What Was Wrong With the Grammys
Where Kanye and Beyonce both went awry
The first day I came back to work after the Grammys aired Sunday before last, a friend of mine enlightened me on a little backstage story that not many people knew about. While most people were still humming about Kanye West (we’ll get to him later), I found myself even more offended by the “artist” he was acting like a fool over.
Even if you didn’t watch the Grammys in full, by now you’ve probably heard enough details to paint the picture well enough in your head. You also probably know Beyonce was there and that she performed. Beyonce sang the gospel song “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” from the movie Selma. It was beautiful, right? It’s a gorgeous song to begin with, but Beyonce has a lovely voice (I will never say otherwise, no matter how much she disappoints me). What you may or may not know is that Beyonce was not originally selected to perform this at the Grammys.
The incredible actress and gospel singer, Ledisi, who played Mahalia Jackson in the Oscar-nominated film, was originally set to perform the song she sings in the movie. After already practicing and rehearsing for the Grammys, Ledisi was booted for Beyonce, not long before the show. Apparently, Beyonce heard that she was performing the song, took a listen to her performance, and decided she wanted to sing the song at the Grammys. Of course, being she’s “Queen B” and all, I’m sure it didn’t take much convincing for the Grammys crew to switch Ledisi out for Beyonce.
No one knows the details of why the switch went down – it doesn’t seem apparent that Ledisi no longer wanted to perform the song, and was actually disappointed in the change. On the red carpet, she was asked why she wasn’t performing instead since she plays the role in the movie, and she simply responded: “you’ll have to ask the Grammy’s that.” Why did Beyonce even say anything at all? Maybe she felt she’d do a better job. Maybe she didn’t want someone else stealing the limelight, knowing Ledisi would have stopped the show with that performance. (Personally, nice pipes or not, my money would’ve been on Ledisi on a much more powerful performance over Beyonce, so I was disappointed in the choice made.) She even went on Good Morning America with a spiel about why she “chose” to sing this song. But…you didn’t choose to sing it, Miss Knowles, someone else did and you chose to steal their thunder.
I bring this up for a very important reason. It’s a very simple one – the moment you, as an artist, no longer respect other artists enough to where you are taking their performances out from under them, then you yourself are no longer an artist – you are a bully. You, Beyonce, are the equivalent ‘mean girl’ of Hollywood. Your “you can’t sit with us” attitude by taking that performance away from Ledisi was rude and disrespectful.
Now, for the sake of fairness, let’s be devil’s advocate for a moment and say it wasn’t initially Beyonce’s idea, but someone else’s. (Which I don’t believe, given the Grammys had already made their selection and Ledisi had not backed out, but that’s beside the point.) As a woman in the same industry as her, as someone in the position to lead by example, she could have declined. She could have seen that, being she played the part in the movie, Ledisi most likely would’ve brought an untouchable quality to the performance, should have let her keep it. But she didn’t. I’ve been a Beyonce fan for a long time, since her Destiny’s Child days. Since her “Bills, Bills, Bills” days. I don’t like this Beyonce. Your music is not good enough for me to stay on as one of your fans. Instead of downloading anymore of your music, I’ll probably be looking up Ledisi and downloading hers.
I decided to lead with this story with intent to bare character witness to the main point of conversation that everyone wants to talk about – Kanye. Let’s remember this is not a first offense for him – he is now officially a repeat offender of rude behavior on awards shows. In 2009, he interrupted Taylor Swift – basically a kid at the time – accepting her first Moon Man at the MTV Video Music Awards. He took her mic during her acceptance speech and announced that Beyonce had the best album of all time and should have won. Here we are, 6 years later, and he apparently hasn’t gotten over his obsessive career crush on Beyonce. You’ve probably heard the story by now, but in case you haven’t or just want to read it again, here’s basically what happened.
