Shape of Abuse

You know, The Grammy’s almost had me fooled.

As I watched my favorite musicians smile and wave upon entry, white #TimesUp roses in tow, I thought this awards ceremony would be a solid progression in keeping the movement relevant, giving the collective statement against sexual abuse the respect it deserves.

Red carpet interviews were directed away from fashion and frivolities; I watched Ryan Seacrest ask every single interviewee, male or female, what the movement meant to them personally. The Grammy’s dialogue was focused, reverent and allied. Before the show began, I really thought the Recording Academy would nail what this month’s Golden Globes haphazardly tried to accomplish. Per their seemingly united front this year, I expected men and women in music to honor excellence in their industry with a more open and selfless gaze.

I was wrong.

An unspoken guest of honor this year, Kesha performed an emotional rendition of “Praying”. The scene was just right: Kesha, empowered as ever, holding it all together through every note; the small army of females acting as her choir, all shining in the same ivory representative of something bigger than themselves. The performance was stunning– what should have been both the anchor and the peak of the night, given the message emboldened throughout. Somehow, it wasn’t.

Perhaps it was James Corden wiping away fake tears following Kesha’s performance or Janelle Monae’s lengthy #TimesUp address that managed to say very little. As Kesha found her way back to her seat, the awards ceremony thumbed over the moment with ease, sucking up any sort of poignancy left behind. I then saw with clarity that industry awards shows and their broadcast to a greater audience are one big, deceptive dance.

As the Recording Academy clutched for dear life to #TimesUp, #MeToo and #NoMore to remain appropriate, it failed to incorporate its promises into the outcome of its awards selection. In a year that promised to listen with aware ears, Grammy’s results were decidedly tone-deaf. Ed Sheeran won out over Kesha– twice. And people see right through it.

Obviously, we couldn’t demand that the Recording Academy hand Kesha a Grammy solely based on her experiences. That demand would have no merit. Similarly, I cannot offer that Ed Sheeran’s Divide is an objectively bad record. Between the two bodies of work, the top tracks on my Recently Played even side with popularity. However popularity, which Sheeran capitalizes from with exuberance, is not meant to win the highest honor in music.

One would assume that the Recording Academy would award work that aligns explicitly with support of sexual abuse survivors and female empowerment– the very campaign the industry shouted from the rooftops in its promotional efforts. Kesha’s Rainbow, and more precisely her track “Praying”, are the literal, musical manifestations of sexual assault trauma. The message was clear in its purpose and dutiful in its execution. The music was really, really good. Good enough to win.

Worthy female nominees in the Pop category went well beyond Kesha. Lady Gaga, also an outspoken sexual abuse survivor, was nominated for her rooty, homier and all-together masterful venture Joanne. Other snubbed feminist forces in the category: P!nk, Kelly Clarkson and Lana Del Rey– all certain to have made a bigger statement than simply not showing up upon winning.

In all, the Grammy Awards premiered some of my favorite music and spoon-fed empty promises of equality and justice. We viewed a room full of industry leaders, some apathetic to the cause, some perpetrators themselves and more than a few complicit in the social and legal silencing of rising pop stars; women like Kesha.

Without tangible change, assurances of the music industry (and film and politics and every work institution in existence) are worthless. With melody or without, female’s stories must be heard. They must be believed. Only upon believing and truly committing to the deconstruction of male-dominated industries can action, real action, be taken. Perhaps then female artists will not be eclipsed by men who offer a more convenient, indifferent form of entertainment.

Until then, better luck next year.

Listen to my “Robbed Females (POP) – 2018 Grammy’s” playlist on Spotify!