"Just as we have the power to shape culture, we also have the power to undo the culture that does not serve us well."
So said Janelle Monae as she introduced Kesha's fiery, passionate performance at the 60th Grammy Awards ceremony on Sunday.
Monae is right. And a good place to start would be with the Grammys , because this year's to-do boldly underscored the fact that the Recording Academy's yearly best-of qualifies as "culture that does not serve us well."
This is perhaps most obvious for women, who were granted a platform to speak truth to power this year, but were largely pushed aside when it came time to dole out the awards. Eight Grammys were parceled out during the telecast. Only one of them went to a female.
The point here is not to suggest that women should be granted awards simply because they are women. No, the point is that the Grammys have been trying to have their cake and eat it too for so long now that's it's high time to say "time's up."
Or not. Asked about the post-show tumult that has resulted in the trending hashtag #GrammysSoMale, Recording Academy head honcho Neil Portnow had this to say, as reported by Variety.
“It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level… [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome."
"They need to step up" is a rather unfortunate choice of words, because so many women have indeed stepped up, and they've still been marginalized. Portnow makes the point that the art and the artist should dictate - through the work - their own worthiness. But those words ring hollow when measured against Grammy reality.
I'm a firm believer that music can celebrate our differences while transcending them. I don’t listen to music based on the gender of the person making it. Great musical art is great musical art. Period. But c'mon.
The Grammys paid significant lip service to the #metoo movement during Sunday's party, and Kesha's performance offered a visceral representation of the core reasons that a #metoo movement needs to exist. But beneath the lip service was a vacuous conservatism of the sort that values business as usual over and above meaningful change, while simultaneously seeking to benefit from the appearance of being on the leading edge of that meaningful change.
The same can be said of the underlying ties to the Resistance movement that peppered Sunday's gig. The Grammys had an opportunity to seize a significant historical moment by honoring music that represents, examines and points a possible way forward through the schism that has divided our country into factions. Just as they did with the #metoo movement, however, the #resist theme was botched by the Academy and the show's producers, who seemed to be saying "Yeah, the country's a mess, feel free to get your feelings out there, but then we're gonna go on ahead and celebrate the status quo by giving our biggest honor to Bruno Mars." Considering that the Academy had the opportunity to grant the Album of the Year prize to Kendrick Lamar's era-defining, #resist-saturated masterpiece "DAMN," this was an epic, tone-deaf fail.
It's bad enough that the Grammys routinely ignore some of the most interesting, artistic and groundbreaking work created during any given year.
It's bad enough that they are more concerned with creating a ratings-friendly television show than with honoring music's best and brightest.
It's bad enough that the industry throws itself a big, bold party during a time when streaming services are routinely ripping off artists through slave-labor royalty arrangements, as if they're Wall Street big shots sipping champagne on the balcony while smugly smirking at the Occupy protesters down in the streets.
But employing the serious issues facing the country and the world as window dressing while undermining meaningful work in those areas? That should be the last straw.
Monae is on point. It's time to shake up the culture. The Grammys should evolve, or die.