Last Sunday was the 2019 Grammys. In a major step up from last year’s event, where only one woman won a major award that was televised, women and people of color were heavily featured in this year’s group of nominees, subsequent winners, and hosts. Hosted by Alicia Keys, who opened the show with powerhouse female figures like Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jennifer Lopez, and Michelle Obama, the Grammys were bookended by a commitment to increased inclusion and representation of underrepresented groups in the music industry.
This year, the nominees were decidedly skewed towards the rap and modern R&B genre, highlighting artists like H.E.R., Post Malone, and Cardi B alongside country artists Kacey Musgraves and duo Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in categories like Album of Year and Record of the Year. Compared to past years, the Recording Academy had also nominated one of the most diverse groups of artists in regards to race, gender, ethnicity, and genre. It seems they have made a concentrated effort to highlight artists of color, particularly women of color, with performances from Jennifer Lopez, Janelle Monáe, and Keys. Here are the major highlights from the night!
Childish Gambino, real name Donald Glover, made Grammys history with his track “This is America,” winning a total of four Grammys for his powerful single. Winning the award for Best Music Video, Best Rap/Sung Performance, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year, Glover continues to showcase his talents for songwriting and culturally relevant critique. Beyond snatching four awards in one night, the win of “This is America” was rap’s first in the categories of Record of the Year and Song of the Year, once again solidifying itself as a genre that must be acknowledged. Where in the past, the Recording Academy had failed to recognize culturally relevant music (/*cough/* Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly /*cough/*), this year was truly one where rap and hip hop shone.
Of course, the Grammys aren’t the Grammys without controversy — this time over Cardi B’s win for Best Rap Album. Invasion of Privacy stood amongst the likes of Travis Scott’s Astroworld, Pusha T’s Daytona, Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap, and most notably, Mac Miller’s Swimming. Cardi B, who sports one of the most impressive rises to popularity in the music industry, was the only female rapper nominated, and she made history by being the only female rapper who has ever won the award for Best Rap Album. However, this historic win was clouded by disappointment over Mac Miller’s snub, especially with this year being Miller’s last to be included. This snub was made only more disappointing and insulting when you remember that Miller’s parents were flown out by the Recording Academy to attend the event. Promised a touching video tribute if their son had won, Miller’s parents — and the internet — had expected Swimming to win that night, only to be left hurt and insulted.
One of the best surprises of the night was country star Kacey Musgraves’ win for Album of the Year with her album Golden Hour. Hailed as the country musician for people who don’t like country, Musgraves stood in line for the award with Drake, Cardi B, Brandi Carlile, H.E.R., Post Malone, Janelle Monáe, and Kendrick Lamar, to stand out on top. The album mashed her country style with disco and synth pop, adopting a dreamier aesthetic than her previous albums. Known for her ability to successfully blend musical styles and experiment with her songwriting, Musgraves won three other awards for Golden Hour: Best Country Album, Best Country Song, and Country Solo Performance. Her win is a major one for country music, as she is the first country artist — and first female country artist — to be nominated since Taylor Swift’s Fearless in 2010. As her album finds newfound popularity amongst mainstream listeners, Musgraves finds herself at the front of a new movement for country to begin integrating itself into pop culture.
Other notable wins of the night were Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s album Everything is Love for Best Urban Contemporary Album, Ariana Grande’s album Sweetener for Best Pop Album, and newcomer Ella Mai’s summer hit, “Boo’d Up” for Best R&B Song.
While this has definitely been one of the best Grammys events in recent times (compared to the Recording Academy’s decision to choose Taylor Swift’s 1989 over Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly for best album), there is still something to be said for the Academy’s tendencies toward bias. Genres like indie rock, bedroom pop, and alternative still get pushed to the side in favor of the more commercially successful artists, clearly sticking to a bias for marketability and financial success over true inclusion of all forms of art. That said, hip hop, rap, and R&B’s growing popularity has solidified them as culturally important genres, and their overwhelming presence in this year’s Grammys was well-deserved. Where artists like H.E.R., Janelle Monae, and Tierra Whack have previously been left at the sidelines, their explorative and pioneering style of music has shown the music industry that women artists of color are a force to be acknowledged — and acknowledged they finally have been.