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With a sweep from Bruno Mars, the Grammys snub hip-hop – again

  • Author: Chris Richards, The Washington Post
  • Updated: January 29, 2018
  • Published January 28, 2018

"I didn't think they gave the rightful respect to hip-hop." That was Jay-Z's position back in 2002 when someone asked him why he'd boycotted the Grammys since 1999.

Leap ahead 16 years to Sunday's 60th Grammy Awards in New York – where Jay-Z led the nominees with eight nods – and that respect was still nowhere to be seen. For the first time ever, three of the artists nominated for album of the year were rappers: Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino, the nom de rap of actor-director Donald Glover. But all three artists lost to "24K Magic," a collection of overly hygienic funk ditties by Bruno Mars. Jay-Z went home empty-handed.

And he'd already been having a rough day. On Sunday morning, after CNN had aired an interview during which Jay-Z critiqued President Donald Trump's poor word choices, Trump lobbed a tweet in the rapper's direction: "Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!"

But in a strange and unfortunate way, Trump's outburst illuminated something big: that American rappers are among the most influential voices in our democracy, and that their music is more significant than most.

So when will the Grammys finally figure out that rap music is the dominant pop idiom of our era? It's been 14 long years since a rap artist won album of the year (OutKast for "Speakerboxx/The Love Below" way back in 2004), and there hasn't been a rapper to take the industry's top honor before or since. That's inexplicable and inexcusable – most recently in regard to Kendrick Lamar, the Los Angeles virtuoso who became a three-time album of the year loser on Sunday night.

To the Recording Academy, it seems that Lamar is good for boosting television ratings, but not good enough to receive the night's top honors. The rapper opened Sunday's starry telecast with a riveting medley, cramming his verses with complicated rhymes about race, faith and mortality. He was also joined, for a moment, by U2's Bono and the Edge, as well as by comedian Dave Chappelle, who made an interstitial announcement: "I just wanted to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man being honest in America is being an honest black man in America." Somehow, it all held together. Ten minutes into the party, Lamar already looked like the hero of the night.

At least until Mars swooped in and began hoarding hardware. In addition to winning best R&B performance, best R&B song and best R&B album, Mars eventually swept the top three categories, winning song of the year for "That's What I Like," record of the year for "24K Magic," and album of the year. "I've been knowing these guys for over a decade," Mars said from the dais, surrounded by his collaborators as he accepted the Grammy for song of the year. "All the music-businesses horror stories you've seen in the movies, we've been through all of them."

There were other trophies to go around. In an especially competitive slate of nominees, poised pop singer Alessia Cara topped Khalid, Lil Uzi Vert, Julia Michaels and SZA for best new artist. Nashville sensation Chris Stapleton won best country album for his handsome "From a Room: Vol. 1."

And it was a bittersweet night for ascending Washington, D.C.-area artists. Rappers GoldLink and Shy Glizzy, along with singer Brent Faiyaz, earned a nomination for best rap/sung performance for their spectacular sleeper hit "Crew," but that trophy was snapped up by Lamar and his duet partner, Rihanna, for "LOYALTY."

And "1-800-273-8255," a chart-scaling single about suicide prevention from Maryland native Logic, lost song of the year, of course, to Mars.

But that didn't stop Logic from presenting himself as one of the evening's standouts. After performing "1-800-273-8255" with Cara and Khalid, Logic clutched his microphone and spoke out about the tensions coursing through this American moment. "Black is beautiful, hate is ugly. Women are as precious as they are stronger than any man I have ever met," he declared, encouraging listeners to stand up for the rights of others. "On behalf of those who fight for equality in a world that is not equal, not just and not ready for the change we are here to bring: I say unto you, bring us your tired, your poor and any immigrant who seeks refuge, for together, we can build not just a better country, but a world that is destined to be united."

Logic was one of many artists who came to this year's Grammys – hosted in New York after 15 years in Los Angeles – to make a statement. And while some expressed their solidarity with the burgeoning #MeToo movement on Sunday night by attaching white roses to their formalwear, Kesha did it with a performance of "Praying," a surging power ballad about recovering from the alleged abuses the pop singer has suffered in the music industry. With backup by Michaels, Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Andra Day and others, the song ended with some big notes, and then a big group hug.

