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The 2022 Grammys Tried To Be Unpredictable By Giving Black Artists Its Biggest Awards. It Still Was
Silk Sonic and Jon Batiste swept up the 2022 Grammys, the two's vintage-sounding music safe — and honestly unsurprising — Academy choices.
There were two artists in particular that defined the 2022 Grammys: Silk Sonic and Jon Batiste. The former's inescapable "Leave the Door Open" earned the duo a "clean sweep," with Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars winning the award for all four categories they were nominated for — Record of the Year, Song of the Year, best R&B song, and best R&B performance — while Batiste won five of the 11 awards he was nominated for, including Album of the Year (which marked the first time a Black artist had received the award since 2008, when Herbie Hancock won for River: The Joni Letters).
While the Grammys highlighting "Leave the Door Open" wasn't surprising — after all, it was a Billboard chart-topping hit, spending 18 consecutive weeks in the Top 10 following its release — Batiste's We Are might've come as an unexpected surprise. The album wasn't a commercial success and wasn't widely covered when it was released in March last year. But the reality is that the album — like "Leave the Door Open" — has a sound that the Academy loves to champion: traditional, vintage-sounding music reminiscent of old soul and R&B, as well as notable Black musicians from those genres — Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Delfonics.
Although there are attempts at putting his own spin on contemporary rap practices — the 808s of "Boy Hood" and the triplet flow of "Whatchutalkinbout" — Batiste primarily offers up a retro sound throughout the album that's accessible and not too challenging. As bandleader and musical director on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Batiste's musicality is one of We Are's strong points. He can sing; he can play piano — none of that is up for debate. Paired with the timely subject matter explored on the album — from reflecting on the pandemic to his involvement in Black Lives Matter protests amid the deaths of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor — and We Are makes absolute sense as a Grammys darling: an album with musicianship and a socially conscious message all tied together by a sound the academy is all too familiar with.
The same can be said for "Leave the Door Open," to a degree. It's essentially pastiche — the duo perfectly imitating the sound of Philadelphia soul with no modern updates. It's an homage to the classic music that influenced them, a reminder that pop music once sounded like this and not what most of us think of it as today. Sure, there's no impactful message, but it's fun, soulful, and there's no denying the musicianship of .Paak and Mars.
With the Recording Academy making significant changes to its voting process with this year's Grammys (most notably its elimination of Nominations Review Committees — where "15-30 highly skilled music peers" "represented and voted within their genre communities for the final selection of nominees," according to the Grammy website — in favor of a majority, peer-to-peer vote of voting members), there were some wins that were actually reflective of the contemporary music landscape, especially as it pertains to Black music. Tyler, the Creator's Call Me If You Get Lost won Best Rap Album and Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar's "Family Ties" won Best Rap Performance; Jazmine Sullivan's Heaux Tales won Best R&B Album; and Doja Cat and SZA's "Kiss Me More" won Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
But that the night's biggest awards went to Silk Sonic and Batiste shows that the Academy is still going to champion a certain type of traditional-sounding music being made with a certain level of musicianship. And this isn't to say that the two don't deserve the awards they received ("Leave the Door Open" is an objectively good song, while We Are features some really good songwriting). They were just safe — and honestly unsurprising — Academy choices. In its attempts at trying to be unpredictable by giving Black artists its biggest awards, the Grammys were still predictable, betting on safe and more traditional-sounding music over something more modern.