The multi-instrumental and multi-talented artist Beck won Album of the Year at this year’s Grammys with his first album since 2008 over Beyonce’s latest album that was released unannounced and unmarketed last year, and is basically a cocktail of club beats and perversion – perversion illustrated between her and her husband, but perversion nonetheless. While he was on stage accepting the award, Kanye rose to his feet and moved as though he were about to come on stage, sending everyone into an involuntary fit of bitter nostalgia to 2009’s MTV VMAs. Once he reached the microphone, Beck clapping and outstretching a hand in good sportsmanship, Kanye feigned a bitter expression and waved his hand passively, stepping back off the stage. The thing that got people talking wasn’t this move alone, but Kanye’s explanation afterward to E! after the ceremony, stating, “I just know that the Grammys, if they want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t gonna play with them no more. And Beck needs to respect artistry and he should’ve given his award to Beyonce.” Um….excuse me?!
*Deep breath* Where do I begin?
Let’s start with the basics. There’s a few things you need to learn about true artistry, Mr. West, that you so obviously lack. Art is not about pleasing all of those that come in contact with your work. Most any artist knows there will always be people who do not favor their style. As a writer, I am constantly having people discourage and criticize my writing, or simply disagreeing with my view points that I base things off of. It’s not my job to please those people – it’s my job to write and speak about what I am passionate about, so I do. It’s not your job as an artist to correct this, either – it’s your job to remain true to your style and continue to do what you’re good at, knowing there’s just as many people who appreciate what you do as there are who don’t. Also, as an artist, it’s your job to respect other artists, even if they are at the completely other end of the spectrum from you. I don’t expect you to have any of Beck’s music in your personal library, but he could definitely teach you a thing or two about respect.
In immediate response to Kanye’s move, while left standing there onstage during the live incident, Beck without hesitation motioned for Kanye to come back onstage with him, which he obviously refused. Backstage, Beck replied to reporters with, “I thought she was going to win – come on, she’s Beyonce! I was just so excited that he [Kanye] was coming up. He deserves to be on stage as much as anybody. How many great records has he put out in the last five years, right?”
APPLAUSE, Beck. It would have been so easy to most people to lash back passive aggressively to Kanye’s tasteless behavior, but that would have paralleled in juvenility, right? So Beck did the right thing – he was the bigger person, fulfilling the age old rule we’ve all known since we were children, that if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all.
Kanye, you told Beck (behind his back, even, not to his face) that he should’ve given his award to Beyonce. How come? Because you personally, and maybe some other people, just wanted her to win? I’m sure it didn’t even cross your mind how many people and fans were overjoyed and overwhelmed when Beck won, someone who’s carried a heavy fanbase for decades. We – longtime fans of independent music such as Beck’s – have gone years watching artists like Beyonce win award after award for computer generated music, while artists like Beck barely get mentioned. Have you ever seen any of those artists come on stage and demand a re vote? You wanted someone who has achieved most of his musical success solo and successfully plays more than 14 instruments to hand over a well-earned award to someone who needs 4 to 5 songwriters to write one song (that’s basically the same 3 lines on repeat), and numerous vocalists behind her on a track? You wanted someone who’s musical catalog is an abundance of emotion and cleverly strung poetry to forfeit an award to someone who’s really only tolerable whilst drunk and dancing in a club?
I will sit here and accuse Beyonce and Kanye of making terrible music or of not being artists themselves. Doing so would only make me as shallow as they are. I have music by both of them on my iPod that I enjoy often. I play “I Am Sasha Fierce” nearly every other time I clean my house so I can dance around with my SwifferJet. Music is delegated by taste. But as far as character, Beck has both of them beat. Back to an aforementioned thought – as an artist, the moment you stop respecting other artists for simply being different, you are no longer an artist yourself. Kanye, you also said that Beck should respect artistry – how does storming a stage (twice, now) and potentially embarrassing someone on live television just to whine about your opinion like a five-year-old who didn’t get the toy he wanted on Christmas make you sound? Doesn’t sound very respectful to artistry, my friend.