2020 Grammy Awards: Recap and Reactions

Story posted January 30, 2020 in Arts & Entertainment, CommRadio by CommRadio Arts & Entertainment Staff

The CommRadio Arts & Entertainment staff takes a look back on some of the most iconic moments from the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards.

The touching tribute to Kobe Bryant

Following the untimely death of former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant earlier in the day, it was difficult for many people to feel OK with celebrating music that night. However, the artists honored Bryant and carried themselves throughout the night with incredible tact.

Alicia Keys, the host of the night, brought together a sudden tribute for Bryant with a performance from Boyz II Men. Keys expressed the significance of the Staples Center as being “the house that Kobe Bryant built.”

Bryant’s death loomed over the entire country, though Keys made audiences feel at ease by sharing the importance of music to heal. It was an incredible speech during a difficult time that reminded people that it was OK to laugh and enjoy music because of its incredibly powerful ability to bring people together.  —Jade Campos

Billie Eilish swept the general category and deserved it

The 18-year-old musician came out with an album that reached heights even its lofty starting expectations were unable to keep up with. “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” finished the year as the top charting album in the United States, and at one point or another reached No. 1 in 18 other countries. Eilish might not have expected things to go this way, but they did. Now, Eilish is one of two people to win Best Record, Best Song, Best Album and Best New Artist in the same year.

There are several things that make this feat remarkable. For starters, Eilish was only 17 when “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” was released. Her brother Finneas, the only other main creative force behind the record, was 21. Additionally, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” is an album that could change pop music. It is rare that an album so soft-sounding reaches the level of popularity that Eilish’s debut did, and her album, alongside its lead single “Bad Guy,” was deserving of the recognition that it got.

When Eilish took home all four awards, the music world should have been in celebration of this remarkable achievement. But some took to the internet to criticize the recording academy and Eilish herself over the Grammy sweep. Much of this criticism was from fans who believed Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” or Lana Del Rey’s “Norman F****** Rockwell!” were more deserving of a Grammy than Eilish.

This is a reasonable critique. Both albums were critically acclaimed and overwhelmingly popular, as was Eilish’s album. Grande and Del Rey both made incredible albums that are worthy of a Grammy, but going online and attacking Eilish, an 18-year-old, is not the right way to question the legitimacy of an award.

There is very little in music that is objective. Almost everything is a matter of opinion. Just because the Recording Academy, a musical institution comprised of music professionals voicing their opinion, chose “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” as the Record of the Year does not make it the official and objective best album of the year, nor does it delegitimize the efforts of Lana Del Rey and Ariana Grande.

Both albums performed incredibly well critically, and at the end of 2019, Rolling Stone gave its album of the year award to “Thank U, Next,” while Pitchfork gave the nod to “Norman F****** Rockwell!” Both Pitchfork and Rolling Stone are American musical institutions that likely have nearly as much if not more influence over music fans than the Recording Academy.

Billie Eilish deserved the Grammy Awards that she won. It might not have been the personal best album for everyone, but the greatness and bravado of “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” should not be ignored, even if you think Ariana Grande made a better album. Instead, 2019 should be celebrated as an incredible year for music instead of maligned because one particular album or song won out over another in the eyes of a few anonymous recording professionals.  —Jim Krueger

A worldly live performance

This year’s Grammys saw the most impressive live performances in a long time, with some of the top highlights being Demi Lovato’s emotional debut of “Anyone” and Tyler, the Creator’s explosive “EARFQUAKE/NEW MAGIC WAND.” Yet, the most stellar performance of the night was Lil Nas X with “Old Town Road,” for its relevance and ability to foreshadow the future of the music industry.

The Grammys are meant to recognize the greatest music of the year, and “Old Town Road” was arguably the defining song of 2019. Lil Nas X approached the performance with creativity in set design despite the rapper not holding the same grade of talent as other musicians throughout the night. Yet, seeing the diversity of artists on the stage was inspiring and telling for where music is headed.

While it was a disappointment that BTS did not receive more air time, the KPOP band reinvented “Old Town Road” for its brief period on stage, and that’s a sign that America is beginning to move worldwide when considering good music. Globalization in the music industry is finally happening. Music has gotten to a point where a Korean band, a gay black rapper, a little boy who went viral for yodeling and a country legend can all share one stage and one song.  —Jade Campos

Tyler, the Creator is right: “Urban” categories are racist and the Grammys should get rid of them

“Urban Contemporary” is not a genre. There are no debates amongst critics and fans over the best urban albums or the best urban artists. There have never been any radio stations committed to playing the top urban hits, and no one ever says their favorite type of music is urban music. “Urban Contemporary” is not a genre, unless you ask the recording academy.

