Less than an hour into the telecast, Google pulled the biggest troll of the Grammys so far.
The tech giant scored an advertising cameo from one artist the Grammys couldn’t get to appear themselves: Donald Glover. The ad for a new phone sported an animated Glover in a seemingly silly dance-off with a digital avatar of himself — one who does an extreme lean and glittery spin that some have seen as a reference to Michael Jackson.
While Jackson is in the news for “Leaving Neverland,” the two-part documentary from filmmaker Dan Reed about Wade Robson and James Safechuck’s claims of sexual abuse by the pop star, the ad spot largely just highlighted what’s absent from the Grammys. Glover’s always striking moves stood in stark contrast to the spot onstage where Glover, who skipped the ceremony entirely, would have been standing to accept one of the night’s marquee awards.
The singer/rapper/TV auteur took home the Grammy for song of the year for “This Is America,” a salient and visionary criticism of the country’s current and historical malaise. (It’s also up for record of the year).
“This Is America” was exactly the kind of song that by any measure could have been a statement piece of the show. Such moments can make for explosive, gripping television – see Kendrick Lamar’s medley just last year.
After a week when more than one blackface controversy roiled American politics, Glover’s critiques are sadly more spot-on than ever. He’s a writer and actor with a scathing ear for racism’s absurdity and it’s a shame he wasn’t there to fire back onstage – or just to make an implicit statement for black art’s power and relevance in American life right now.
In a year when the absences of performances from major rappers like Lamar, Glover and Drake are acutely felt at the telecast, the ceremony’s struggle to land the pacesetters of hip-hop speaks to deeper troubles ahead. If the artists writing the most trenchant, popular work and winning the big awards aren’t bothering to show up, has the genre already left Grammy behind?
Perhaps it’s a more revealing irony, or at least a statement of who wields power in entertainment today, that Glover would show up in a Grammy ad for a tech behemoth rather than the show itself.