There are two Grammy moments worth noting.
One involves Queen Latifah simultaneously ministering 33 weddings on stage. That one was cool. Same love, one love. I get it. Good stuff.
(Except now if my wedding doesn’t boast Latifah as officiant, Macklemore and Madonna as the band, and Beyonce as a guest, then I probably just won’t get married.)
The other notable moment left Macklemore and Madonna at the alter. Maybe not from a social movement standpoint. Definitely not from a Queen Latifah standpoint. But from a performance standpoint, the Kendrick Lamar-Imagine Dragons mashup was magnificent and beautiful and triumphant.
It also served as fodder for the conspiracists who think Macklemore receives love strictly because he’s Caucasian. Which is unfair. Macklemore deserves love, period. He’s an awesome dude. He cares about art and progress, and he works his ass off to accomplish both. He’s talented and powerful and fun and he’s a consummate role model. I have nothing but respect for Macklemore.
But at the 2014 Grammys, he won four awards to Kendrick Lamar’s zero. And as evidenced by the Radioactive-m.A.A.d. city mashup, that’s a travesty. Kendrick is the best rapper alive and good kid, m.A.A.d. city was the album of the year. He earned all seven of his nominations. He deserved to win more than none. Had his five minutes onstage at the Grammys not been a quintessential “fuck you” performance in defense of his talent, it would have been a disappointing night.
Still, Kendrick striking out means something is wrong. And again, that’s not a Macklemore disparagement. Rather, it’s a question: Why did one artist shut out the other? Maybe it’s racism, maybe not. But as always, we’ll turn to Taylor Swift’s curious quasi-dancing to figure it out.
If you return to the Kendrick-Dragons video, you’ll catch T-Swift dancing like everyone was watching. Of course, lots of other people were grooving to Kendrick and Imagine Dragons. Queen Latifah and Steven Tyler sang along in solidarity. Katy Perry’s swaying suggested she realized just how badly her performance was being trounced. And Lorde was either spazzing in celebration or attempting to cast a spell on her section of the audience. But yes, Swift undeniably stole the show.
She was like the drunk girl at the pre-game who screams, “I LOVE THIS SONG!!!” and then starts dancing provocatively even though there’s only six people there and you’re playing Kings. She was bopping about throughout the performance, and CBS featured her three times, regardless of the fact that her performance had come earlier. (Jake Gyllenhaal, bro, you okay over there?)
CBS didn’t need to showcase Swift’s dance moves. They didn’t need to highlight anyone in the audience at all. This was Kendrick’s moment, and you could argue that the camera should have been on him at all times. It’s his song, right? But they placed Taylor in her sequined glory front row-center because they knew she’d dance in only the way she would. And because she gave the broadcast producers what they wanted, we’re going to walk through all three spots, because it was some pretty profound bopping.
Her first feature is directly at the 1-minute mark of the video. It’s a medium shot, with the sole focus on Taylor and her friend. They are dancing like they have never danced before. Taylor is waving her arms and dropping her hips like a living stereotype. I’m convinced she watched a YouTube video before the show called “How To Dance To A Rap Song While Emphasizing You Are A White Girl.” This is an important distinction. She was dancing like a white person who is failing to mimic the dance moves associated with black people. (Miley Cyrus, anyone?) She saw how Kendrick was dancing and poorly imitated him. It’s as if she understands how music is often analyzed through a singe lens manufactured by white culture which narrows our perspective and limits the power of albums like Kendrick’s, so she’s making a mockery of the whole institution. Way to go, girl! Super thought-provoking dancing!
The second angle, occurring at the 1:19 mark, is a close up of Taylor. She is still dancing crazily. The red tint from the stage illuminates her face. In her head, she chuckles, because the album that earned her three Grammy nominations in 2014 was entitled, “Red.” She’s also thinking, “Man, this red hue metaphorically indicates my rage over this whole Kendrick-Macklemore thing.” She just gets imagery, guys.
Finally, at the 1:43 mark, there is a high angle shot from behind Kendrick. This is the briefest Swift dancing moment. For a second it looks like Taylor and her friend are going to start grinding, but the camera cuts tragically fast. Chances are Taylor was not about to grind on her friend. But if she were, it may have been because she wanted to bust out of the conservative chains that confine her as an artist.
I mean, here’s Kendrick, on the left side of the screen, representing liberal America — a black man dressed in all white, rapping about growing up in Compton at the fucking Grammys. Then there’s Taylor on the right side of the screen, representing traditional conservative America — a blonde Southern belle dancing innocently. Maybe the broadcasting producers thought that she mitigated the rawness that is Kendrick Lamar. Maybe they thought that Kendrick’s rawness needed mitigation. (It doesn’t.) Though nobody asked her to do it, featuring Swift could make Kendrick an easier pill for a lot of more conservative people to swallow. America-tested, Taylor Swift-approved!
But then, just when you say to yourself, “Oh, look at this, just another image that encapsulates the left wing-right wing social continuum in music culture,” Taylor tries to blow up the system by dropping her ass in the general direction of her female friend’s crotch. I feel you, Tay. Stick it to the man!
Despite her obvious efforts, Taylor’s expressive dance moves don’t paint the whole picture. It’s not just a race thing. If you think it’s just a race thing, you’re just as narrow-minded as Kendrick’s haters. It’s kind of a race thing. And kind of a socio-economical thing. And a change thing, too — the Recording Academy is scared of change. So are the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Academy of Motion Pictures. The Entertainment Industry is fucking stubborn, man. They’re not in the business of making statements. They’re not trying to stimulate progress. They’d rather serve as a reflection of the progress already occurring — the progress we’ve all already signed off on. As such, they’d rather honor a white man from Seattle who raps about equality than a black man from Compton who raps about, well, being black and from Compton. It’s safer.
But is it good for music? Pop-culture? Art? I don’t know. Tay, can you weigh in?
You know the old adage: A Taylor Swift dance routine is worth a thousand words.