Monday, February 13, 2017

Chance's Life Matters | Pop Lives Matter

Chance the Rapper's "Best New Artist" win was one of a few bright spots in an almost ominous 59th Grammy Awards.

He nailed performance as well. Bruno Mars was another highlight, both in his performance of his own material and his breathtaking, spot-on salute to the late, great, Prince (the purple suit, the outrageous guitar solo, the DANCING). Lady Gaga was also one of my favorites--she was so unbelievably badass and she owned that stage. I didn't catch Beyoncé's performance but heard rave reviews.

The Bee Gees tribute was, to me, underwhelming. Maren Morris and Alicia Keys felt like two simultaneous performances that were at odds with each other, and in my opinion, sharing the stage with Keys is a move that few artists should endeavor to make. I was stoked to hear Morris mention GRAMMY Camp in her acceptance speech for Best Country Solo Performance, but her lack of enthusiasm, both at her win and at her performance opportunity with Keys, turned me off.

And Adele. Her rendition of her own song, "Hello," felt half-hearted, and while her flub during the George Michael tribute was endearing, the performance wound up feeling out-of-touch and almost selfish when compared to Mars' pitch-perfect Prince homage.  Then there's her sweep of awards. Adele is a talented artist. Her first two albums, 19 and 21, are triumphs--they are sonically cohesive, vocally bold, and emotionally raw. She's charming and authentic in interviews and has built up a reputation for consummate professionalism in her live performances. But 25 isn't even the best Adele album, let alone the best album of this past eligibility season. I appreciated her comments about how Lemonade was HER album of the year, but she still walked away with the Big Three at the end of the night.

Adele was the safe, predictable (W-H-I-T-E) choice. The Academy would rather hand Beyoncé a nod for Best Urban Contemporary Album than admit that an album by a black woman--with themes that refuse to ignore the realities of blackness and womanhood and the intersection therein--defined a calendar year for everyone, including the whitewashed mainstream. While I'm not a Beyoncé apologist, and I think that Beyoncé herself has done better work (at least musically and lyrically speaking) than the content on her most recent release, I think Lemonade beats 25 across the board. Without even addressing the work that was overlooked in this category and others (looking at you, RiRi), it becomes clear that there is a systemic problem with the infrastructure of the Grammy Awards.

So what of Chance? What of the indie artist who had to petition the Academy to be nominated, the black hip-hop wunderkind (he's only 4 years older than me, which I'm trying not to think about) who triumphed in a way that reassures us, despite all the times that Kanye and Kendrick and Frank were snubbed?

There's hope for the future.

In all likelihood, me and my classmates in the pop program will be shaping the Grammys in a few years' time. Many of us will be the instrumentalists that tour, play award shows, and do session work tirelessly. Some of us will be writing the music that gets honored with tributes and shiny hardware. A few of us may even clinch nominations. And Chance the Rapper, however elevated his current status, is part of our generation. We're all just '90s babies with a love of the craft and the talent to communicate our stories. My classmates are some of the most diverse and gifted musicians I've ever heard. Some of us are ethnic or religious minorities. Some of us are queer. Some of us are immigrants or first-generation college students. We come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. And we represent an even wider range of musical identities. Adele is great. But the future of music not a homogeneous landscape peopled with white balladeers. Based on just the few dozen pop majors currently enrolled at Thornton, the future of music is a loud, bright, proud outburst of color and sound.

We are all Chance the Rapper, the unsigned underdog who is so good that they can't be ignored for long.

Chance's life matters.

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