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Escapism at the Grammy’s

Image: CBS

Music has always been a medium by which musicians can explore, challenge, and rage against that which is wrong in the world. If conflict does inspire music than this past year’s music should have been over bubbling with social and political purpose, and it was. 2017 was a year filled with heartbreaking sad realities about the state of our society, major topics included race, sexual violence, misogyny, and mental health. So when the 60th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony were broadcast from NYC, most expected the ceremony to act as a mirror reflection of our times of heightened social and political activism and award purposeful music, but instead something else happened.

The Grammy’s biggest awards were all mostly won by singer Bruno Mars, and days after the ceremony the internet is still in an uproar that 2017, the same year of #MeToo, the toast of the Grammy awards and the reflection of that year, is R&B/Pop feel good music that explores nothing much in the way of emotional substance.

But, how?

Did the voters not here Kesha’s “Praying”? Or Kendrick Lamar’s exploration of living as a black man in America today?

If so, how could music with a message get nominated but be completely shut out of winning in the major categories.

One possible answer: escapism.

One could go back and forth for eternity trying to argue who had the better quality of music amongst all the nominees. Quality of music is subjective. But, the intent of music is not. Kesha’s “Praying” for example is a song written and sung to provide the listener with a generally specific journey about pain and forgiveness. “24K Magic” similarly is a song written and sung to provide the listener with a generally specific journey about escapism and fun.

It would undeniably make sense that the things people care and talk about be the focal point of the music they listen to. However, our real life topics of interest and concern do not always impact our consumption of music in a linear way. People can be worried to death about North Korea for example and follow it on CNN relentlessly, but that does not mean anyone wants to unwind after work or during the weekend to a song about Kim Jung-Un. In fact, during dark times in society, times in which the social/economic/political climate of society are oppressing and sad, that is precisely when in history “feel good” contributions to the arts have really been welcomed.

One of the biggest stars during The Great Depression was Shirley Temple. Shirley Temple’s contribution to the arts provided an outlet for people to escape the grim realities of their times by watching an adorable little girl on screen. FDR once confirmed this by proclaiming that “as long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right.” Shirley Temple and Bruno Mars share more than just great curly hair—in their own way they both provided art that is fun, light, escapist in purpose, during grim times in American history.

Some might be angry that their fight for justice isn’t “entertaining enough” for the masses. But, even the mightiest Social Justice Warrior has the right to want and need to unwind because we are only human. It takes nothing away from the important work and discussions being had in public, homes, and in entertainment. Escapism is not a choice. Escapism is embedded into our DNA. Look no further than a fainting spell from shock, memory loss from trauma, or even an up-tempo song that gets the dopamine going.

This is not to say that it wouldn't have been nice to see music about social or political change win in the big categories. “Versace on the Floor” for example is a sexy song by Bruno Mars and about spending time with a woman while her Versace dress is on the floor. Instead, it could have been about more than just clothing on the floor such as a song about gender roles in society, for example, who is picking up the Versace? The man or woman? The black or white person? The feminist or the non-feminist? The Democrat or the Republican? —Although, Bruno Mars may not be asking these questions, in a year where there was much darkness and danger in our society and government, natural disasters, and the constant threat of foreign powers, Bruno Mars’ music served as an emotionally escapist outlet, one melody at a time.