Imma Let You Finish But…Kendrick Lamar’s Album Was Better
by Katherine Wilcox on Friday, February 26th, 2016
If you watched Taylor Swift at the Grammys this year, you probably remembered a sparkly body suit, some twinkling lights and Swift’s subpar performance of her latest hit: “Out of the Woods.” Complete with a background of stumpy trees, a stage clouded by fog machines and distracting light effects, Swift’s performance this year underwhelmed, lacking in the groundbreaking and memorable aspects of a typical Grammy appearance.
Lucky for us, Kendrick Lamar delivered the moving performance that Taylor failed to produce. Lamar’s message jumped out from behind his lyrics and the crowd came alive with his energy. Dressed in prison garb with his hands chained, Kendrick sang in front of solemn background dancers, wearing traditional African dress. The lone word “Compton” lingered as the stage faded to black. Although Kendrick Lamar stirred up some controversy with his performance, he quickly garnered significant praise and admiration. His song was electric and extremely meaningful, forcing us to ask ourselves some thought-provoking questions. For many viewers one of these questions included: why did Swift’s 1989 win Album of the Year over Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly?
Of course, one single performance does not decide the outcome for the award. Even if Lamar’s performance was better, that doesn’t mean his album is necessarily superior, right? Swift certainly sold more copies than Lamar– over 5 million to his just under 800,000. However, the audience for pop is much larger than that for rap, so, proportionately, Swift and Lamar might have shared equal success.
In my opinion, the success of an album is only relevant to a certain extent. Listener feedback is important, and sales can gage the quality of the music; however, at some point, you have to stop and ask: is it fair to call one album better than another just because most people would rather bob their heads along mindlessly with a catchy tune than listen to powerful music about racial injustice?
I’m all for listening to pop, and I think that there is something to be said for a song’s ability to make you dance and have fun. However, I also think that we should not forget music’s role as a catalyst for social change and the importance it has in society today. Tracks like Macklemore’s “Same Love,” advocating equal marriage rights, and Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout,” protesting police brutality, are just two recent examples of musicians sending political messages through their music.
Not every song needs to have such a strong message, but, at some point, I would like to look at Taylor Swift and think, “Wow, listening to your music has given me a greater insight into the human experience” or even, “Because I heard your album, I now know something I never knew before. Your songs will cause change.”
“Bad Blood” and “Blank Space” certainly do not evoke those thoughts from me. To be fair, some of Swift’s songs, like “Mean” from Speak Now and “Shake it Off,” include lyrics about self-love and positivity, but those are hardly original sentiments for her target audience.
Kendrick Lamar did not just make an album–he told a story. He illustrated what some consider the most comprehensive description of life as a black man in today’s society. I’m white, female, and don’t listen to much rap, but even I can tell that his songs are something special. Lamar did win Best Rap Album and was nominated for Album of the Year, but many say that he never had a chance at winning Album of the Year.
Historically, Album of the Year is awarded to pop albums, and is that really a bad thing? Pop albums usually sell more copies, individual tracks, and tickets to concerts. You certainly are more likely to hear pop while flipping through stations on the radio. So, if the general consensus is that the majority of people like pop, then why shouldn’t 1989, the best pop album of 2015, take home the prize?
The answer is that an award like Album of the Year shouldn’t be decided because of popularity. Leave that to the individual genre categories. Album of the Year is a distinction that should go to the most impressive collection of musical genius, regardless of marketability.
A good example of this issue was the 2015 Grammys, when Beck’s Morning Phase beat out Beyonce’s self titled work. The committee gave Beck, whose album was relatively unpopular, the distinction and went against enormous pressure from Beyonce’s fans. I commend the committee for their original choice last year, but it seems like this year they just caved to the pressure once again. Ratings over merit, right?
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