There were a lot of mistakes made last night at the GRAMMYs, mostly when it came to which songs and albums won which trophies, but there is one injustice that feels especially egregious. Ed Sheeran won the Best Pop Solo Performance category for his single “Shape of You.” In doing so, he beat out fellow pop superstars Lady Gaga (“Million Reasons”), Kesha (“Praying”), Pink (“What About Us”) and Kelly Clarkson (“Love So Soft”).
While we respect the process and history of the GRAMMYs, the Recording Academy got this one wrong by almost every measure of how golden gramophones are typically awarded. Here’s how.
Making a Statement
This year, the GRAMMYs were supposed to be all about empowering women. Attendees were encouraged to wear white roses in support of the Time’s Up movement, which aims to stop all forms of harassment and abuse and highlight the fact that such behavior has been a plague on women in all industries, especially entertainment. The movement has gained a lot of traction over the past several months and supporting it has seemingly become a necessity at every award show.
Most attendees donned roses, Janelle Monáe delivered an impassioned speech during the ceremony, and Kesha, joined by half a dozen other well-known females in the music industry, staged perhaps the most emotional performance of the evening with her GRAMMY-nominated song “Praying.”
Clearly, the Recording Academy wanted to be a part of the conversation, and it wasn’t shying away from the topic. In fact, it encouraged discussion of Time’s Up, but when it came time to reward the one song that actually dealt with the issue, it was left out in the cold.
Kesha’s “Praying,” which served as her comeback single after years of battling her former producer and label boss whom she claims raped her, somehow didn’t win, despite calls from many that it very much deserved the honor.
While Kesha’s “Praying” seemed like an easy choice for this category—in any year, but especially in 2018)—there were plenty of other songs that could have gone home winners, and the outcry probably wouldn’t have been quite so loud.
The female nominees in the Pop Solo Performance category—Lady Gaga, Pink, and Kelly Clarkson—all used their platforms and their incredible voices to stand for something in the past year. Gaga has publicly supported Kesha and was even nominated for an Oscar recently for "If It Happens to You," a song that mirrors Kesha’s “Praying” in message and tone. Pink has spoken openly about raising her daughter to appreciate who she is and be a proud, strong woman, despite what men say, while raising her kids in a gender-neutral household. Clarkson has been unafraid to embrace her natural body shape and change how the world sees a chart-topping pop star, openly speaking about how at her skinniest she was not happy nor healthy.
They all started their careers as fun-loving pop stars and have developed into warriors with a message to deliver through their art...and then there’s Ed Sheeran who has done his fair share of charity and philanthropic work—including lending his support to the safety of sex workers—but has yet to publicly take a stand on any of the recent, hot-button social issues. In a year when four powerful women delivered awesome tunes that ended up being nominated, the honor went to a man singing about enjoying the shape of a woman’s body.
A Great Performance?
Forgetting for a moment the political undertones and missed opportunities to say something by handing an award to a certain artist, there’s an argument to be made that Sheeran’s “Shape of You” simply didn’t deserve the prize based on its own merits.
This specific GRAMMY is for Best Pop Solo Performance—the key word here being performance. This prize usually goes to an artist whose delivery is powerful, historical in some way, or perhaps overly emotional. Sheeran mostly talks his way through his No. 1 hit, and even the bits where he semi-raps aren’t nearly as interesting as instances where he’s played that trick before. The song itself was a blockbuster and it’s perfectly fun, but his performance is perhaps the least interesting part of the project.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the category, Kelly Clarkson hits notes in “Love So Soft” we haven’t heard from her, Gaga bares her soul in “Million Reasons,” Pink proves her vocals are still underrated, and Kesha made a daring leap into legitimacy and approaches a whistle register nobody thought she’d ever even attempt. Those are performances worth acknowledging, and one of them should have won.
To see just how much she's changed as a persona, check out Kesha (then Ke$ha) talking about working with fellow superstars back when electro-pop was still her thing below.