Could anything that happened at the Grammy Awards 2020 overshadow and make up for the absolute shit-storm that has been unfolding behind the scenes over the last few weeks? The recently ousted CEO Deborah Dugen filing a lawsuit against the Academy just days before the show would have been big news, but it was the allegations within, including sexual harassment and a ‘rigged voting system’, that has caused shockwaves sure to last well until next year’s show.
As a fan of the awards, for all of its usual flaws, it was near impossible not to watch through a new lens, the sense that everyone in that room was aware of, had an opinion on, but didn’t have the capacity to fully unpick the mess that this institution is in. I was rooting for my favourites to win deserved awards, the selection of new and exciting artists performing and nominated this year feeling refreshing just a few weeks ago, but something still didn’t feel right.
That said it’s hard to not see the night’s biggest winners as fully deserving of their place on that stage, Lil Nas X winning both on the Red Carpet and twice for the inescapable ‘Old Town Road’, while ROSALÍA picked up an award and delivered my favourite performance of the night. Tyler, The Creator calling out the ‘consolation prize’ of being lumped into Best Rap Album for a genre bending album like IGOR was one of the few times the issues within the Academy seemed to bubble to the surface.
Gary Clark Jr won three trophies for the powerful ‘This Land’, delivering an incredible, if annoyingly censored performance of the track too. Nipsey Hussle was awarded a pair of posthumous trophies following his death last year, the tribute performance from collaborators John Legend and Roddy Ricch managing to be one of the tribute moments of the night that had real resonance with the audience. Lizzo won three deserved awards too, her journey with song ‘Truth Hurts’ being an over three year wait to this award winning moment.
The night belonged to two people though, Billie Eilish and Finneas each picking up five awards for their work on When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (The album our very own Matt Paul chose as his Best Album of 2019). Billie became only the second artist in history to win all four general field categories in the same year. The only other time someone has won Album, Record and Song of the Year alongside Best New Artist was Christopher Cross in 1980 for ‘Sailing'(!?). The pair seemed shocked, even if they were right up there as favourites in every category, if only for the fact the album was written, produced and recorded in Finneas’ bedroom in their childhood home.
The home-made aspect of these records, as well as other winners like ‘Old Town Road’, is what has made them so intriguing as a ‘award winners’ as well as chart stalwarts. The latter was famously recorded in a day by Lil Nas X over an instrumental he bought online for $30 and it just won two Grammys against songs with massive production and writing teams.
The winner of Record of the Year, ‘Bad Guy’, being a song that samples an iPhone voice note recording of an pedestrian crossing in Australia is an amazing thing to consider. These are the kinds of details that make Billie and Finneas’ work so interesting and worthy of these kinds of accolades, though. Music that sounds like the future of pop music, that for better or worse will no doubt become the ‘go to sound’ for industry execs for years to come.
I love that a story like Billie Eilish having such a big night was able to put the focus back on incredible music, even if just about everyone involved still wanted to fight for a lot more change. An awards show that wastes six minutes on a self-indulgent tribute to itself, the ill-advised ‘I Sing The Body Electric’ performance from about 20 random artists, at a time when its under so much scrutiny felt idiotic. There’s still a hell of a long way to go to make ‘Music’s Biggest Night’ more diverse and less insular in its focus and I’m hopeful that this time next year, showcasing these brilliant moments for new diverse artists will be the focus for the first time.
Words by Sam Atkins