A celebration of women that managed to snub a trailblazing queer black woman who all but stole the show. Shaun Ponsonby found this year’s Grammys an improvement, but frustrating. 

I didn’t stay up to watch the Grammys. Why would I? I may not have a life to leave, but misguided or not I like to think of myself as a rational human being and nobody actively enjoys award shows. Some people pretend to, they’re the kind of scenesters who has no actual friends and everyone writes graffiti about on bathroom walls.

I was too lazy to stream it afterwards too, so I watched it on 4Music the next day. There were four performances I was genuinely excited to see, and they cut all of them out of their broadcast, which meant I had to go online to find them anyway. I mean, what’s the point of showing a shorter version? It’s not like 4Music would be getting massive ratings either way with their incessant repeats of 8 Out of 10 Cats, which is a music show insomuch as it has a theme tune and Kelly Osbourne was a guest once.

So…what did I see?

Well, it opened with Camila Cabello, who is still milking her hit Havana 18 months after the fact. Yes, she performed that song, because what the frig else would she perform? It was actually pretty enjoyable, and was performed with some imaginative staging.

First, Cabello seemed to be on the set of 90s kids game show Finders Keepers, before moving on to Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, a genuine prequel to the original Dirty Dancing starring Diego Luna and a cameo from Patrick Swayze playing a younger version of Johnny Castle, even though he was about 20 years older.

She was then joined by a cavalcade of stars, including J Balvin, Arturo Sandoval, Young Thug and, most importantly, Ricky Martin, who has apparently been influenced by the recent success of Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody to grow a horrible moustache.

The whole performance was really just an excuse to continue the marriage between latin pop and hip hop which has been developing as of late, which at this point really needs a name of its own.

After two horrendous years with my mortal enemy James Corden hosting, this year we were finally treated to a shake up as Alicia Keys took over the duties, entering the stage dressed as Little Steven from Springsteen’s E Street Band.

Early on, it became obvious that there was a message being sent this year. The choice of Keys to host wasn’t random, and when she was joined by a group of admired women, including Jennifer Lopez, Lady GaGa and Michelle Obama – who, incidentally, received one of the largest cheers of the night. This was a night for women.

And it extended to the tributes that took place throughout the night. Although there was a celebration of Motown’s 60th Anniversary, Diana Ross was given her own segment to celebrate her 75th birthday.  She was every inch the star, pure class emanating from her every move. She made her way to the centre of the room singing her first solo hit, Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand), spreading pure joy. It was a beautiful moment.

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A number of artists got together to pay tribute to Dolly Parton, another iconic, trailblazing woman. There’s only one Dolly and none of the young whippersnappers who duetted with her could hold a candle. And they knew it. In fact, they were mainly gaping at the Queen of Country. Katy Perry in particular looked so gormless that I was surprised she could get any lyrics out – actually, I wish she hadn’t. It’s always a risk giving her a like mike.

The rest of the performances were so-so.  Alicia Keys double piano medley was cool, but long. Very long.  Far too long. Lawrence of Arabia long. Shawn Mendes and Miley Cyrus were inoffensive enough, but that could be down to the fact that Mendes is a damp tea towel who I’m convinced was only given a recording contract due to some Make a Wish Foundation-esque last wish, only to miraculously recover meaning the label had to see his recordings through. Cardi B was pretty good too, even though she seemed to think she was on the set of the Moulin Rouge Lady Marmalade video.

The worst of the bunch were Post Malone, as opposed to pre-Malone or just plain Malone, and his duet with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I don’t like to sound like an anti-tatt grandad, because I’m not.  But anyone who has his face tattooed doesn’t deserve the courtesy of a fair, balanced review. So I’ll just say that he was plain shit and stunk up the stage like a constant stream of projectile vomit.

There has been a lot of stink about J.Lo’s Motown tribute. It is true that Lopez’s performance wasn’t reflective of Motown. The salsa dance and skimpy outfit was so far away from what Motown was. But people simply asking “Why couldn’t a black performer do it?”, who apparently weren’t aware that bona fide African Americans Alicia Keys, Ne-Yo and actual Motown artist/songwriter/producer/co-founder/vice president Smokey Robinson also performed, also missed the point.

As did the people who countered this argument by stating that Motown was always white washed, an argument that always bugs me as it doesn’t consider the context of why Motown was more pop than R&B – to get black artists on the pop charts for the first time ever. Which they did. Motown came from an era where it was seen as more important to break down racial divides instead of proudly claiming them, long before James Brown had screamed Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud. Their statement during the Civil Rights era wasn’t explicitly political, but as a black owned business, they briefly became the biggest record label in America. Sometimes existing is the statement, and in retrospect that was theirs.

And that brings us to Janelle Monae. Without a doubt, the most exciting performer of the night – a dazzling display of just about everything that is great about her. She tore the place apart, and lesser mortals such as Lady GaGa were seen screaming on their feet. Which begs the question; when the hell is she going to get her due?

4Music didn’t even bother to broadcast this masterclass, and she was snubbed by the Academy. Nominated for just two awards, she lost best video to Childish Gambino’s This Is America (which is fair enough) and lost Album of the Year to a woman I don’t care about, despite being lauded not just for the music but for giving visibility to queer black women in a way that probably hasn’t been done before. This is an album that has changed people’s lives already. Awards don’t really matter, but its decisions like this that explain why – and it was a point hit home by Drake before they cut his mike. For a night that was ostensibly celebrating women, it felt like they didn’t include the trailblazing queer black woman who all but stole the show.

That said, it was refreshing to see Childish Gambino win so many awards for This Is America; Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Rap/Sung Performance and Best Music Video, making him the first hip-hop artist to win both Record of the Year and Song of the Year. It is a challenging, moving piece and probably the only instance this year of the Academy not playing it safe.

The celebration of women did, it seemed, give the Grammys a shot in the arm this year. It was nowhere near as terrible as it often is. But there are still clear problems with representation, despite some desperate attempts to compromise.