Award Shows and Performative Activism

The 2018 Grammy Awards took place last night, and made a big show of supporting women. A notable moment was when Kesha took the stage to perform “Praying”, a song about her sexual assault, along with a number of other women in support.

In introducting this performance, Janelle Monae gave a powerful Time’s Up speech, saying “We come in peace, but we mean business.”

Most in attendance wore a white rose on the red carpet, symbolizing support of the Time’s Up movement, much like wearing black to the Golden Globes earlier this month.

There were a number of political moments that took place, from Camila Cabello’s speech in support of Dreamers to Hillary Clinton’s appearance.

Despite the supposed centering of women and minorities in the event, the Grammys continued its history of largely ignoring women (and Hip-Hop, but that’s worthy of its own piece).

Lorde was the only woman nominated for Album of the Year, and also coincidentally the only Album of the Year nominee that was not asked to perform solo. Conversely, Sting appeared twice, once in a sketch with host James Corden, and again to perform his 1987 song “Englishman In New York” with Shaggy. For some reason.

In addition, SZA, the most nominated woman of the night with 5 separate nominations (Best New Artist, Best R&B Performance, Best R&B Song, Best Rap/Sung Performance, and Best Urban Contemporary Album), didn’t win anything. Alessia Cara, who won over SZA for Best New Artist, was the only woman to win in a major category.

In the Pop Song category, Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” won over the rest of the all-female nominees, including Kesha’s “Praying” and Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons.” Now, I’m a fan of Ed Sheeran, and “Shape of You” is most assuredly a bop, but it says a lot about the culture when the song that wins over female artists is a man’s song about a woman’s body.

It’s worth noting that this behaviour of ignoring and devaluing the work of women in the industry is a long running trend. Rihanna’s ANTI was snubbed two years ago, and remember the year Beck won over Beyonce for Album of the Year? It’s important to acknowledge that this bias is not only gender-based, but race-based, which again, is worthy of its own piece.

According to TIME, when questioned about the gender disparity at the Grammys this year, and the notable snubs of artists like Lorde and SZA, the Recording Academy President Neil Portnow stated that women who want a seat at the table need to “step up.”

He continued by making more tone deaf, ignorant and arrogant comments about how women being left behind is on them. It’s interesting to me that the program was so focused on ‘supporting’ women through Time’s Up, and yet is willfully ignoring the very systemic issues that hold women back in the first place.

Personally, I’m very tired of these performative, hypocritical and empty gestures of progressiveness and inclusivity when really, the ones in charge will not acknowledge their own role in the institutions and systems that hold women, people of colour, folks in the LGBTQ+ community and others down.

Wearing all black and a Time’s Up pin is all well and good, and yet Hollywood still welcomes known predators and abusers (Woody Allen, James Franco, Johnny Depp, Roman Polanski, etc.) and blames the devaluing and erasing of women in media on them not ‘stepping up’? I’m tired.

Did you think the proceedings of the 2018 Grammy’s were fair? Were there any artists that I didn’t mention that you thought were robbed? (I’m personally disappointed but not surprised that Kendrick Lamar didn’t win Album of the Year for DAMN.)

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