The Grammy Awards are regularly accused of promoting both male and female artists. But this year they should escape criticism thanks to the “best video” category, where all candidates are black and half are women. The five videos selected by the organizers of the ceremony, to be held on Sunday in Los Angeles, also have a lot to say for their social and political demands.
“It’s Trump’s year, there’s an uncontrollable need to express yourself,” said Carol Vernallis, an academic specializing in music at Stanford University. “I imagine black artists in the United States want to be on the front lines,” he continues.
Childish Gambino, musical alter ego of the talented comedian, screenwriter and director Donald Glover (“Atlanta”), burst onto the Internet last spring as his politically incendiary anthem, “This Is America.”
In his provocative video, he denounces the domination of guns and racism in the country with a portrayal of the lives of many black Americans, among bloody shootings and reminiscences of slavery in a context of joyful Afrobeat and gospel rhythms.
Already Beyonce and Jay-Z gave their talk while using the Louvre Museum in Paris as the setting for the baroque and exuberant clip of “APESHIT”. In the video, the couple uses the classic works of the Old World to create an eminently modern and black aesthetic.
Janelle Monae, on the other hand, unabashedly explores new graphics paths in the clip “Pynk”, an electro-pop ode to bisexuality. The singer appears surrounded by young women, wearing broad pants that resemble vulvas.
Like Childish Gambino, Joyner Lucas’s video “I’m Not Racist,” attracted millions of viewers on the Internet with its pure and powerful rap in a divided United States.
The disturbing video begins with a man with a white beard and red cap of “Make America Great Again,” a symbol of President Donald Trump’s supporters echoing racist slogans. But “I am not a racist,” the man defends himself. “My sister’s boyfriend is black.”
A young black man with Rasta hair replies: “It is difficult to progress when this country is directed by whites who judge me by the color of my skin.”
In “Mumbo Jumbo,” rapper Tierra Whack creates a surrealistic and disturbing fantasy world, the prelude to an album consisting of fifteen one-minute songs, called “Whack World,” part of a cutting-edge project and also an album by hip hop.
Grammys have been awarding music videos since 1984, the year that MTV began to make a show, thanks to pioneers like Michael Jackson and Madonna who have revolutionized and exploited the potential of this format.
It has become a complete genre, thanks to the Internet: video clips account for more than half of the worldwide demand for streaming.
With the potential repercussions of hundreds of millions of reproductions, producing a compelling video has become more important than ever for the music industry, allowing artists to communicate better message, says Robert Thompson, who teaches television and popular culture at Syracuse University.
“A video clip defines the visual identity of a song, I cannot imagine ‘This Is America’ with another video, it gives it a completely different dimension,” he explains.
For Carol Vernallis, the video has the merit of establishing a “dialogue” between music and image: “It enriches the song and broadens its horizon, and is excellent for addressing certain problems.” This is especially true for social issues, says Robert Thompson. “Everywhere we see political messages expressed by black musicians, and it is in this category of Grammy’s that they seem to enjoy special recognition,” says the researcher.
What is sad that is four out of five will lose on Sunday night.
Finley Gilbert is a social entrepreneur and writer by profession. He covers entrepreneur, business and startup stories for EntrepreneurMindz.com