Grammys Have Time for Hillary Clinton, But Not Lorde, To Perform?

Virtue signaling is tricky business, especially for an entertainment world trying to be holier-than-thou.


As the Drudge Report wants you to know in ALL CAPS, last night's Grammy awards telecast was a "crash and burn" affair, and possibly the "lowest rated" ever. Deadline Hollywood's Dominic Patten writes,

With a 12.7/21 in metered market ratings, the Recording Academy's big hootenanny was also way down from the early numbers for the LA-based February 13, 2017 59th annual show. By way down, I mean a just over 20% decline from last year to what looks to be an all-time low for the ceremony.

Right-wingers already have a ready explanation for this: the politicization of allegedly once-pure "entertainment" events.

That's the reason why movies flop, why the NFL's audience is shrinking, you name it. It's that jes' plain folks are sick and tired of having their safe spaces invaded by politics. Forget larger trends or, in the case of Grammys, savvy counter-programming by other networks. AMC's mega-hit franchise The Walking Dead had a mid-season debut last night and even network standards such as Shark Tank and Family Guy aired new episodes.

All of which makes sense given that nobody really cares about the Grammys, do they? Certainly not compared to the Oscars or even the Emmys, and even those old warhorse spectacles of self-congratulation don't pull eyeballs like they used to. That's especially true with anything devoted to popular music, whose audience was among the very first to be liberated by the cultural proliferation that has vastly increased the ways in which we produce and consume creative expression.

Let's assume that the Grammys, like the Olympics, the Oscars, the NFL, and other 20th-century televised institutions, no longer command attention and interest the way they used to. It's less because of politicization and more simply because audiences have more and more freedom to go elsewhere. (In the case of the Olympics, the loss of audience is precisely because of de-politicization: the end of the Cold War robbed every archery and ski jump contest of specifically political interest.) The more important question for me is whether consumers of art, culture, sports, and entertainment are more or less able to access the fare we want. To borrow the pretzel logic of multiple Grammy-winning band Steely Dan, any major dude with half a heart will tell you, my friend, any minor world that breaks apart falls together again. Music has never been more accessible and varied than it is today. While the "rock star" archetype may well be dead as a meaningful cultural touchstone, there's more stuff to listen to in any possible genre you can imagine. If the Grammys and boring old fare like it must die for entertainment to live, well, that's the sort of grave I'm happy to dance on.

But conservatives—who get a hard-on the moment that Kid Rock or some allegedly right-wing rocker or actor just-might-maybe run for office or says something they like politically—shouldn't mistake shifts in how pop culture is made and consumed for the idea that the silent majority wants its music, movies, sports, and TV free of politics. Something much bigger is going on and pop music, like all pop culture, has always been political in big and small ways. That's one of the reasons it's popular. It allows us to engage the very sorts of questions and concerns that define us in particular times and places. For sure, we don't want or need to be lectured about what politician to vote for, but isn't part of what makes Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, and Jay-Z who they are precisely the fact that they're talking about sexism, Christianity, and blackness the way they do?

Which isn't to say that the Grammys didn't go out of its way to bother the majority of Americans who didn't vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. For a show that didn't make time for popular (and political!) artist Lorde to perform despite her being up for the prestigious "album of the year" award, the Grammys still found time to run an explicitly anti–Donald Trump sketch featuring Hillary Clinton reading from Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury. Because when you've got a roomful of musical talent, what you really want to see is a failed politician who spent a good amount of her time in power railing against pop culture.