There were times early Sunday when the plethora of social and political issues on the minds of musicians at the 60th Grammy Awards were so strong that it was easy to forget the ceremony was also an awards show, one that this year will take the industry's embrace of hip-hop to a new level.
Topics of sexual harassment, racism, gun violence, mental health and suicide prevention look to figure prominently in performances and speeches this evening from the participants in the music industry's signature event, held at Madison Square Garden in New York for the first time in 15 years to mark the sixth decade of the Recording Academy's big night.
In fact, the ceremony was upstaged to some degree even before it began, trumped by a presidential tweet Sunday morning that snapped back at leading Grammy nominee Jay-Z for an interview the veteran rapper gave the previous night, criticizing the chief executive for his reported slam at "shithole countries" in Africa during a recent meeting on immigration reform.
With hip-hop dominating nominations for the 60th Grammys, all eyes will be on how the ceremony will showcase a genre that has historically been underrepresented. This year Jay-Z leads with eight nominations, followed by seven for Kendrick Lamar, and both emcees are front-runners for album of the year and landed in either record or song of the year.
It's a rare feat for hip-hop acts. And while one of the night's highlight performances will surely come from Lamar (he's set to open the show with an explosive medley), the night's leading man, Jay-Z, declined to perform anything from his incredibly personal "4:44," show producers confirmed during rehearsals last week.
With 75 trophies already given out, the Grammy picture is starting to come into shape, and two artists are dominating the proceedings: Kendrick Lamar and Bruno Mars.
Lamar is undefeated in the categories for which he’s nominated: rap song, music video and rap performance. The three remaining categories for which he’s nominated — including two of the four major awards — will be given out this evening.
Notably, Lamar has beaten Jay-Z in each of the categories where they’ve been in competition.
In a year when hip-hop was expected to dominate the Grammy Awards, a veteran of the genre shook up the ceremony’s afternoon pre-telecast with a blistering heavy metal performance.
For the rendition of “Black Hoodie,” Ice-T reverted to his antagonistic roots in Body Count, one of L.A.’s formative and most progressive metal bands, taunting police with a song that was nominated for best metal performance.
The churning, urgent original was an unexpected high point in the genre at the Grammys, where rock and roll is still fighting for relevance in a dominant year for hip-hop. Yet “Black Hoodie” zeroed in on police brutality and vulnerability as well as any punk song.
“For me the best part of this award is that it honors both Otis' dream and his memory,” George told The Times after her win was announced. “L.A. was an integral spot on his path, it represented the next rung of fame -- going from star to superstar. Those Whisky shows proved that he was more than ready.”
With awards season unfolding amid political turmoil and calls for social change, Hollywood has been grappling with how to celebrate its glitzy industries while acknowledging the issues dominating a 24/7 news cycle.
After a Golden Globes ceremony that was defined by actresses coming together against sexual misconduct with Time’s Up,, many have wondered how the music industry – still largely untouched by the recent reckoning in Hollywood, politics and the media — will address what’s going on in the world.
When asked about the potential for artist demonstrations, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said that the night is all about freedom of expression and that performers or presenters are encouraged to use their platform how they see fit.
“It’s the artists, really, at the end of the day who make the statements. The academy as an institution, while we don’t necessarily take lots of [political] positions, the most important thing we can do is support the artist community to have the right to say what they want to say,” Portnow said on a break from rehearsals.
Kendrick Lamar, who is nominated for seven Grammys for work from his album “Damn,” is having a good day, which might make being humble a difficult task.
A few hours before the televised ceremony is set to begin, Lamar has already won three trophies for his song “Humble”: music video, rap performance and rap song.
Which means the Compton rapper is three-for-three. The remaining four categories in which he’s nominated, album of the year, record of the year, rap album and rap/sung performance, will be broadcast during the main ceremony.
The late Leonard Cohen, who died in 2016 at 82, won a rock album Grammy for his swan song, “You Want It Darker.”
Produced by his son Adam, the grim, restrained album by the longtime Angeleno won out over Chris Cornell’s “The Promise,” “Run” by Foo Fighters, “No Good” by Kaleo and Nothing More’s “Go to War.”
In the rock category, the Philadelphia rock band the War on Drugs earned its first Grammy Award for its album, “A Deeper Understanding.” Also nominated were Mastodon, Metallica, Nothing More and Queens of the Stone Age.
The Los Angeles songwriter and film composer Randy Newman won his seventh Grammy on Sunday for arranging the vocals and instruments of his biting satire, “Putin.” The musician, best known for “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” and “I Love L.A.,” went topical in 2017 on his “Dark Matter.”
In the winning song, Newman puts the Russian leader on such a pedestal that one might be mistaken for thinking it’s written from the perspective of President Trump:
He can drive his giant tractor Across the Trans-Siberian plain He can power a nuclear reactor With the left side of his brain And when he takes his shirt off He drives the ladies crazy When he takes his shirt off Makes me wanna be a lady