There can be 100 people in the room and if Drake is one of them, we’re all going to be talking about Drake. That was proven at Sunday night’s Grammy Awards when the Toronto artist made a surprise appearance—one of the night’s few actually shocking moments—to accept his award for Best Rap Song.
Drake came out from behind the stage and approached the mic saying drolly, “[This is] the first time in Grammy history where I actually am who I thought I was for a second.” He proceeded to make an unconventional speech that centered around the concept that a Grammy was a nice recognition but ultimately meaningless of what it means to be a successful artist.
"You've already won if you have people who are singing your songs word for word, if you are a hero in your hometown," he continued. "If there are people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending their hard-earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don't need this right here, I promise you. You've already won." Shortly after that, he was awkwardly cut off for a commercial break. (In a statement to the media, The Grammys contend that they thought his speech was over after a “natural pause.”)
The speech was Drake’s first ever on a Grammy’s stage—he’d previously won three awards which were all part of the pre-telecast ceremony. It shows how much The Grammys have struggled with adapting to the times that Drake, arguably the most influential artist of this decade, is a mere footnote in Grammys history.
His speech served as an intense counterpoint to a show that was furiously trying to reposition itself as a more diverse and inclusive ceremony. While this year was a great event for women artists and a notable improvement from years past with wins from Dua Lipa, Lady Gaga, H.E.R., Kacey Musgraves and Cardi B across major categories, the speech was a brutal reminder of how far The Grammys has to go to improve itself. It raises the question if there is even something there worth saving.
While Drake made waves by taking the mic, the total absence of Childish Gambino sent a clear message as well, even while he was making significant Grammys history. (Earlier this week The New York Times reported that Drake and Childish Gambino both turned down offers to perform at this year’s ceremony.) Until last night, no rap song had ever won in two of the night’s premiere categories: Song of the Year and Record of the Year. Glover picked up wins in both of those races and two potentially great moments were rendered completely moot. When his name was called for Song of the Year, making it only the 9th time a black songwriter was awarded the trophy in the show’s 61 year history, host Alicia Keys accepted on his behalf and then moved uncomfortably across the stage in silence to introduce the next segment. She halfheartedly said, “Childish” into the mic in the middle of her walk and received some mixed cheers.
When Glover’s name was called for his second televised win, his frequent collaborator Ludwig Göransson made a lukewarm attempt at explaining the song’s message to the crowd. Most notably though, Göransson gave a shout out to Atlanta rapper 21 Savage, who was recently detained by ICE agents and is being held without bond. It was the first real mention of the situation during the awards which is disappointing to anyone hoping that artists would use the show’s platform to bring attention to his situation. Earlier in the evening, Post Malone played a solo version of “Rockstar,” his duet with the rapper, but said nothing about him. After the show, it was revealed that he was wearing a shirt that said “21 Savage” on it, but no one really saw it. Yet another lost opportunity.
A major win by Cardi B, who Drake shouted out in his speech as a “fly Spanish girl from New York,” could be a sign of some sea change for the genre though. Cardi’s win for Rap Album of the Year made her the first solo woman to win the award and the genuine surprise she showed during her speech was refreshing. It’s also worth noting that her burlesque-themed performance of “Money” was the opposite of the ballady-Grammy-presentation that the show tends to rely on, and thank god. It was a high-budget production that was buzzy, sexy, and actually fun to watch. Annoyingly, it came an hour and a half into the show and it was the first actual hip-hop performance of the night.
But still, there was something a bit off about the whole affair. Although there were some big names in the audience, there definitely was a dimming of star power. What’s a music award show in 2019 without megastars like Adele, JAY-Z, or Ariana Grande? What’s a red carpet now without Bad Bunny or Solange? Scrolling through my Instagram feed after the show, a notable Beyoncé fan account I follow was posting a series of Cardi B’s red carpet look. There just wasn’t any Bey content to post.
Somewhat cornily, the moment I think I’ll remember the most about this year’s Grammys was Wiz Khalifa’s appearance during a commercial break. In a commercial for Oreos, the rapper affectionately plays with his son Bash around their family mansion, dunking cookies and horsing around. It features a rap star being completely vulnerable and showing himself to the world in a new way. It’s an adorable tearjerker and I wanted to tell all my friends about it. It’s the exact kind of moment that the Grammys would kill for that they just can’t seem to deliver.