Despite the fact that 2014 was a year of much interest and experimentation in music, many agree that the 2015 Grammy awards proved to be a bit underwhelming. Other than Sam Smith’s intense sweep and Madonna’s scorching performance, little controversy rose from the expected or the unexpected turnouts of this year’s show. Instead, what got people talking was not the music, but rather the always-provocative theatrics of Yeezus himself.
For those who missed it, the rarely cautious Kanye “pulled a Kanye” at the night’s climax as Beck — if you don’t know him, trust me, you know him — was awarded Album of the Year for his album “Morning Phase,” a first win for Beck. While Kanye claims that his bum-rushing the stage was “kind of a joke,” his attitude in all post-show interviews make it clear he had no intent to defend this claim. We see instead almost the complete opposite, as Kanye opens up about Beck’s win, the veracity of the Grammys and how this all relates to the music industry’s supposed butchering of creativity.
In his post-show interview with Ryan Seacrest, Kanye said, “If [the Grammys] want real artists to keep coming back, they gotta quit playing with us … Beck needs to respect artistry, and he should have given his award to Beyoncé. And at this point, we [are] tired of it, ‘cause what happens is if you keep on diminishing art and not respecting the craft and smacking people in their face after they deliver monumental feats in music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration. And we as musicians need to inspire people … I’m not going to do nothing to put my daughter at risk, but I am going to fight for creativity. That’s the reason I didn’t say nothing tonight — but y’all know what that mean when Ye walked on that stage.”
Whether this is a case of immaturity or Kanye showing his fervor toward the industry is arguable. A better debate, though, may not be one about who is to blame for a non-imaginative music industry but instead one regarding the actual condition of the industry at the moment. The public’s demand for satisfying awards show sways the results of the show as well as who is considered for nominations in the first place. The Academy has pressure put on them to please the young, the old and everyone in between while smoothly harmonizing trends and tradition. If Kanye, or anyone for that matter, is looking for validation of actual artistry from an award show rooted in ratings and Twitter trends, perhaps we need a new definition of artistry altogether.
This is where the integrity of Kanye’s assertions becomes a little fuzzy. The conversation of whether or not the Academy has always been the defining factor in what is deemed “artistic” could go either way, and while Kanye seems to have an almost sensible opinion on the matter, his argument is lost in the irony of his statements — he is, essentially, fighting for artistry by discrediting artistry.
Why is anyone even surprised? It’s Kanye.
It is hard, though, as a viewer, not to get caught up in the subplots of the entertainment industry. More than ever, you can see an artist’s brand become not only part of the artist’s image, but part of his or her role within the industry. Katy Perry touched on this phenomenon a few weeks back in her interview with Elle Magazine, expressing that, “As pop figures, we’re all characters. And the media uses that. Who is the sweetheart, who is the villain? You know. Taylor’s the sweetheart. Kanye’s the villain. That’s the narrative.”
If anything, it is this sort of role-play that leads to these unnecessary theatrics, as well reasoning for why many artists never become characters in the narrative: they are simply never cast.
While the irony in Kanye’s assertions is clear, it should be noted that, if Kanye had ignored the voices in his head that told him to go on stage, all conversation of the 2015 Grammys would, by now, be over. When dissociated from the theatrics of the entertainment industry, it is unclear whether — in an industry dependent on its audience’s attachment to its narrative — the music alone can carry its own weight.