Every year when the Grammy nominees get released, I honestly don’t pay much attention. I’m used to music with the widest mainstream appeal winning. Every year there’s an uproar because Adele won and Beyonce didn’t; Taylor Swift won and Kendrick didn’t; Fun. won and Frank Ocean didn’t. The list goes back decades.
When Bruno Mars dominated the awards and Alessia Cara won Best New Artist, I wasn’t surprised. The two have mass appeal. You can bob your head when you hear them on the radio, but your grandma can bob her head to them, too. So while “DNA.” was the most visceral and challenging song to break the Top 5 in 2017, I can’t exactly picture my grandma spittin’ “You mothaf*ckas can’t tell me nothing/I’d rather die than to listen to you.”
So while the Grammys failed to recognize some works of art that looked at society, the self and how we interact with one another, I feel the need to spotlight them this week.
“Ctrl” brought a perspective many have yet to see in the mainstream. SZA sings of self-doubt and insecurity, sleeping around and struggling to maintain a relationship all from an undeniably female perspective.
On “Normal Girl,” the singer ruminates on why she isn’t “the type of girl you take home to your momma/The type of girl I know your fellas they’d be proud of.” Many songs on the album read like a diary of her innermost thoughts.
The album is interspersed with clips of SZA’s grandmother and mother giving life advice on their fears and lessons they’ve learned. It’s a deeply introspective and vulnerable album, and SZA puts out a lot of private thoughts many artists are too scared to share.
The narrative of the young New Zealand singer’s sophomore album “Melodrama” follows that of a break up: the confusion, the loss, the finding-yourself and everything in between. Lorde’s written the soundtrack of young adult exploration and confusion.
The album begins with “Green Light,” in which Lorde claims “I’ll come get my things but I can’t let go” over a dance beat. The album dissolves into piano ballads like “Liability,” on which she softly sings of feeling like a burden to those around her, and “Writer in the Dark,” eerie, yet determined. “Perfect Places,” the final song on the album, finishes the story with a party-stomp and acceptance that “perfect places” don’t necessarily exist.
The emotive singer reportedly wasn’t offered a solo performance at the Grammys, unlike the other Album of the Year nominees. Lorde’s energetic and artful live performance would have been an entertaining addition to the show.
Topping many a “Best of 2017” list, Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” dominated the Grammys… if you only count the rap categories. In the general categories, in which he was nominated for Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Music Video, Lamar lost two of those awards to the aforementioned Mars.
Lamar tackles racism, violence, love and fate. He critiques right-wing media (that soundbite of Giraldo Rivera blaming Lamar for “doing more damage to young African Americans than racism” will raise the hair on your arm), America’s inherent racism (“XXX.”) and even the attitude of other rappers (“GOD.”). Lamar delivered one of, if not the most socially conscious album of the year in “DAMN.”
Ultimately, try not to expect too much from the Grammys. Mars and Cara and Sheeran and all the others with fun pop songs (which isn’t to say they aren’t talented) have won and will win for years to come because they are easily digestible.
“DAMN.” And “Ctrl” are challenging albums to listen to. They’re not something you throw on at your family’s backyard barbecue or songs you’ll hear too much on Top 40 radio (with a few exceptions, of course). They’re brilliant album because they bring new perspectives to the mainstream. They don’t discuss the shape of bodies or Versace on the floor; they discuss insecurity, systemic inequality and forces beyond our understanding like fate and religion.
It’s often easier to stick to the status quo, though, and give the award to the catchy pop songs your grandma can listen to, too.
Schae Beaudoin is the life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.