So, here’s a question for the Recording Academy: On what version of the planet Earth did Travis Scott not deserve any Grammys for “Sicko Mode?” I’m open to arguments for why it couldn’t win Record or Song Of The Year, but all must begin with the assumption that whatever creative circumstances would lead to that conclusion take place on an alternate earth.
The winner of the 2019 Grammy Awards for Record and Song Of The Year turned out to be Childish Gambino for his song “This Is America.” This is a fine, serviceable pick. The song had its moment — and what a moment it was. The rap internet overflowed with effusive praise and breathless analysis for days after the song’s release. Parodies and remakes cropped up to capitalize on the moment and many ended being criticized and think-pieced right off the web — rightfully so, in some cases.
So, no, this isn’t just sour grapes or a takedown of the massively celebrated, possibly overhyped Childish Gambino song. An argument can be made that the song deserved the history-making awards — the problem is, it was still the wrong choice. Yes, it was impactful, but its impact overshadowed the fact that the song itself flamed out just as quickly as it blew up, while the reverberations from “Sicko Mode” are still being felt 27 weeks out from its own detonation. “This Is America” was a moment, “Sicko Mode” is a movement. Travis Scott was robbed and there are two main reasons why.
The first reason requires we point out the big ol’ elephant in the room. While the truth could likely only be whispered in the DMs of the internet rap intelligencia, it’s plain and simple: All the hype surrounding “This Is America” actually circled its brainy, surreal video, not the song itself. The video was like a puzzle that needed solving; it had all the look of a capital-I Important work of art, an allegory that really stood for a deeper meaning. Critics and pundits had a ball unraveling its esoteric symbolism, from the South African dance moves to its passing references to Abu Ghraib and Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It was artsy and confusing, so it begged for dissection rather than consumption and those of us who dissect art for a living saw it as the Wakanda vibranium mound of content and dug in greedily.
But the song, “This Is America?” Some rumbly faux trap, a homey homage to slave folk music, and some Dr. Seuss-ish gestures toward conscious rap do not exactly make it one of the deepest songs rap has ever produced. “Police be trippin’ now” is hardly Mos Def’s “Mr. N—a” in hindsight, is it? Even Kanye delivered stronger political commentary previous to his MAGA hat days, remarking that “the system’s broken / the schools closed, the prisons open” on his widely acknowledged masterwork My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. “Power,” the song that gave us the above lyrics, had not only a moment of similar caliber to “This Is America,” it was a huge banger, with an absolutely bananas King Crimson sample no one could have expected that still has it blasting out of sports arena PAs and seemingly every new movie trailer nearly a decade later.
The second reason Travis Scott was robbed is simply this: “Sicko Mode” is a 100 megaton bomb that absolutely destroys every venue it gets played in — and it’s one of those songs that will get played, no matter who you came to see. Aside from the retroactively problematic “Mo Bamba,” it’s the most ubiquitous rap banger currently in circulation. Rappers with no relation to either Travis Scott or “Sicko Mode” guest feature Drake play it in the middle of their sets, to cacophonous responses. ASAP Rocky played it at his Forum stop on his Injured Generation tour and the audience went apoplectic.