We need to talk about Kendrick Lamar at the Grammys

There are things I will never experience and there are things I will never know. This is something to accept and be aware of. I am who I am, with my life flowing down a particular path that I can’t necessarily control. I am, obviously, acutely aware of the injustice, pain and despair in the world but I can only perceive it through my coddled upbringing; I feel sadness, but what I see in the media is so utterly divorced from my history that I have no comparable experience to gauge it against. So I do the best I can with what I’ve been given; my sympathy and shock well meaning and sincere but always way off the mark. In many ways this can make things worse; such as when Grammy-winner Sam Smith witnessed a verbal racist attack first hand on the streets of London, leaving him in shock. The honest reaction of societal disappointment quickly soured as social media pointed out that such experiences were fairly regular and just because we individually believe that there are no divisions between man, it doesn’t make them go away. This is the luxury of inexperience, an ability to build worlds of selective ignorance and protect yourself from life’s harsh edges. The modern music industry has far too few harsh edges. The ability to think is disregarded for a 4/4 and singable chorus. Protest is only sanctioned if the politics is submerged beneath a milky beat. So it goes. Until it doesn’t. Here is Kendrick Lamar at the 2016 Grammys.

[EDIT: Ah copyright holders, always spoiling. The original post had an embedded video, unfortunately you now need to click the link below. Promise you’ll come back]


I loathe the Grammys. I loathe the machinations of an industry that pats sales on the back whilst disregarding anything it doesn’t understand. You have got to shout loud to even be registered and even then it’s likely you’ll drown under all the competing voices. So, so many see music as a promise of endless cash moneys if only you’re lucky enough to be picked. Such lies. The music industry serves those who control it and retains a protectionist streak that is stifling. This is my experience, that is as far as it goes. A depth so insignificant we don’t need armbands. I have anger, sure, but it is petulant and weak. This performance contained articulate rage with such focus and fire that I initially was reluctant to comment on it. I lack the skills and would raise myself above the trench to a world I am woefully in-equipped to talk about. But being told “You never liked us anyway”. To be challenged “You hate me, don’t you”. I had no reply. There was no reply. It wasn’t a performance, it was brimstone raining down on all preconceptions of culture. It burned.

I can only perceive life through what I know. I could follow the lazy journalist route and quote the litany of grievances in the text, or smile my chemical smile as I explain the controversial nature of the staging, or simply try to put into words a pathetically simple explanation of an exceptionally complex situation. I can’t do any of these things, but what I can do is write what I know. Authenticity is at the heart of aesthetics. Truth is beauty. It’s a train of thought that raises Picasso’s Guernica up with the Mona Lisa in beauty. Authentic pain, fear and rage are found time and time again in the art of change. To shove a reclining genre off the cliff you need fire in your eyes and anger in your soul. The un-tethered passion of this performance (on such a traditionally neutered stage) should be a klaxon to herald not only the reclamation of Art in music, but also the awareness of a new cultural age. Possibly, maybe. But you’d be surprised how little force it takes when applied perfectly. Look at Punk; the Sex Pistols appeared and coalesced all the impotent rage of youth into something tangible. It burned the bush and cleared cultural space for those that needed it. Of course, the industry promptly stole this culture back from them, but if something so shuddering can happen once, it can happen again. It must happen again.

I’m out of words. Kendrick is far more eloquent than I will ever be. The lashings of his text repeat and repeat, dragging me to a place I don’t recognise. I couldn’t if I tried, I don’t have the capability. Still, a hole now ripped in my cotton; a finger pulled from my ear. We can’t help but listen.


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