The 2022 Grammys have fallen short of the classiest artists… and the fewest | Grammy Awards 2022

There is nothing that Grammys like more than class. Many of the albums and songs that have won top prizes have been pretty rather than raggedly done; emotionally open but keeping themselves in check. And so it proved at the 2022 ceremony, where strong work of great class from Silk Sonic, Jon Batiste and Olivia Rodrigo secured the big prizes.

Silk Sonic’s Leave the Door Open is a well-deserved winner of four awards, for Record and Song of the Year, plus R&B Performance and R&B Song (the latter shared with Jazmine Sullivan, also the legitimate R&B Album winner). With its impeccable session musicianship and vocal harmonization, it seems to enter into conversation with R&B itself, mocking the serious lust of the late ’70s and ’80s genre iteration without poking fun at it. There’s a sort of sketch-comedy detail in the way Anderson Paak makes sure all the bases are covered to seal the romantic deal by offering tenderloin steaks and marijuana — but without such lavish songwriting it would have taken risks, as Lonely Island type parody coming out. Those wins mean Paak’s Silk Sonic partner Bruno Mars is now a 14-time winner, and Mars is perhaps the vision of what Recording Academy loves: technically brilliant, consistent with history, and alive for love and sex without to be menacingly erotic.

Jon Batiste is another person consciously delving into music history, creating a genre-bending survey of Black American culture with We Are, which won Album of the Year (he also won four other awards). At times I found this album cheesy, like a Disney ride through jazz and hip-hop that requires you to keep your hands very strong in the car – but there are some touching moments, like the finely etched memories of Boy Hood and his ambition, Positivity and humanity envelop even the more generic songs.

Olivia Rodrigo’s three wins in her breakout year included Best New Artist and Best Pop Solo Performance for the year’s best power ballad, Drivers License. Like the winners above, she really can sell a tune, and that’s no faint praise. There’s something theatrical about her performance—even on bedroom-wrecking pop-punk songs—but she’s angry and hurt so convincingly that she elevates pop into psychodrama, albeit in a very family-friendly way (despite an f-bomb).

It could be argued that artists with messier emotions and less restrained artistry were excluded, such as Lil Nas X, whose variously scathing and self-destructive album Montero was about as good as pop music gets. So is Billie Eilish and her riveting portrait of a eaten youth, Happier Than Ever, although voters may have been consciously heeding her shyness from fame and indeed the very public lens under which the Grammys put their winners. But Doja Cat, who might have been too lively for the academy, happily won Best Pop Duo/Group Performance with her determinedly horny song Kiss Me More featuring SZA. In recent days she’s spoken of wanting to retire – and hopes she can find a way to navigate the chaos of pop because she has the kind of zest for life that makes it worth turning on the radio.

Joie de vivre … Doja Cat and SZA. Photo: John Locher/Invision/AP

Foo Fighters swept through the rock categories, and while it wasn’t a sentimental choice — voting was complete before drummer Taylor Hawkins died in March — it felt fitting in the end: Hawkins’ spirited playing was the essence of the genre. Another well-deserved winner was Baby Keem, who teamed with Kendrick Lamar to win Best Rap Performance: a boisterous 21-year-old memelord whose mastery of melody and meter variation is amazing.

Of course, there was a noticeable lack of elegance in other areas. Some may have been upset by Kanye West’s two wins in other rap categories after an ugly barrage against his ex-wife Kim Kardashian and friend Pete Davidson – the poignancy of his Grammy-nominated post-divorce album Donda soured when he expressed his anger and confusion outside of music and under the glare of social media. Ultimately, the Donda material is underrated and its winning songs are compelling – Jail’s distortion fanfare is a wonderfully grand statement (and earns Jay-Z 24 wins total) and Hurricane benefits from one of Weeknd’s finest vocal melodies – and the voting cutoff was ahead West’s most sustained hunt for Kardashian.

The Academy’s more obvious ethical failing is to award Louis CK with Best Comedy Album. In 2017, CK was accused of sexual harassment by numerous women, and he admitted to allegations of masturbating in front of them. His comedy special Sincerely Louis CK may have its merits, and there’s a ruthlessly punitive bias to our culture that denies that people can be rehabilitated and bettered. But the Grammys mean more than “that was the best comedy album of the year,” while also stripping away any complexity in their win-loser binary. Ultimately, honoring CK sends the message that sexual harassment needn’t worry about their misdeeds because a few years later they’ll be back at the top of the US culture tree. It’s a bad decision in a Grammys year that made many of the right ones.

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