58th GRAMMYs Mirror Our Times
In an era when much of the prevailing cultural dialogue revolves around race relations and empowerment, the big winners at the 58th GRAMMY Awards reflected that zeitgeist.
Compton, Calif., rapper Kendrick Lamar went into the 58th GRAMMY Awards as the most nominated artist (11 nods) since Michael Jackson and Babyface each scored 12 for 1983 and 1996, respectively. He took five GRAMMYs, including Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly, and Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for "Alright."
His performance of "The Blacker The Berry" and "Alright," songs that have become unofficial soundtracks for the Black Lives Matter movement, infused the GRAMMYs with the kind of social currency at which it excels, whether it's celebrating marriage rights or honoring musical icons such as Whitney Houston.
Alabama Shakes, perhaps fittingly a multiracial band with a multiracial frontwoman, won three awards, Best Rock Performance, Best Rock Song and Best Alternative Music Album, all based around their acclaimed album Sound & Color.
Taylor Swift won Album Of The Year for 1989 among her three awards. Pointing out that she was the first woman to win that award twice, Swift was passionate about giving due credit to the contributions of women.
"I want to say to all the young women out there," Swift said, "there are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success, or take credit for your accomplishments, or your fame. But if you just focus on the work and you don't let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you're going, you will look around and you will know it was you and the people who love you that put you there. And that will be the greatest feeling in the world."
Other multiple winners included D'Angelo, Diplo, Jason Isbell, Maria Schneider, Ed Sheeran, Skrillex, Chris Stapleton, and The Weeknd.
Rising up, to paraphrase GRAMMY nominee and performer Andra Day, was the theme of night. In addition to Lamar's wins and triumphant performance, there were other noteworthy moments.
Common and John Legend's "Glory," the pair's defiant song from the film about the '60s Montgomery voting rights marches, Selma, won for Best Song Written For Visual Media. West African singer Angélique Kidjo admonished the audience to "say no to hate and violence through music" in accepting her Best World Music Album GRAMMY for Sings during the GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony. Lalah Hathaway won in the Best Traditional R&B Performance category for "Little Ghetto Boy," a song about the dire consequences of growing up in inner city poverty that was originally recorded by her father, Donny Hathaway.
Mexican drummer/composer Antonio Sanchez, who won Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media for Birdman, thanked GRAMMY voters specifically because he had been "eliminated by another awards show that starts with an 'O' and ends with 'scars.'" And songwriter Kendra Foster literally raised a fist and proclaimed "we're trying to rise up" when accepting the Best R&B Song award for her and D'Angelo's "Really Love."
It was also a night of official goodbyes to musical giants, some of whom died within weeks of the GRAMMY telecast.
Lady Gaga's tribute to David Bowie, aided by Intel technology, was an electrifying appreciation of one of the most influential artists of our time. Bowie, who died Jan. 10, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Recording Academy in 2006, and an appropriate celebration on tonight's show with a Gaga medley wrapped up by a triumphant version of "Heroes."
The band that perfected '70s California rock came together to salute its fallen founding member, Glenn Frey, who died Jan. 18. The Eagles strummed through their first hit record, the classic "Take It Easy," teaming with the song's co-writer Jackson Browne (who penned the tune with Frey in the early '70s when they lived in the same L.A. apartment building). The ode to letting troubles run off your shoulders and grabbing life while you can was a fitting tribute to a singer, guitarist and man who did just that.
Things got revved up a few decibels when the Hollywood Vampires (Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp and Joe Perry) lit the funeral pyre for hard rock's No. 1 anarchist Lemmy Kilmister with a short blast of Motörhead's "Ace Of Spades."
At the other end of the genre and attitude spectrum, Earth, Wind & Fire's deeply optimistic pan-spiritual leader Maurice White, who died Feb. 4, was feted by Stevie Wonder, joined by vocal group Pentatonix, who performed an a cappella version of the band's classic "That's The Way Of The World."
Finally, Chris Stapleton, Gary Clark Jr. and Bonnie Raitt paid tribute to the late B.B. King, who died May 14, 2015. The three artists reflected different generations and genres, but demonstrated that roots music is a single language often spoken with six strings, and that all three owe a debt to one of the most noteworthy bluesmen of all time.
Between honoring our musical legacy and recognizing music's power to reflect and impact our cultural legacy, fans truly had a chance to witness greatness on this year's GRAMMYs.