By now, you’ve surely read or heard on TV or around the water cooler that Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic won the Album Of The Year Grammy, beating contenders like Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, and Lorde. You may have even heard that there’s been a pretty significant backlash to the pick; even Bon Iver, who had no dog in the fight, chimed in on the upset, questioning how Mars’ admittedly excellent 24K could deserve to win over Jay’s deeply personal 4:44 or Kendrick’s transcendent DAMN. Digital ink is even now being spilled to decry the Grammys’ atrocious record in terms of honoring women and other minorities with awards.
You might be wondering, even now, What’s the big deal? Isn’t Bruno Mars an ethnic minority himself? You people are never satisfied. Well, I’m glad you bring the point up because it seems like you’ve hit upon The Recording Academy’s rationale in selecting Bruno over other worthy options and their inevitable defense when taken to task by just about the entire music industry over it in the months to come.
Because here’s the thing: Bruno Mars is not your loophole, Grammy committee.
I can see the thinking behind the selection. Bruno, born Peter Gene Hernandez in Honolulu, Hawaii, is Filipino and Puerto Rican, and his album was a pastiche of Black musical sounds from the past three decades, incorporating old-school hip-hop and New Jack swing, funk, R&B, and trap-rap beats to pay homage to the songwriters and singers Bruno looked up to as a youth. 24K Magic is wall-to-wall bops, a collection of undeniable toe-tappers and bedroom mixtape anthems.
However, the selection rings hollow when you consider the recording industry’s overall history of only acknowledging Black music divorced from Black faces. Elvis Presley is the “King Of Rock And Roll” for lightly editing a blues number originally performed by a Black woman, Big Mama Thornton, and playing a musical style pioneered by Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Eminem has won Rap Album Of The Year every show he’s been nominated but one (for Encore), and somehow, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ The Heist lived up to its title against Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, MAAD City, a selection so egregious even Macklemore himself had to acknowledge that Kendrick was robbed.
Once again, it seems Black music could only win the most prestigious award of the evening transplanted into a lighter, more acceptable presenter. It’d be fascinating if weren’t so damned frustrating. The rationalizations and mental gymnastics that Grammy voters put themselves through to make that one happen must have been truly astonishing. The problem is, no matter the process, the product is the same. The Grammys have sent the same message that they’ve gone out of their way to send practically since their inception: You aren’t good enough.
Why does it matter, though? Who cares what a bunch of stodgy, old, white guys think? After all, part of the fun of watching the show is the hilarious borderline ineptitude in their nominations and presentations of genre categories they either don’t understand or can only poorly define (“Urban Contemporary,” anyone?).