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Grammy Awards showcase music world and offer up surprises


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Geoff Bennett: The 65th annual Grammy Awards last night showcased a hip-hop tribute for the ages and featured some major high points in the music world from this past year. But the top honors weren't what some expected.

Jeffrey Brown reports about ongoing questions about the process, as part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown: The night began in Spanish with Puerto Rican superstar Bad Bunny and featured musical legends including Stevie Wonder, and today's biggest pop stars, including Lizzo, who won record of the year, and Harry Styles, who's "Harry's House" brought him album of the year.

In what many, including the winner, considered a surprise, 73-year-old Bonnie Raitt won song of the year for "Just Like That."

Bonnie Raitt, Musician: Thank you for honoring me to all the academy that surrounds me with so much support and appreciates the art of songwriting as I do.

Jeffrey Brown: The award for pop duo group performance was won by Sam Smith and Kim Petras, who proudly noted being the first transgender woman to win the award.

Kim Petras, Musician: And I just want to thank all the incredible transgender legends before me who kicked these doors open for me, so I could be here tonight.

Man: We celebrate happy 50th anniversary to hip-hop, baby.

Jeffrey Brown: Another highlight, a 15-minute celebration of 50 years of hip-hop that brought several generations of stars to the stage, an acknowledgement of the impact and influence of a musical genre that has at times had a rocky relationship with the often tradition-bound Grammys.

And the queen of the night, Beyonce, of course, who made history with four more Grammys, becoming the all-time Grammy winner with 32 career awards. But this too came with some caveats and criticism when her widely touted "Renaissance" album failed to win in any of the top categories.

And I'm joined now by Shamira Ibrahim. She's a culture and music writer who contributes to a variety of media, including NPR, The New York Times, The Root, and The Cut.

Well, thank you so much for joining us.

I want to start with Beyonce, as we said, the most honored artist, and yet for Many feeling like she hasn't really been honored as she should. How do you explain that? What do you see going on?

Shamira Ibrahim, Culture and Music Writer: Thank you so much for having me, Jeff.

I think that there are a variety of things happening in that conversation. I think one of the big things is that Beyonce exists at the intersection of peak appeal and yet outside of the actual former — formal structure, rather, of what is the usual promotional cycle that is expected within the recording academy.

So the Grammys is both an entertainment production, as well as a trade award show. So, for the Grammys to really legitimize itself as what is known as music's biggest night, it needs to continuously engage the biggest artists, such as Drake, Beyonce, Jay-Z, and some of the biggest entertainers of the world, right?

And so to promote something like Beyonce breaking records, Beyonce getting feted as what is known as the biggest artist across not one, but arguably two generations is a conversation that continues to enmesh itself in the zeitgeist. So, that is something that is one part of the conversation here.

Jeffrey Brown: But not winning album of the year time after time.

And this has been a long-running question and issue for the Grammys, right, especially when it comes to Black women not winning the top award.

Shamira Ibrahim: Correct, Yes.

And part of that is due to the fact that Beyonce has expressed a desire to not really participate in the rigmarole that is expected of the academy. One of the standards that exists and is expected is to do a full promotional cycle, an 18-month campaign, a 12-month campaign.

Beyonce has, at this point, become an institution, in and of herself. And she does not need to participate in what is a run of press covers, going to all of the 12 chapters of the Grammy institution to go ahead and campaign and demand or really solicit the votes of her colleagues and peers, and really let the music situate itself as the cultural affection of change that it is.

And, really, that kind of presents a question of what the music is and what the Grammys wants to be as an institution. And that is part of the conundrum that arises whenever she doesn't actually get the album of the year award, which is, is the award really for the music or is it participating in the actual expectation or intention of really doing the glad-handing that happens a lot of these trade shows?

Jeffrey Brown: Well, there's also been, of course, the notable history regarding hip-hop, which last night, as we noted, got this sort of big nod with like a 50-year retrospective look, brought a lot of generations out there.

But hip-hop's a genre that has had its really fraught relationship with the Grammys too, right?

Shamira Ibrahim: Correct, yes.

And I think that's part of why there's a continued emphasis on the big four. With genres like hip-hop and R&B, there's a continued elision of what genres and categories are allowed to be given front stage and the actual broadcast of the program itself, what performers are allowed to be showcased in the actual main broadcast.

And, over the years, categories like R&B have gone from eight nominating awards to four nominating awards. And, as those shifts continue to kind of evolve over the years, the big four continue to showcase that that is the unequivocal positioning of what across the industry, across all of your peers really is the gold standard of music.

And that is part of why this evolves as a conversation as to where the Grammys wants to move to.

Jeffrey Brown: All right, continuing year-by-year discussion.

Shamira Ibrahim, thank you very much.

Shamira Ibrahim: Thank you.

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