MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And now to music. The 56th annual Grammy Awards aired last night. You've probably heard by now some of the big winners included pop-newcomer Lorde, rap duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and, depending on your point of view, the 33 couples who got married during Macklemore and Ryan Lewis's performance of their gay rights anthem "Same Love."
(SOUNDBITE OF GRAMMY AWARDS)
MARTIN: So we wanted to talk more about all of that, so we've called Amrit Singh. He's a host and the culture and music editor for Revolt TV. Thanks so much for joining us after a late night.
AMRIT SINGH: Yes, thank you for having me.
MARTIN: So give us the top line. People have all kinds of wildly different reactions both to the show itself and to the awards last night. Do you have kind of a seat-of-the-pants assessment of the awards, whether you think for the most part did they go to the right people or not?
SINGH: I think that, you know, for the most part, they actually went as a lot of people would have expected. I think probably the biggest headline - the biggest surprise was Daft Punk's big night. Obviously, they took home four big awards. And, you know, every year, the Grammys are a huge conversation starter. They're an important thing for music, especially now where we see this landscape for this sort of thing is so fragmented, it's actually hard to focus a conversation. So the Grammys have become that big night for it. It was a big night for Macklemore, a big night for marriage. Thirty-three people got...
SINGH: Thirty-three couples got married. Jay-Z and Beyonce made a great testament to the power of marriage. And a big night for head banging. Taylor Swift, Metallica, Imagine Dragons - there was a lot of it.
MARTIN: So, you know, speaking of the marriage ceremony, a lot of people are talking about that - I think it was - it was supposed to be 33, but I heard it might have been 32. They were both straight and same-sex couples that got married under Macklemore and Ryan Lewis's hit "Same Love." I just want to play - you said it was a big night for them. So, yes, I'm humble-bragging here. He talked to the show last year, and I'll just play a short clip from the conversation that he had with my colleague Celeste Headlee. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVAL RECORDING)
MACKLEMORE: Hip-hop was started as a very egocentric, testosterone, machismo-driven art form. You have b-boys that want to be better than other b-boys. You have break dancers. You have DJs. You have MCs that all want to be better than each other. Battling has been at the forefront of hip-hop culture since its origin.
MARTIN: So tell me your reaction to their big wins. On the one the hand, people really like them. They feel like they've kind of changed the conversation. They've opened it up in some ways. They've opened up the genre. It's a lot more - you know, they like their subject matter. They've kind of brought in different conversations. Other people think, how could they possibly be better than - how could they have shut out, you know, Kanye West, for example? Like, what's up with that? So what's your take on this?
SINGH: Yeah, it's really starkly and dramatically rendered in a lot of ways because this is the year that Macklemore is not only taking all the rap categories, but a year where he's taking the rap category against artists that really epitomize everything about hip-hop these days. We're talking about Jay-Z, Drake, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar. And Kendrick Lamar getting shut out in particular really struck people because this is a guy who made an incredible artistic contribution.
In fact, one of his biggest contributions and conversation-starting moments of the entire year for all of hip-hop was Kendrick Lamar's verse in a song by Big Sean called "Control" in which he called out all the biggest hip-hop artists and really elevated the game and created a conversation. And this is a year where he got nominated a lot, but he didn't get a single award. And Macklemore wasn't even mentioned in that "Control" verse and did get all the awards. And, you know, it kind of tells you what's happening with hip-hop in general in that...
MARTIN: Well, what is happening? Tell us.
SINGH: Well, yeah...
MARTIN: What does it mean to you?
SINGH: Well, you know, I think that, you know, someone like Macklemore is changing the conversation. But from an artistic standpoint, it's not a matter of - like, there was an interesting story that happened earlier this week where the Grammy subcommittee apparently was trying to have Macklemore considered only as pop and not as hip-hop. And that was overridden by the Academy at large because they felt like it is hip-hop. And, I mean, in terms of, like, what defines hip-hop, in terms of it being rap, it is - it really adheres to those standards of that form.
