Note: This article should be sung (very, very loosely) to the chorus of “Stay With Me,” by Sam Smith. Or “I Won’t Back Down,” by Tom Petty, depending on your date of birth and your views on copyright law. You may want a gospel choir to clap along.
Ye olde Grammys, every year, will provide us—never fear—
With some reason to despair, “Is pop heading anywhere?”
Any truth that music speaks mutes itself to polite squeaks.
The cost of all that glamor is enduring false candor,
The token social largesse, covering self-interest.
And so this last Sunday eve, you sincerely must believe,
It was quite a test of strength, and not merely due to length.
In the place of torture pliers, there were pianos and choirs,
An endless string of balladry, mostly rendered pallidly—
When they slowed down Pharrell’s “Happy,”
I nearly switched to Downton Abbey.
Not that there were no high peaks, broken by what felt like weeks:
Madonna sparred with minotaurs, which overall was not a bore.
Usher did Stevie with harpist, soon joined by the O.G. artist.
Lennox sang Nina Simone, and nearly made the song her own,
Saving us from Hozier (whose prospects have looked rosier).
Ed Sheeran scored with E.L.O., though few viewers seemed to know
This band (come unstuck in time), except Paul McCartney and Haim.
Nashville stars were the least worst: Lambert, B. Clark, Eric Church,
But the Grammys weighted down Church’s tune about home towns
With film clips on civil rights, melding wildly different fights.
At last came the touted banner: Macca, Kanye, Rihanna,
Belting out their group single, proving that eras mingle,
RiRi’s vocals straight killing,
The Cute One’s flesh weak but willing.
Sounding like a lot of show? I’ve barely gotten started, though.
Toast “all music” liberally? Grammys take that literally.
Its purported raison d’être gets so easy to forget—
In the midst of feints at power, no awards for a whole hour!
But when given, you’d rely, most would go to just one guy:
Sam Smith, with his blue-eyed soul, his profile Grammy gold—
British, charming, mildly gay, he serves while Adele’s away
To filter back, to U.S. ears, black music from bygone years,
Sans the cultural interlock that in its time made it too hot.
This makes him pop, not “R&B,” nor “urban contemporary,”
Nor the other terms of art that tend to keep black folks apart.
His biggest hit “Stay With Me” is all that NARAS needs,
“Record” and “Song” of the year, almost zero backlash to fear.
Still, Smith became the first out gay “Best New Artist” on Sunday,
Calling out an ex-boyfriend, as his main inspiration.
His duet with Mary J. Blige linked him to a more alive
Type of soul tradition, and to history’s transmission
Between black diva styles and queer male painful smiles,
With desires to express
What, in social life, they could not confess.
That might be the takeaway from the show on Sunday,
Except two twists of fate, which in ways do relate.
First there was Iggy Azalea, white rapper from Australia,
Shut out all night long, despite her “summer song.”
If she’d gotten at least one, cue debates on appropriation:
Critics were poised to strike, with think pieces overnight.
But she lost “Rap Album,” hilariously to Eminem.
Em always wins this fight—though, of course, he’s also white,
Which makes the story old, and much too often told.
Iggy lost, too, “Best New Artist”—
The Smith bettors were smartest.
And at last, to twist the blade, Prince, in tangerine brocade,
Stepping off the noosphere to name Album of the Year:
“Albums, like black lives, matter,” as the envelope grew fatter
With a charged symbolic hope. And did that thought pay off? Nope.
Though Beyoncé changed the game with her LP in her name,
Voters of mysterious ways singled out Beck’s Morning Phase,
Much as in ’01 the Man punted it to Steely Dan,
Or, back in 2008, Herbie Hancock, decades late.
So Beck should have won with Odelay, not with 19 years delay,
Or at least for Mutations, not this self-imitation.
But younger members split their votes, so awards fall to old goats.
Beck himself was thrown aback. Kanye staged a fake attack—
Simply the most amusing sight
Of this overearnest night.
Then while the world was vexed, subtext quickly became text,
As the Grammys’ final phase unveiled anthems about race.
Beyoncé’s “Take My Hand” unfolded just as planned,
Making up for Selma’s snub with a Grammy song bump,
But Common/Legend’s “Glory” was much bigger than its story.
With Common’s verse on Ferguson being where the work was done,
Finally this damn show ends itself, Beck is back up on the shelf,
Credits roll and back to “Stay With Me,” as though we might have been too free.
So that is all I have to say, save a last wish if I may:
That the tune of this damn song
Does not plague us all year long.