Tyler, the Creator won a Grammy for Best Rap Album on Sunday for his album “IGOR.” This, on the surface, would appear reasonable. Tyler is a rapper, and his catalogue from “Yonkers” to “Flower Boy” consists almost exclusively of rap music. But not “IGOR.” Tyler does rap on “IGOR,” but his rapping does not dominate the tracklist. Most of “IGOR” fuses the sounds of R&B, funk and pop, yet it was given the Grammy for Best Rap Album.

After receiving his award, Tyler spoke about this to the media. “Whenever we—and I mean guys that look like me—do anything that’s genre-bending, they always put it in a rap or urban category,” Tyler said.

Tyler was not the only victim at this year’s awards. Lizzo, whose album “Cuz I Love You” is undeniably a pop record, won the Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album, a category that Tyler would go on to critique. “I don’t like that ‘urban’ word; that’s a politically correct way of using the N-word to me,” Tyler said. “So when I hear that, I’m just like, why can’t we just be in pop?”

Tyler is correct in this critique. The recording academy has, since the inception of the “Urban Contemporary” category in 2013, given this award to a group of diverse musicians whose main similarity is the color of their skin.

As mentioned before, Lizzo won this year with a pop album. A year prior, Jay-Z and Beyoncé won the award with an album that featured mostly rap. Beyoncé had won Best Urban Contemporary previously in 2017 with “Lemonade,” an R&B album. Another R&B release to with this award was Frank Ocean in 2013 with “Channel Orange.” Finally, Rihanna, Pharrell Willams and The Weeknd, twice, took home this award despite releasing pop records.

The reason for the hodgepodge of albums taking home this award is simple: urban music does not exist. The award for Urban Contemporary has been routinely given to artists of color who made pop or pop-influenced music. And it’s not like these artists have been given much representation on the other side either.

In 2018, the nominees for Best Pop Vocal Album were all white. In 2019, the only persons of color to be nominated were Ariana Grande and Camila Cabello. In 2020, it was only Grande and Beyoncé. In the 26 consecutive years Best Pop Vocal Album has been a category, a person of color has taken the award just five times, and no black artist has won since the inception of the Urban Contemporary category. The last to do so was the Black Eyed Peas in 2009.

It is astonishing to think that not only does the “Urban Contemporary” category persist in 2020 but also that he award was introduced less than a decade ago. By creating the award, the Recording Academy has suggested that pop music is a white genre, and that the music made by Lizzo, Rihanna or Tyler, the Creator is inherently different because of the color of their skin.

In doing so, the Recording Academy has segregated pop music well into the 21st century, and with the allegations that the Grammys are dealing with regarding sexism, racism and corruption, getting rid of  “urban” categories would be a step in the right direction.  —Jim Krueger

Women supporting women

The music industry and the Recording Academy have been heavily criticized for being sexist. Often times, it stems from a lack of recognition of women in the industry (this year the Best Rap Album category had no women nominees) or pitting women against one another. However, the most powerful women in music proved that there’s no competition between one another on who is the “greatest” woman in the industry. Rather, it’s about uplifting each other.

Many fans became disgruntled after Ariana Grande and Beyoncé were passed up for any of the big awards throughout the night. The veterans in music had to step aside for new women like Billie Eilish and Lizzo to accept the trophies. However, they didn’t seem to mind, and the winners were quick to recognize the talents of the other women in their categories. The night culminated when Eilish said Grande deserved the award for Album of the Year for “Thank U, Next,” to which Grande mouthed to the 18-year-old to “take her moment.” There were no harsh feelings in the room, only women recognizing other women for their talents.

One of the most subtle signs of support at the Grammys actually came in Taylor Swift’s absence. After being promoted as a performer for the night, it was announced that Swift would not be attending the awards show. It has been speculated that Swift’s decision was made after former Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan spoke up about her experiences in the position. Swift didn’t need to create a big fuss over her decision, as it was enough to show that she would not stand for the sexist values of the Recording Academy.  —Jade Campos


Jim Krueger is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email kruegerjim19@gmail.com.

Jade Campos is a sophomore majoring in print/digital journalism. To contact, email jmc7727@psu.edu.