The 62nd annual Grammy Awards took place on Sunday night with huge wins for Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Lil Nas X and more. However, the winners did not seem to be the stars of the show this year. The entire event felt incredibly off, the energy dimmed by the news of Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter accident (along with eight others, including his daughter Gianna) and an eerie sense that something just wasn’t quite right.
What most people did not know going into the award show was that the Recording Academy had just placed their first female CEO, Deborah Dugan (who had only recently been hired following the retirement of former CEO Neil Portnow after he made sexist remarks) on leave mere days before the ceremony based on allegations of bullying.
Dugan then filed a complaint with the Los Angeles Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, stating that she had been fired for trying to expose a “boy’s club” culture within the Academy, as well as corruption in the nomination process. She alleged that the general counsel sexually harassed her and that Portnow had raped an artist and covered it up during his time as CEO. Taylor Swift reportedly cancelled a surprise performance at the ceremony in solidarity with Dugan.
The nomination process manipulation is also very concerning. Dugan claimed that in accordance with the highly secretive voting rules, an artist up for the 2019 song of the year award was able to secure a nomination even though they were ranked No. 18 out of 20 options because they were represented by a member of the board and allowed to sit on the nomination committee. She says that this has been happening for years and has been used to cut out higher caliber songs that could have received wins if they had been given a real shot at a Grammy nomination.
Many speculate that the nominee Dugan is talking about is Brandi Carlile, a committee member and one of the songwriters behind Tanya Tucker’s “Bring My Flowers Now,” which received a nomination despite being relatively unpopular. It is also speculated that the particular song Dugan believes was cut out by Carlile was Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next,” which took the world by storm in late 2018 and which I predicted would win song of the year many months ago.
However, the more obvious issue of the night was the knowledge that the ceremony was going on in the Staples Center, where basketball star Kobe Bryant had played for years. And while almost every artist, including host Alicia Keys, made tributes to Bryant, the disturbing connection that he has with the night’s looming allegations was largely ignored.
Bryant was accused of rape back in 2003 and even though the case against him was dropped (likely due to shame when the survivor’s name was released) and almost entirely forgotten about by the public, its existence and dismissal felt horribly fitting with the controversy currently faced by the Recording Academy. Despite Bryant actually confessing to the assault, many artists still chose to ignore the pain he caused this woman and instead celebrate his athletic legacy. It was almost like what he did was unknown to the public, much like Dugan’s accusations against the Recording Academy. It is always sad when someone dies, but their actions should not be excused in their passing.
The dark clouds overshadowing “music’s biggest night” were very unfortunate because the high points were quite numerous and historic. Billie Eilish took home all of the big four trophies (R.I.P. my predictions), as well as best pop vocal album, making her the youngest ever to do so and the first in almost three decades. Lizzo took home three of her eight Grammy nominations, including one for best pop solo performance for “Truth Hurts,” and put on an absolutely phenomenal opening act.
Ariana Grande produced a gorgeous medley of some of her biggest hits, as well as a tribute to “My Favorite Things,” the song from “The Sound of Music” that inspired “7 rings.” Lil Nas X brought together BTS, Mason Ramsey, Diplo and of course Billy Ray Cyrus for the ultimate “Old Town Road” and “Rodeo” remix. Tyler, the Creator gave a ridiculously cool and strange performance before winning best rap album. And perhaps most importantly, Demi Lovato tearfully took the stage for the first time in two years to debut her brand new single “Anyone,” which was written and recorded only four days before her overdose last year.
But not even the brightest moments could outshine the doom and gloom many felt. The broadcast felt unmistakably wrong, and not just because of the Recording Academy and Kobe Bryant news. There were complaints that the commercials and lackluster performances ate up more airtime than normal, causing many fans to get bored waiting for the winners announcements. People were also outraged that FKA Twigs was only permitted to dance and not sing during the Prince tribute.
And there was extreme frustration with the lengthy “I Sing the Body Electric” tribute that was chosen by retiring Grammy telecast producer Ken Ehrlich, who has made himself a few enemies in recent years by denying performance spots to deserving female artists, including Ariana Grande and Lorde. It was unnecessary and felt like it was only there to boost Ehrlich’s ego before he (somewhat) left in shame.
Overall, the 2020 Grammy Awards just felt very shady. The only time the possible corruption was even hinted at was in one of Alicia Keys’ monologues toward the very end of the telecast and even then it wasn’t brought up specifically. All she said was basically “we need to do better” without actually offering how or admitting that the problem is, in part, due to the Recording Academy itself. However, the new interim CEO, Harvey Mason Jr., has just announced 18 new diversity initiatives that will be implemented with the help of the Recording Academy’s Diversity Task Force before next year’s Grammy awards. While they might improve the huge diversity and inclusion problems currently facing the Academy, the fact that this was a concern that went unaddressed last year as well leaves viewers with very little hope for the future. I guess we will just have to wait and see.