MARTIN: Speaking of Kendrick Lamar, he was nominated for seven Grammys, but as you pointed out, didn't win any, which a lot of people are upset about. He did give a performance that I think a lot of people liked called - backed by Imagine Dragons. Here's a short clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF GRAMMY AWARDS)
MARTIN: So how - so at the end of the day, you know, his - obviously, the regard that other artists and critics like yourself have for him is undiminished, but is there some message in the fact that he was shut out, in your view?
SINGH: Well, I think that it's just the idea that the face of hip-hop is expanding and the idea of what gets considered to be hip-hop is expanding. I think that it's sort of discouraging for a lot of people to see someone like Kendrick - and it's not just critics. Even Macklemore felt that Kendrick was robbed. In fact, he put a photo of a screenshot from his phone on Instagram where he said, you were robbed, and I robbed you. And I feel so badly about that. You deserved this award. You deserve the rap awards.
You know, that performance in a lot of ways underscores perhaps some of the complexity around what's happening with hip-hop because it wasn't just Kendrick performing alone. You know, it was Kendrick performing with a rock band, and perhaps that was something that, you know, they felt that that would make his performance or his appearance in the Grammys somewhat more palatable to a broader audience. Now the thing with that is apparently the producer of the Grammys went to Kendrick and asked him what he would have liked to have done with the performance, and he explicitly requested a rock band. And people should know that. But in the process, also, you know, I think a lot of people saw Kendrick just thrillingly ripping up that stage last night with a band that really played the part and helped drive home Kendrick's power.
MARTIN: And overall - we have about two minutes left - the match-ups overall - I mean, some people love them, the kind of the mash-ups of - you know, there was Robin Thicke performing with, you know, one of the kind of legacy bands if you will. And some people love it. Some people, it just makes them crazy. You know, they think that it's just - some people just think it's kind of a cynical exercise. I'm interested - I'm glad you told us that Kendrick Lamar actually asked to be backed by a rock band. What did you think of the show overall and the match-ups that they put together - love it, hate it, somewhere in between?
SINGH: Yeah, you know, 82 categories, 10 are televised and 21 performances. It really is a performance-based show, the Grammys every year. And it always is full of hits and misses with respect to those performances. I thought that the Daft Punk super mash-up was absolutely wonderful. You know, you saw Stevie Wonder come out, and you saw Chic - you know, Nile Rodgers from Chic come out. And you got to hear "Another Star" from Stevie Wonder. You got to hear "Freak Out" from Chic, in addition to Daft Punk bringing in, you know, a DJ aspect and playing "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger," which is, you know, a song that Kanye West had sampled and...
MARTIN: Not to mention Pharrell Williams making a very interesting imitation of a Canadian Mountie. That's as clear as I could...
MARTIN: ...Who was producer of the year, as well he should've been, given his imprint on the whole thing. So did you like the show, or did you think more of this, less of that? What did you think?
SINGH: I did like the show. You know, I thought that they could have tuned Kirk Hammett's guitar from Metallica before he went out. That would've probably helped the show a little bit. But overall, I thought the performances were really wonderful.
And I was happy to see Daft Punk win. I was happy to see Pharrell take home that record. I would love to see more Kendrick. But, you know, it started the conversation. People are talking about why he didn't win, what's happening with hip-hop. And in general people are talking about what's happening with music. And that's what makes the Grammys so special every year.
MARTIN: That was Amrit Singh. He is culture and music editor as well as a host for Revolt TV, and he joined us from our NPR West bureau in Culver City, California. Amrit, thanks so much for speaking with us.
SINGH: Thank you very much for having me.
MARTIN: And we're going out on the song "Royals" by New Zealand's Lorde, who won song of the year, as well as best pop-solo performance. That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's more tomorrow.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROYALS")
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