is some of the most divisive. “Music can’t solve everything. But let us all agree music must remain the common ground on which we all stand together in peace in harmony.” Strange to hear this from a man who’s head of one of the most historically divisive music institutions.
Last night’s overall sentiment seemed to highlight the inessentialness of the whole event. Miley Cyrus, who alongside JAY-Z was the other MVP of the night, discounted the GRAMMYs’ loftiness twice—in the intro video for her performance of “Flowers” and during her speech for Best Record of the Year. “I thought about it this morning as I was rehearsing, like ‘Why am I doing this?’” she queried in the former moment. “Oh, yeah! For me!” Later, in her acceptance speech: “I really hope that it doesn't change anything, because my life was beautiful yesterday. Not everyone in the world will get a GRAMMY,” she said. “Please, don’t think that this is important,” she let slip. Because, is it really?
JAY-Z said it best, from that same speech, “Keep showing up until they give you all those accolades you feel you deserve.” It’s strange to think that some of the most successful people need to be validated with a small gramophone, their fans simultaneously vindicated. The legends that returned to the stage last night—Tracy Chapman giving a rare performance of “Fast Car,” Joni Mitchell performing after years of health complications, Billy Joel debuting his first song in 17 years—proved that, with time, the awards aren’t important at all. It’s not the main reason we tune in, and it’s not the main reason these celebrities attend. It’s another reason to show up for the music itself.
Bonus: The Actual Most Memorable Moments of the 2024 GRAMMYs
- Meryl Streep crashing the GRAMMYs (GRAMMY Nominee Mark Ronson is married to her daughter, Grace Gummer)
- The Streeps crying during Joni Mitchell’s performance
- Miley changes her song’s lyrics to call out the crowd—and looking fabulous while giving a nod to Tina Turner
- Killer Mike having a GRAMMY sweep with three awards. Shortly after, he was mysteriously taken away in handcuffs for an unknown past “physical altercation.” He shut down questions about the arrest multiple times on a talk show this morning, and was dismissive that the incident would overshadow his wins: “Thirty years in game, 48 years old, beat out everyone in the thang, man. He beat the best of the best. So all you can say is he one of the best. The best album in the 50th year of hip-hop came from Atlanta, Georgia, from a man who will be 50 years old in three years.”
- JAY-Z and daughter Blue Ivy both seeming equally nervous on stage
- Laufey, who won a GRAMMY earlier in the night, playing cello with Billy Joel
- boygenius paying tribute to Elliott Smith with their matching suits
- Tracy Chapman
- Flavor Flav being Flavor Flav being Flavor Flav