Black Women Breathed Life into the 2021 Grammys, But At What Cost?

The obtuseness that the Grammys showed this year in regard to the music that got Americans and others through part of the pandemic is laughable.

Three Black women gave the most exciting performances at the 2021 Grammy Awards: Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, and Doja Cat. The Houston rapper made her Grammy’s debut on Sunday evening, and walked away with three wins out of the four nominations she received: “Best New Artist,” “Best Rap Song” and “Best Rap Performance.” Even with these wins, the evening felt culturally inapt for the excellence that Megan, Cardi B and Doja displayed when they performed “Up,” “Say So,” “Savage (Remix)” and the chart-topping “WAP.” 

The obtuseness that the Recording Academy showed this year in regard to the music that got Americans and others through part of the pandemic is laughable. Black music or what the Academy refers to as “urban music,” “urban contemporary,” “R&B” and “rap” were nominated. But the bulk of the work that impacted the past music landscape were snubbed. That should have given us an inkling that the Grammys were going to be a display of basicness. 

It wasn’t just the performers who provoked an aura that felt underwhelming. To be honest, the looks on the faces that some on-camera celebrities gave provoked this notion too. Since the performances were so dry from the main acts of the evening, it made us wonder if the Recording Academy purposely aims to be nonreflective of where Black music is currently. 

Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture” performance felt overdone. Though the track was a song that provoked a lot of feelings from the mainstream media, when performed live it didn’t quite feel like the moment that Lil Baby was deserving of. He feels much bigger than performing a protest song at the Grammys. 

DaBaby’s strange set proved that he thinks he’s a rockstar, but it proved nothing else. Backed by a choir dressed as judges, a violinist, and Anthony Hamilton, the rapper presented an alt version of “ROCKSTAR.”

Later in the evening, Roddy Rich’s debut of his new single “Heartless” felt like a missed moment. The track was melancholy and didn’t fare well onstage. His rendition of “The Box” also wasn’t memorable. Lil Baby, Roddy Rich and DaBaby each walked away with no wins last night.

Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

By the time Megan and Cardi B arrived for their joint performance of “WAP,” the evening was dragging on. But, the energy they each provided was well-needed. Megan’s “Body” and Savage (Remix)” set was remarkable. She injected an air of sex-positivity into the Grammys while showcasing why she’s the biggest rap star right now. 

When Cardi B finally appeared, even though she appeared to be lip-syncing it didn’t matter. The Bronx rapper presented a vibe that only she could provide. 

The last performance of the evening worth mentioning featured Doja Cat. She honed in on a futuristic theme as she served up “Say So,” her smooth, ‘70s-inspired single. Her star power shined brilliantly as she danced and sang. Doja did not win any awards she was nominated for.

Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Even if the nominations and winner’s list were a bit disappointing, Black women were the highlights of the Grammys. It’s unfortunate that culturally the Recording Academy still doesn’t hit the mark. Yes, Beyoncé walked away with some wins, but “Black Parade” is not her best work. 

At what cost should Black talent willingly grace the Grammy’s stage if Black excellence is going to continue to be snubbed? We’re hoping for better as time progresses.   

Personally, I’m still reeling that Teyana Taylor (The Album), Summer Walker (Over It), and Victoria Monet (Jaguar) weren’t nominated in the R&B categories. Over in the rap category acts like Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake, and Roddy Rich’s Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial were also shut out. Roddy’s “The Box” did receive a “Song of the Year” nod. Instead of acknowledging talent, the Academy opted to lazily throw nominations and performances together for the 2021 Grammy Awards.

Robyn Mowatt

Robyn Mowatt is a Staff Writer at Okayplayer where she covers culture, music, and fashion. You can see what's on her mind on Twitter at @robyn_mowatt.

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Robyn Mowatt

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