What if all you knew about contemporary pop music was what you saw on the Grammys?
For a lot of people, that’s pretty much the case. Whether the preoccupations of adult life prevent them from keeping up with the best-selling songs or they just listen to music that doesn’t sell enough to win industry awards, plenty of Grammy viewers perplexedly spend the night Googling unfamiliar artist names every year.
But what if your pop knowledge was so close to zero that you didn’t know Adele from Beyoncé? Let’s say you’re a visiting space alien, or maybe a Trappist monk, or even Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). What insight, accurate or not, might the awards show have offered into the commercially successful music of today?
The cosmos is ruled by two rival goddesses
Like most divinities, each has only one name. The white one constructs glacial monuments to her inexhaustible sadness and tends to curse endearingly when she accepts awards. The black one blazes like burnished gold and performed an elaborately choreographed conceptual art piece about her pregnancy. But while their worshippers are primed to destroy all apostates online, these divinities aren’t truly rivals. When Adele swooped up all the awards, she apologized to Beyoncé, awkwardly, graciously, and credibly. Both women are very good at being famous.
Country music can be pretty soulful when Carrie Underwood isn’t singing it
Sturgill Simpson, whose name would alert you to his chosen genre before he opened his mouth to drawl, performed a moving, down-home “All Around You” with the Dap-Kings, the backing band for the late soul revivalist Sharon Jones. And Maren Morris, whose debut LP Hero is exactly how Nashville should approach pop music in 2017, belted out “Once” with Alicia Keys. Neither collaboration had quite the kick of Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks singing together at the Country Music Awards last fall, but both reminded you, me, and Lee Greenwood that country music has always been a fusion of different styles.
Kelsea Ballerini and Lukas Graham wrote a song together about how men are delusional
Well, not exactly. The grating Danes in the band Lukas Graham simper inaccurate cliches about growing up in their song “7 Years.” Darling Nashville ingenue Kelsea Ballerini has a song called “Peter Pan” about a boy who never matures. Weirdly, someone decided they should perform both hits in tandem, so Lukas Forchhammer would sing about how he was getting wiser, then Ballerini would seem to mock him with her verse. Best duet to torpedo male misconceptions since the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me.”
Rock music is about as alive and well as Dixieland jazz
What everyone will remember about Lady Gaga joining Metallica to rage through the metal veterans’ “Moth into Flame” is that James Hetfield’s mic was dead. But technical difficulties aside, what stood out about the performance was its sense of an antiquated form of music that could no longer be reinvigorated but could only be recreated. That’s not true -- there’s lots of living, breathing, crucial rock music out there. But a glimpse at the Best Rock Album nominees would not have made you feel any better about its commercial prospects in the 21st century.
It’s very hard to celebrate the music of dead people
Reinterpretation didn’t work: Adele’s lugubrious take on George Michael’s "Fastlove" was more mortuary science than tribute. Imitation didn’t work: The eerie accuracy of Bruno Mars’ note-for-note recreation of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” just made his horn section sound that much more cornball. You wouldn’t have invited the folks involved in the Bee Gees tribute to play at your wedding. And don't even get me started on Pentatonix.
Hip-hop is a music of praise and protest
Chance the Rapper, a clean-cut young Chicagoan who says “God” in his acceptance speeches as often as Adele says “fuck,” was at the center of an elaborate gospel-infused medley of his songs “How Great” and “All We Got.” A Tribe Called Quest, middle-aged veterans, sounded every bit as pissed at the dolt in the White House their buddy Busta Rhymes called “President Agent Orange” on “We the People” as defenders of Islam and immigration should be. Katy Perry closed her performance with the Constitution displayed behind her; Tribe and Busta rolled up that revered document and used it as a bat to wallop white supremacists in the chops. For a few minutes, while these acts performed, you could almost forget you were watching a dumb awards show.
People are apparently cool with Ed Sheeran singing icky sex songs
Sorry, but it’s true. The visiting space aliens are going to transport Bey and Blue Ivy back to their home planet and then blow up Earth, aren’t they?