Column: Grammys get it wrong – again

Taylor Swift accepts the award for album of the year for “1989” at the 58th annual Grammy Awards on Monday, Feb. 15, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

Dear Taylor Swift,

Listen, I know this is tough, and that you’ve been through this before, but it must be done again: Imma let you finish, but the Alabama Shakes and Kendrick Lamar had two of the best albums of the past decade. It might hurt to hear, but Sound & Color and To Pimp a Butterfly are vastly superior to 1989.

Granted, I know it’s not your fault. You didn’t choose your album as album of the year — the Grammys did. I’m just writing to you because you’re an easy target. You won album of the year (for a second time). You don’t rub anyone the wrong way (unless you’re saying something that harshly acknowledges your privilege and ignores intersectional feminism).

You’re tall, blonde and sweet. You’re not Alabama Shakes front-woman Brittany Howard, who is large and black and powerful, and you are not Kendrick Lamar, with his cornrows and his jailhouse outfit during his Grammys performance and his protest politics. You’re Taylor Swift, America’s sweetheart.

That is why you won this award.

Yes, awards are meaningless. Yes, Kanye West was a jerk when he took your microphone (even though he was entirely right) and when he took credit for your successful career (he was entirely wrong). Yes, Sound & Color won best alternative music album and To Pimp a Butterfly won best rap album, so they were rewarded for their efforts to a degree. But this is despicable.

You, Taylor, made a nice, catchy pop album. The Alabama Shakes made a gut-wrenching, head-banging, heartbreaking, lovemaking, genre-bending work of art. All songs were written and composed by Brittany Howard, with Dawes member Blake Mills helping out on three songs. You, Taylor, only wrote one song on your album singlehandedly.

The Alabama Shakes utilized a multitude of instruments and moods, all the while being led, over tight, ever-changing and inspiring instrumentation, by Howard, whose presence and vocal ability is reminiscent of Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King and/or Howling Wolf.

Kendrick Lamar performs at the 58th annual Grammy Awards on Monday, Feb. 15, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

Kendrick Lamar put out an album that lyrically, intellectually and musically is leagues ahead of any work released in any genre of music over the past year (excepting, of course, Sound & Color). He takes on white supremacy, inner demons, the evils of the ghetto, fame, love and just about anything else he could get his hands on.

He did this alongside a jazz-soul-funk-hip-hop fusion of live instruments backing him. Polarizing. Revolutionary. Original. Pointed. Kendrick Lamar and the Alabama Shakes released two special albums and changed the game musically, popularizing the political and the profound.

Don’t you find find it amusing that the Grammys even nominated Kendrick and the Shakes, Taylor? This proves that there is at least a recognition of quality outside of pop music. But to snub those albums for the top award just makes this all the more painful. It means parochial pop music rules again. Furthermore, while it seems black artists have come a long way, have they done so just to be upstaged by lily-white, corporate performers on the national stage?

The Oscars are so white, Macklemore won best rap album over Kendrick’s instant classic good kid, m.A.A.d city, and you, Taylor, stay winning over more deserving black artists.

Yes, I know music is subjective. Yes, I know this award and this situation don’t have to be considered racial in nature. But being black in America is like being an undersized basketball player. You need to be twice as good, work twice as hard, and even if you make it to the rim, there’s something indelible keeping you from dunking.

Simple and done before:

“Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play

And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate

Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake

I shake it off, I shake it off” – Taylor Swift ("Shake it Off")

Simple and poignant:

“I can't tell you how I feel, but I do

Those things they say can't get to me, but they do

I don't see the sky as blue, as you do

Should I fantasize? There must be some way to love again

It's been so hard, for a girl like me, it's true

People say I look just like my daddy, cause I do

All I really want is peace of mind” (Alabama Shakes, "Guess Who")

Anything but simple:

“My check with less endorsement left me dormant

Dusted, doomed, disgusted, forced with

F--k you think is in more s--t?

Porcelain pipes, pressure, bust ‘em twice

Choice is devastated, decapitated the horseman

Oh America, you bad b--ch, I picked cotton that made you rich

Now my d--k ain’t free” (Kendrick Lamar, "For Free?")


Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sten.spinella@uconn.edu.