NEW YORK, Jan 30, (Agencies): After a tumultuous political year, the Grammys took a stand for the rights of women and immigrants — but the top awards went to a singer whose mind is on sex, booze and parties.
The surprise sweep by Bruno Mars has renewed criticism in quarters that the music industry’s premier prizes are out of touch with the wider world, but for fans of the retro R&B and funk star, he is an undisputed talent who provides exactly the type of joy the world needs right now.
The Recording Academy, the group of 13,000 professionals who vote for the awards, had seemed set to change the narrative this year, with hip-hop for the first time dominating the nominations.
But rap mogul Jay-Z, who led with eight nominations, left New York’s Madison Square Garden empty-handed. Kendrick Lamar, who has given musical voice to the Black Lives Matter movement, for the second time swept the rap awards but was shut out in the general categories.
During the televised broadcast, President Donald Trump was skewered, stars defended immigrants facing deportation and Kesha’s powerful performance punctuated the growing #MeToo movement to end sexual harassment.
The singer, who fought her label to stop working with a producer she says raped her, delivered her autobiographical song “Praying” with palpable ferocity.
But Kesha was also passed over for awards, with “Praying” edged out for Best Pop Solo Performance by Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” about putting the moves on a woman at a bar.
Mars won Album and Record of the Year for “24K Magic,” whose title track speaks of the sight of hot women “waking up the rocket” in his pants, and Song of the Year for “That’s What I Like” about making love in high style.
His victory triggered an avalanche of social media postings questioning whether Mars really represented 2017 in music.
The satirical site The Onion summed up much of the criticism with the headline: “Bruno Mars Takes Home Coveted ‘Least Threatening Artist’ Award.”
Justin Vernon of experimental rockers Bon Iver, who won the Best New Artist Grammy in 2012, wrote on Twitter that while Mars had a “fun voice,” the singer “made a name in the INDUSTRY by making hits OUT of hits of yesteryear.”
Others faulted the Grammys for snubbing “Despacito,” the most-streamed track in history.
At a precarious time for Spanish-speaking immigrants as well as hurricane-hit Puerto Rico, “Despacito” would have been the first non-English song to take a top Grammy since the very first awards in 1959.
The fate of “Despacito” entered the political arena, with Democratic Senator Bob Menendez tweeting that the song by Puerto Ricans Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee was “robbed.”
But Mars, whose real name is Peter Hernandez, does not lend to a simple narrative. He is himself partially Puerto Rican and also has Jewish, Filipino and Spanish ancestry.
The 32-year-old from Hawaii in an interview last year with Latina magazine voiced pride in his Puerto Rican heritage and suggested that he took a stage name to avoid being pigeon-holed as a Latin artist.
He has rarely spoken overtly about politics, instead explaining that he sees music’s power to excite and unite.
Alisha Lola Jones, an assistant professor of ethnomusicology at Indiana University, said Mars deserved praise for acknowledging his debt to R&B and funk greats rather than appropriating them.
At the Grammys, Mars credited towering African American songwriters Babyface, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Teddy Riley for inspiring him.
Many scholars of African American culture “actually appreciate that as he draws from the tradition, he’s telling us the history,” Jones said.
“African American tradition does not always have to be protest. Folks who are true to the tradition do as Bruno Mars suggests, which is get people up and moving.”
But she said that Mars’s high-energy dance routines could be an easier sell at the Grammys than Lamar, who put on a symbolism-rich performance with camouflage-clad dancers dropping to the ground to simulated bullets.
Another possibility for Mars’s victory is that, with multiple hip-hop stars in competition, he benefited from a split in the vote.
Recording Academy president Neil Portnow hinted at that theory, telling reporters: “When you look at five nominations (in a category), the math of how that works out and who votes for whom is a little unpredictable.”
Whatever the reason, the Grammys also face another issue. Initial figures from Nielsen said that 19.8 million people watched the show, a drop of more than one quarter from last year and the lowest in a decade.
Following Alessia Cara’s Grammy win for best new artist on Sunday night, the singer took to Instagram to respond to online critics who slammed her victory and the show’s rules of eligibility.
“To address the apparent backlash regarding winning something I had no control over: I didn’t log onto grammy.com and submit myself. That’s not how it works. I didn’t ask to be submitted either because there are other artists that deserve the acknowledgment. but I was nominated and won and I am not going to be upset about something I’ve wanted since I was a kid, not to mention have worked really hard for,” the singer said in the post on Monday.
Accompanying a black and white photo of Cara on her phone in a room full of balloons, she added, “I’m aware that my music wasn’t released yesterday, I’m aware that, yes, my music has become fairly popular in the last year. But I’m trying very hard to use the platform I’ve been given to talk about these things and bring light to issues that aren’t fair, all while trying to make the most of the weird, amazing success I’ve been lucky enough to have. I will not let everything I’ve worked for be diminished by people taking offense to my accomplishments and feeling the need to tell me how much I suck.”
During the Grammy ceremony, some questioned on Twitter why Cara was eligible for the best new artist category, with her debut album “Know-It-All” having been released in November 2015. She beat out Khalid, Lil Uzi Vert, SZA, and Julia Michaels for the award.
In the post, she also addressed the many insecurities she’s dealt with being in the music industry and expressed how much the award meant to her. “All of the years feeling like I wasn’t good at anything or that I was naive for dreaming about something improbable have paid off in a way that I have yet to process,” Cara said. “I know it sounds cheesy and dumb but it’s the honest truth. Thanks to everyone who’s shown me kindness and support along the way.”
Cara was also nominated for song of the year and best music video for her feature on Logic’s “1-800-273-8255,” as well as best pop duo/group performance for “Stay” with Zedd. She was the only female winner in a major category at this year’s Grammys.