Why I’m okay with Kanye interrupting the Grammys this time

I am interested in what happens at the Grammys in the way many of us are. Not as a someone with music production cred or  enough motivation to actually tune into the event on live TV. Award shows are not a venue in which I place much credibility, but I’m interested in what they say about our culture. I am interested as a citizen of a world framed by music and celebrity, and as someone who reads the Internet.

It was upon “reading the Internet” as it comes at me through social media feeds that I learned about Kanye West’s almost interruption at the Grammys, and the response that came afterward. The reaction seemed off to me, and a little hyperbolic. I saw one too many comments of astonishment that “security” would let this happen or jumping to the conclusion that West should not have been allowed at the Grammys. Even though I don’t think there was malicious intent in all those comments, this seemed a disturbing echo of 2014 and its hyper-policing of unarmed black men.

Then I read Shirley Manson’s letter. The use of the word ‘savagely’ – again, after 2014 – was not lost on me.

I did what any self-respecting Internet reader did. I went to YouTube and watched the much blabbed about moment. And it wasn’t that dramatic! Sure, it was awkward. There were gasps and nervous laughter, but in the end it was seen as a throwback and the audience was entertained. I found the original interruption back in the beginning of Taylor Swift’s heyday patronizing and disrespectful, but this time it was played for self-referential laughs. This, I read as a performance.

The truth is that no matter how I look at it, I can’t hate on this (or West’s post-show response). Beyonce’s layered, multimedia, complex album has not gotten the acclaim it deserves. It was released non-traditionally at the end of 2013, so it couldn’t properly be placed on many Best of 2014 lists. As much as Beck is a seminal artist, in this album Beyonce broke new ground, crossed barriers, explored her own feminism, combined musical styles …. was on my iPod on repeat for months (and I love alternative rock as much as the next white thirtysomething).

Something else struck a chord in West’s response. Although writers with multiple degrees will balk at doing any close reading at his “rants,” I couldn’t help but stop at this part.

“And then they do this promotional event, and they’ll run the music over somebody’s speech, the artist, because they want commercial advertising. We aren’t playing with them anymore.”

I recently noticed “Haunted” playing on a commercial for “50 Shades of Grey, “Flawless” is on countless T-shirts and “surfbort” is part of the hipster vernacular (ironically or not), yet no award. Are we taking bits and pieces of work by an artist of color and making them parts of our culture without valuing the whole of the work? Will we assimilate them into different creations without giving the source institutional recognition?

Forget the golden gramophone. The true questions go much deeper.


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