GRAMMYs 2019: Was Janelle Monáe robbed for Album Of The Year?

With the nominations for this year’s Grammy Awards causing outrage online, we take a look back at the 61st edition of the annual award ceremony, where Kacey Musgraves beat Janelle Monáe for the prestigious album of the year award.

Before reading this article, you may want to catch up on the respective album reviews for both artists by following the links below:

The nominations for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards have just been announced (Tuesday 24th 2020) and fans online per usual have been livid. Notable ‘snubs’ (artists receiving little to no recognition for their services to music) this year include the Korean megaboy-band BTS, Japanese-born British pop newcomer Rina Sawayama, and perhaps most shockingly of all: global superstar The Weeknd.

But to followers of the notorious awards ceremony this news will not come as a shock, and this is due to the increasing disparity between music critics, fans, and Grammy judges over the years. As such I shall breakdown the nominations and awards for two of my favourite artists in a particularly memorable year: Janelle Monáe and Kacey Musgraves at the 2018 award show.

1. Best Music Video

Pynk (feat. Grimes) by Janelle Monáe – LOST

Pynk‘ is a minimalist electronic feminist pop anthem that feels all the more sweeter in a post Trump era. Having previously collaborated with Grimes for 2015’s ‘Venus Fly’, the duo prove that two bold flavours can mix together exceptionally well. Whilst Grimes’ physical presence in both the song and video for ‘Pynk‘ is much more understated, the aesthetic influence of Grimes musically is very apparent. Yet none of this solely led Monáe to a Grammy nomination.

It is the video for ‘Pynk‘ and its portrayal of what it means to be a free queer woman that earned her the Grammy nomination, and the attention to detail in the production of both the video and the song are immaculate. The fashion choices throughout are used to express femininity and make a statement on womens’ bodies, especially the eye-catching and iconic ‘vagina pants’ from Dutch designer Duran Lantink. Notice how not all of the women are wearing these pants, and this I believe is a reference to how being a woman is so much more than what is or is not between your legs. Further extreme yet avant-garde fashion silhouettes seen throughout the video are reminiscent of the oversized shapes presented by Comme des Garçons under Rei Kawakubo, and the colour editing and choreography are perfectly used in tandem with the bold choices to exaggerate and summarise Monáe’s witty and playful approach to femininity, gender, and sex.

Despite all this, Monáe faced extremely tough competition in the Best Music Video category this year, with her playful sex-positive and pro-feminist art ultimately losing to the bold and politically challenging video for ‘This Is America‘ by Childish Gambino. Gambino is the stage name for SNL Actor/Comedian turned musician Donald Glover, who won four awards that night for ‘This Is America‘ alone due to it being a catalyst for an increased demand for gun control throughout North America.

2. Best Country Song

Space Cowboy by Kacey Musgraves – WON

We contrast the visual talent of Monáe with an artist who I believe has some of the worst music videos ever to grace our screens. I’m talking of course about Kacey Musgraves who only received nominations for her songs. I say this as a huge fan of hers, and this video isn’t terrible compared to her others, but please do yourself a favour and avoid her Youtube channel.

That being said, ‘Space Cowboy‘ musically is an absolute triumph. Under the guise of a simple ballad about moving on from a relationship, Musgraves takes country impressionism that came before her whilst metaphorically and musically looking to the future. The twinkling of the piano combined with clean electronic effects emulate the vastness of the open road whilst also drawing parallels with the infinity of space. If this sounds poncey I don’t particularly care, because it’s that good. On top of that, ‘Space Cowboy‘ feels effortlessly brilliant due to purely instrumental bridges and literal space within the music for the audience to ponder what a good songwriter she is; and as such Musgraves faced little to no competition in this category to rightfully earn a well-deserved Grammy.

3. Album Of The Year

Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves – WON
Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe – LOST

Musgraves went on to receive two more Grammys for Best Country Solo Performance with ‘Butterflies‘ and Best Country Album for Golden Hour. Yet with three Grammy wins to Monáe’s 0, fans were left somewhat skeptical when she went on to win her fourth; the colossal Album Of The Year award. She was evidently shocked too, spawning the absolutely incredible GIF above.

Previously in DYCAL’s independent reviews for both albums I ranked Golden Hour as being a better album than Dirty Computer, with a cool 90/100 mark slightly beating out an 84/100. This was because I believe that Musgraves’ album from start to finish proved to be a more consistent album than Monáe’s. Take the ballad ‘Rainbow’ from Golden Hour: the stripped back vocals accompanied solely by a piano led to its high critical and commercial success, whilst also acting as an aural palette cleanser from some of the more contemporary production heard. However the more tender songs of Dirty Computer (for example ‘Don’t Judge Me‘) I felt were ever so slightly overproduced; as if to suggest Monáe is afraid of truly raw songwriting in a way that Musgraves clearly is not.

Whilst I am a firm believer in Kacey’s deserved success, the problem for me lies specifically in the fact that Golden Hour also took home a separate Grammy Award for Best Country Album that night. Whereas Dirty Computer was left sans reward for seemingly not much reason. If Golden Hour can be nominated for Best Country Album and subsequently Album Of The Year, then what was preventing Dirty Computer from being nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album, or even Best Alternative Album? As a somewhat maximalist genre-hybrid, Monáe slipped through the ceremonial cracks and incorrectly left with no awards that night.

I believe Monáe’s loss demonstrates a problem with the Grammy Awards that perhaps paints a wider problem with society itself:

‘If artists do not fit into or make music outside of categories assigned to them by the top dogs of the music industry, they are punished.’

More recently in 2020, a sad looking version of Justin Bieber has scrutinised the placement of his new album Changes in the ‘Pop’ awards category, when the artist clearly has struggled to attempt ‘R&B’ music. Whilst this illustrates my point above, it also demonstrates another problem with the Grammys because Beiber does not deserve to have any nominations this year whatsoever. Ultimately, as long as artists are able to buy their way into winning awards we should not take winning or losing too seriously.

The 63rd Annual Grammy Awards will be held in Los Angeles and have been postponed to March 14th 2021 thanks to a certain cruise ship in Puerto Vallarta.

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