The 2023 Grammys Chose Chaos

The 2023 Grammys Chose Chaos

At a certain point it is fair to ask whether the Grammys are haunted. The Recording Industry Academy of America can modernize its voting system, it can diversify its membership, but when the number two pencil hits the paper on those ballots, the voting body seems to be possessed. “Jethro Tull is heavy metal,” a voice hisses. “This Steely Dan album with no hits on it is better than Kid A, Midnite Vultures, and The Marshall Mathers LP.” The Academy gets what the Academy wants, what the Academy has always wanted. The Grammy voter doesn’t want to obey, but the Grammy voter is powerless, and so the chaos vote is cast, and the chaos vote is for Bonnie Raitt. It shall forever be thus.

It was already a weird night long before ol’ Bonnie swiped Song of the Year from Harry Styles's “As It Was” and Beyoncé's “Break My Soul” with “Just Like That,” a song nobody had heard until sometime this morning, leaving us to wonder whether the win was a sort of lifetime-achievement situation for a longtime Grammy favorite, or just an expression of support for the Sex and the City reboot. It was confounding long before the Grammy Salute To Fifty Years Of Hip-Hop And Six Or So Of Pretending Kanye West Doesn’t Exist. It was strange hours before Album of the Year went to the second-best album of the year.

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The show that began weird ended even weirder when Harry Styles took home the Album of the Year award. Frazer Harrison - Getty Images

No, the weirdness started right away, when the producers of the telecast decided to give an enormous amount of screen-time to some super-fans, who had a White Table Talk to rep for their favorite artists. Listen: I love it when people get to be awkward on television. It’s why I love game shows! But on a night when we are celebrating music and its unique ability to penetrate boundaries and unite people, pretty much every Best Album nominee was defended by a listener right in the middle of its expected demographic. Look, here’s the less-edgy Jenna Bush Connecticut wine mom who lives (laughs, loves) for Coldplay! Say hello to the West Hollywood gym owner with a big personality who interrupted a busy day of saying “it’s giving” to rep for ABBA’s “Voyage!” Behold the middle-aged lesbian with the Richard Spencer haircut who hears herself in Brandi Carlile’s music! Come on. Bring me the Lubbock, TX football coach who makes his players listen to Mary J. Blige before a game. Find me the teen goth with the Lizzo fixation. They’re out there!

As it was, the only semi-surprise was that Harry Styles’s super-fan was a great grandmother, a reminder that even elderly women can take part in stan culture, a note that feels especially redundant on the release weekend of 80 For Brady.

There were highlights, of course. That hip-hop tribute was bananas: Busta Rhymes going full auctioneer, Flavor Flav Flavor Flaving, and a snippet of De La Soul’s “Buddy” on the Grammys from Posdnuos. Omissions were to be expected, and the fact that most of those omissions were women was to be dreaded: no Lil' Kim, no Foxy Brown, no Nicki Minaj or recent Best New Artist Megan Thee Stallion. Also nobody from the glorious mid-‘90s moment of the Hip-Hop One Hit Wonder; we are left to wonder what Positive K would have brought to the table.

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Busta Rhymes going full Busta Rhymes during the group tribute to 50 years of hip-hop. Frazer Harrison - Getty Images

Stevie Wonder led a tribute to Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy, which included a cover of the Temptations “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” which contains the lyric “I’m holding you so tight, you know you could have been a handle,” which is a thing we’re just supposed to accept. Smokey eventually joined Stevie on stage and they probably sang a song or something, but Smokey’s new album is called Gasms, and I don’t know how I’m supposed to know that and also pay attention to anything else at the same time. Have you tried?

Viola Davis achieved an EGOT with a spoken word Grammy, and I am here to tell you nobody spoke of EGOTs before 30 Rock. It’s one of those things that just hit the vernacular hard and stayed there, like “shitshow,” “welcome in,” or “gasms,” which means we can stop it just as quickly if we have the will. EGOT is over (if you want it).

Kim Petras became the first out trans woman to win a Grammy, and she accepted her award with pure joy. She also did a thing that is much too rare in this highly-charged time for trans people, which is be allowed to speak from her lived experience on television. Have you noticed how seldom trans people are invited to these debates about whether trans people should exist? Kim thanked her mother and told the crowd: “I told her I was a girl, and she believed me, and I wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t.” Simple, honest, necessary. In this moment, the Grammys did better than all three of our cable news networks and every single one of our newspapers. Take a tip, Times!

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Kim Petras made history as the first out trans person to win a Grammy. Frazer Harrison - Getty Images

Jazz singer Samara Joy was a surprise Best New Artist, in a move reminiscent of 2011, when Esperanza Spaulding got the award instead of Justin Bieber. The Beliebers were incensed at the time, but the slight has obviously not diminished his ability to achieb. In her acceptance speech, Joy presented herself as a 23-year-old from The Bronx who worships Beyoncé and Lizzo but is drawn to sing the standards. In short, she did in 90 seconds what the fan business took all night to fail to do.

Oh, also, all throughout this, Ben Affleck looked as though he were actively passing a kidney stone. I’m starting a GoFundMe to get Jennifer Lopez one enthusiastic friend.

But we must address the deep injustice Beyoncé had to face, which is that her record-setting 32nd Grammy was presented to her by James Corden. No but seriously folks, Bey seemed to time her arrival to accept the award for Best Dance Album and deliver one single speech. It was as though she knew she wouldn’t be winning Album of the Year, which knowing the Grammys as we do, we probably should have too. Renaissance got passed over in favor of Harry’s House, the album I played start-to-finish second-most last year. You have to wonder what exactly Beyoncé has to do to win Album of the Year. I am going with my preferred narrative here, which is that the album might have penetrated the Academy voting body if the visuals had been out, and this is my preferred narrative because I want the visuals already. But whatever. She still got her record, she still got a huge moment, and we are left wishing Kanye had been let into the building to interrupt Harry Styles.

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Beyoncé showed up just in time to accept her record-setting Grammy—she is now the most awarded artist in history—but with hours to spare on her being robbed of the evening’s Album of the Year. JC Olivera - Getty Images

The whole thing ended with a very long performance of “God Did” led by DJ Khaled and JAY-Z, the former of whom wrapped it up by saying God allowed the Grammys to present an eight-minute hip-hop performance. In DJ Khaled’s world, God is like one of those “Not Me” gremlins from The Family Circus.

But ultimately, the performance and the night did end, well past bad bitch o’clock, nearly all the way to bitchnight eastern time. Lizzo crushed it, Harry Styles dressed like three different professional magicians, Luke Combs looked as though he had been power-washed, Mick Fleetwood drummed in a tribute to Christine McVie with a bucket hat promoting his restaurant, Mary J. Blige learned to love herself as she has done every three to five years since 1992, Adele got to meet The Rock and yell “FANK YEW,” Bad Bunny got relegated to a Best Musica Urbana win, and Diplo had a moment that would have made a great plot line on that show where James van der Beek played Diplo.

We all got a few good performances and a few things to complain about, and the 80 For Harry lady got to give him his Grammy. I give it three out of five Afflecks. Next year, let’s call an exorcist.

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