#MeTooButNotYou for Grammys

This year’s Grammy’s promised to be the most diverse Grammys ever!  There was lots of great music this year from a wide slate of artists, so it shouldn’t have been difficult to break the Grammy’s long tradition of marginalizing people of color, particularly in the Hip Hop community.  The night was looking good when Kendrick Lamar, current throne holder, kicked off the night with this en-fuego performance.

Not only was it dope, making raptastic mincemeat of Eminem’s much-heralded performance, but it was woker than Chris at the end of Get Out.  Dave Chappelle even had to check in to let people know they were witnessing peak black excellence.

Hi, I’m Dave Chappelle and I just wanted to remind the audience, the only thing more frightening than watching a black being honest in America is being an honest black man in America.

And he would know–watch the Bird Revelation for Dave’s own brush with honesty.

And that was just the opening.  The night closed with a planetary-sized sweep of top awards by Cardi B dance partner Bruno Mars.  Top song, album, and record awards went to Mars along with a few others, netting him 6 total wins for the night.

Blacks. Check.  Latinos. Check.  Woman. Check.  Bet the Recording Academy is feeling pretty good about itself right now.  It checked all of the awards show boxes, right?  Grammys are now officially Not Racist or Sexist!

Hold on, not so fast.  We Saw Bey slaying with hubby Jay z.  We saw SZA heating up the red carpet with her five nominations after a red hot year.  We saw Cardi B and Rhianna backing up the boys that won.  But no major Grammys were won by black women.



But hey, maybe that’s their fault for not being creative enough.  Bey you slacker.  Rhi you lackluster sad sack! recording Academy President Neil Portnow has this advice to you:

It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level… [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome.

That’s right, if only Rhianna and SZA and  Beyonce and Cardi and Remy worked from the heart, were more creative, really leaned in to the industry, then they could get awards like the boys do.

In the era of #MeToo, the Grammys continue to look as modern as the Macarena.  Black women were shut out in all but the Gospel category (thanks, Tay), and women were largely absent from the winner’s circle.  Portnow’s comments are out of step with what’s happening in our country, and amongst the music buying audience.  It’s time for the music industry to catch up with the times.

While Hollywood applies itself to the task of moving beyond lip service to legal and cultural shifts towards equality, the music industry is lagging behind, stuck in patterns of pumping out patriarchy and normativity.  Music audiences already have more choices than ever before to access artist both in and out of the mainstream. If the music industry hopes to hold on to Millenials and their younger siblings, they will need to open up to be more inclusive.  I’m sure they will have their own tidal wave of sexual assault allegations, and the industry is still a long way from being racially conscious, but beginning to recognize and promote the amazing talent of black women is a good first step.  After all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step–and a great playlist

The Suprise Lord of the Dance (Track)

Have you checked out this lid-blowing secret from the music industry?   Hold on to your Katy Perry pompoms.  Your favorite star many not have birthed their biggest hit.

The headline for me isn’t that one man is so amazing that he made all these hits, but that the music industry functions much the same as, say, the peanut butter or paper towel industry in that packaging changes, but behind the scenes, companies are more connected than their brand names would suggest.    We cheer our hearts for our beloved pop stars, without realizing we are being sold a prefab fabulousness.

The label holdings of Universal, the largest of the four major music companies.  That's right, the majority of music in America is produced under one of four companies.
The label holdings of Universal, the largest of the four major music companies. That’s right, the majority of music in America is produced under one of four companies.

While Boy in a Band celebrated the amazinosity of Max Martin, lots of people would use a word other than hero.  The pop market of the last twenty years has been called flaccid and insipid, with songs increasingly indistinguishable from each other.

Far from being a fair competition between hundreds of thousands of want-to-be-stars competing not for industry judges or reality TV show audiences, it is an INDUSTRY with a massive internal structure completely mysterious and unknown most consumers.   Call it the MIC, Musical Industrial Complex.  And before you shout American Idol at me, reality TV shows determine the total course of the music industry in the same way that Project Runway runs New York fashion week.  A few breakout stars each season are not the primary drivers of the multibillion-dollar music business.

Surprise, the song is not just a spontaneous creative flash from your favorite singer, but part of a process that creates a product for sale.
Surprise, the song is not just a spontaneous creative flash from your favorite singer, but part of a process that creates a product for sale.

Sure, the industry works, pumping out stars and filling a variety of pockets, but do you ever wonder what music you would hear if we had access to fresh faces, unheard voices pulled not from the most popular but from the best.

Musical talent abounds in hidden corners of every city.  The music industry selects what they think will be profitable.  As Billy Sparks said in Purple rain “This is a business; you ain’t gone too far to see that…” have you?  Of the hundreds of thousands of records released by record labels this year, only a few hundred get mass market airplay, and fewer still get the massive distribution needed to become a hit.  Never mind the thousands of talented people that never get that break.  Think of all those talent show videos where judges are blown away by a deep well of talent in an unsuspecting contestant.  Have you ever seen someone in your own community who can really belt it out—but is far from a record deal?  What about your favorite local band that never made it big?

So while I doff my hat to the creative genius behind Baby Hit Me One More Time, I also say, move over Max and let someone else shine.  There will be hits, even if you don’t write them all.