Underdogs Overtake the Grammy Awards
While there was an overabundance of glitz and glamour this year on Music’s Biggest Night — as is seen every year at the Grammy Awards and any other place where celebrities gather for a televised event — many of the winners on Sunday got their trophies for songs that were decidedly against the overindulgence found in typical pop songs. The Grammys this year seemed to be rooting for the underdogs, the new artists singing about how much it sucks not to have any money rather than the established stars singing about how good it is when you do have it.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Daft Punk were the biggest winners on Music’s Biggest Night, with the rap duo netting five awards and Daft Punk scooping up four, including both Record of the Year and Album of the Year. Lorde took home both Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance for her hit “Royals,” which examines the phenomenon of young, not-so-rich kids listening to pop music laden with images of “gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom / blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room.”
Similarly, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s “Thrift Shop” satirically rips on the materialism of hip-hop culture by chronicling an adventure to the thrift store to pick up piss-stained second hand clothes to wear to the club, where everyone else is clad in Gucci. “Thrift Shop” won Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song, while the duo’s debut album, The Heist, beat out Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar for Best Rap Album. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis also took home the trophy for Best New Artist.
In an interview before the awards ceremony, Lorde said she believes that “Royals” and “Thrift Shop” are thematically related. “I think maybe people gravitated towards those songs because maybe that’s what people wanted to hear and found refreshing,” Lorde said to Yahoo Music. “It was a crazy thing; it did feel like those two songs were kind of kin to each other.”
Lorde performed a stripped-down version of “Royals,” accompanied by just a drummer and a keyboard player. The Internet was abuzz with comments about her black-painted fingertips and general gothy weirdness, but Lorde’s insistence on being her weird self is what makes her so appealing. The 17-year-old’s mega success didn’t result in her attempting to sing “Royals” while clad in a diamond ball gown more typical of her pop-star peers.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis performed their pro-gay marriage song “Same Love” with singer Mary Lambert, and halfway through the performance 33 real couples, both gay and straight, were married by Queen Latifah. The ceremony culminated with Madonna singing “Open Your Heart,” and many of the famous audience members were reduced to tears. While the Grammys would never actually allow rebellion on their gilded stage, “Same Love” was a risky song for Macklemore to put on his first album, as he heavily criticizes his own genre for its homophobia. “If I were gay, I would think hip-hop hates me,” he sings, airing a message that hip-hop is still reluctant to discuss.
Mysterious dance masters Daft Punk performed a super funky version their inescapable hit “Get Lucky” along with Pharrell Williams and Stevie Wonder. So funky was their performance that resulted in Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney dancing in the same room. The duo didn’t remove their robot masks while accepting their trophies, so Pharrell and Paul Williams did the talking for them. Daft Punk won Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Dance/Electronica Album in addition to Record of the Year for “Get Lucky” and Album of the Year for Random Access Memories.
The number of trophies handed to Daft Punk during the evening, like “Thrift Shop” and “Royals,” also seemed to speak against the enormous egos of typical pop royalty, as the winners of the biggest award of the evening wouldn’t even reveal their faces or give acceptance speeches.
Lastly, Kacey Musgraves stole Best Country Song and Best Country Album away from country-pop princess Taylor Swift. Musgraves’ album Same Trailer, Different Park speaks the country equivalent of the ethos touted by Macklemore and Lorde. Her song “Merry Go ‘Round” describes the contagious inertia of growing up in a small town and settling for a life that seems limited by a lack of money as much as anything else.
The Grammys would never go so far as to rebel against anything, so the prevalence of artists with anti-pop-establishment ethos is more reflective of what listeners found appealing in the last year rather than some statement on the part of one of the music industry’s most bloated old traditions. It’s more likely that listeners wanted to hear music that they could more easily relate to during these times of economic uncertainty, especially for young people. The message was seen across almost every genre, from pop to rap to country. The winners last night showed that perhaps listeners are tired of music made to make you lust after the luxuries of the rich, and in pop music now what’s relatable is also, in the words of Lorde, “refreshing.”
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