This was a commanding moment, no doubt – but is the music industry truly committed to equal representation for women? According to a recent report in the New York Times, "of the 899 individuals who have been nominated for the last six Grammy ceremonies, 90.7 percent were men and 9.3 percent were women."

There were other messages and memorials. Country singers Eric Church, Maren Morris and the Brothers Osborne offered a solemn rendition of Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven" as a tribute to those killed in October's mass shooting in Las Vegas, as well as the victims of last summer's Manchester Arena bombing. Later, Cabello spoke about the importance of protecting young immigrants before introducing a U2 performance in the vicinity of the Statue of Liberty, piped in via satellite. The comedian James Corden, hosting for the second consecutive year, largely stayed out of the way.

One important voice we didn't get to hear a sound from: Lorde. The 21-year-old New Zealand pop phenom was this year's lone female nominee for album of the year, but according to a report from Variety, she declined to perform on Sunday night after Grammy producers asked her to appear in a tribute to the late Tom Petty rather than sing a tune of her own. Each of the other album of the year nominees – Childish Gambino, Lamar and Mars – were given their own slots in the show.

Had Lorde decided to bail on the whole thing outright, she would have joined a growing cast of AWOL A-listers, including Justin Bieber, whose cameo verse on Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's "Despacito" earned him nominations for record and song of the year, as well as Drake, who didn't even bother to submit music from his 2017 bestseller "More Life" for Grammy consideration.

As ever at the Grammys, the respect – and lack thereof – flows both ways.

Grammy Awards 2018: Complete winners list

–Album of the year

"24K Magic," Bruno Mars

–Record of the year

"24K Magic," Bruno Mars

–Song of the year

"That's What I Like," Bruno Mars

–Best new artist

Alessia Cara

–Best rap album

"DAMN.," Kendrick Lamar

–Best rap performance

"HUMBLE.," Kendrick Lamar

–Best rap song

"HUMBLE.," Kendrick Lamar

–Best rap/sung performance

"Loyalty," Kendrick Lamar featuring Rihanna

–Best R&B album

"24K Magic," Bruno Mars

–Best R&B song

"That's What I Like," Bruno Mars

–Best R&B performance

"That's What I Like," Bruno Mars

–Best urban contemporary album

"Starboy," the Weeknd

–Best pop vocal album

"÷ (Divide)," Ed Sheeran

–Best pop solo performance

"Shape of You," Ed Sheeran

–Best pop duo/group performance:

"Feel It Still," Portugal. The Man

–Best traditional pop vocal album

"Tony Bennett Celebrates 90," various artists

–Best rock album

"A Deeper Understanding," the War on Drugs

–Best rock song

"Run," Foo Fighters

–Best rock performance

"You Want It Darker," Leonard Cohen

–Best alternative music album

"Sleep Well Beast," the National

–Best country album

"From A Room: Volume 1," Chris Stapleton

–Best country song

"Broken Halos," Chris Stapleton

–Best country solo performance

"Either Way," Chris Stapleton

–Best country duo/group performance

"Better Man," Little Big Town

–Best dance/electronic album

"3-D the Catalogue," Kraftwerk

–Best dance recording

"Tonite," LCD Soundsystem

–Best comedy album

"The Age of Spin & Deep in the Heart of Texas," Dave Chappelle

–Best music video

"HUMBLE.," Kendrick Lamar

–Best contemporary instrumental album

"Prototype," Jeff Lorber Fusion

–Best metal performance

"Sultan's Curse," Mastodon

–Best traditional R&B performance

"Redbone," Childish Gambino

–Best new age album

"Dancing on Water," Peter Kater

–Best jazz vocal album

"Dreams and Daggers," Cécile McLorin Salvant

–Best improvised jazz solo

"Miles Beyond," John McLaughlin

–Best jazz instrumental album

"Rebirth," Billy Childs

–Best large jazz ensemble album

"Bringin' It," Christian McBride Big Band

–Best Latin jazz album

"Jazz Tango," Pablo Ziegler Trio

–Best gospel performance/song

"Never Have to be Alone," CeCe Winans

–Best contemporary Christian music performance/song

"What A Beautiful Name," Hillsong Worship

–Best gospel album

"Let Them Fall in Love," CeCe Winans

–Best contemporary Christian music album

"Chain Breaker," Zach Williams

–Best roots gospel album

"Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope," Reba McEntire

–Best Latin pop album

"El Dorado," Shakira

–Best Latin rock, urban or alternative album

"Residente," Residente

–Best regional Mexican music album (including Tejano)

"Arriero Somos Versiones Acústicas," Aida Cuevas

–Best tropical Latin album

"Salsa Big Band," Rubén Blades con Roberto Delgado & Orquesta

–Best American roots performance

"Killer Diller Blues," Alabama Shakes

–Best American roots song

"If We Were Vampires," Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

–Best Americana album

"The Nashville Sound," Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

–Best bluegrass album

"Laws of Gravity," the Infamous Stringdusters

"All the Rage – In Concert Volume One (Live)," Rhonda Vincent and the Rage

–Best traditional blues album

"Blue & Lonesome," the Rolling Stones

–Best contemporary blues album

"TajMo," Taj Mahal & Keb' Mo'

–Best folk album

"Mental Illness," Aimee Mann

–Best regional roots music album

"Kalenda," Lost Bayou Ramblers

–Best reggae album

"Stony Hill," Damien "Jr. Gong" Marley

–Best world music album

"Shaka Zulu Revisited: 30th Anniversary Celebration," Ladysmith Black Mambazo

–Best children's album

"Feel What U Feel," Lisa Loeb

–Best spoken word album (includes poetry, audio books & storytelling)

"The Princess Diarist," Carrie Fisher

–Best musical theater album

"Dear Evan Hansen," original Broadway cast recording

–Best compilation soundtrack for visual media

"La La Land," various artists

–Best score soundtrack for visual media

"La La Land," Justin Hurwitz

–Best song written for visual media

"How Far I'll Go," Auli'i Cravalho

–Best instrumental composition

"Three Revolutions," Arturo O'Farrill & Chucho Valdés

–Best arrangement, instrumental or a cappella

"Escapades for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra (from 'Catch Me If You Can')," John Williams

–Best arrangement, instruments and vocals

"Putin," Randy Newman

–Best recording package

"Pure Comedy (Deluxe Edition)," Father John Misty

"El Orisha de la Rosa," Magín Díaz

–Best boxed or special limited edition package

"The Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition," various artists

–Best album notes

"Live At the Whisky A Go Go: The Complete Recordings," Otis Redding

–Best historical album

"Leonard Bernstein – The Composer," Leonard Bernstein

–Best engineered album, non-classical

"24K Magic," Bruno Mars

–Producer of the year, non-classical

Greg Kurstin

–Best remixed recording

"You Move (Latroit Remix)," Depeche Mode

–Best surround sound album

"Early Americans," Jane Ira Bloom

–Best engineered album, classical

"Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; Barber: Adagio," Manfred Honeck & Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

–Producer of the year, classical

David Frost

–Best orchestral performance

"Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; Barber: Adagio," Manfred Honeck

–Best opera recording

"Berg: Wozzeck," Hans Graf, Roman Trekel & Anne Schwanewilms

–Best choral performance

Bryars: The Fifth Century," Donald Nally

–Best classical instrumental solo

"Transcendental," Daniil Trifonov

–Best chamber music/small ensemble performance

"Death & the Maiden," Patricia Kopatchinskaja & the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra

–Best classical solo vocal album

"Crazy Girl Crazy," Barbara Hannigan

–Best classical compendium

"Higdon: All Things Majestic, Viola Concerto & Oboe Concerto," Giancarlo Guerrero

–Best contemporary classical composition

"Viola Concerto," Roberto Díaz, Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony

–Best music film

"The Defiant Ones," various artists

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