After over a decade in the music industry and two previous nominations, winning his first Grammy for his album IGOR appeared to be a bittersweet moment for Tyler, The Creator.
He used his time on and backstage to try and convey the complexities of winning Best Rap Album at an award show that has steadily been called out for undervaluing black and brown artists in recent years.
Onstage, he gave a shout out to Pharrell who he cites as his biggest inspiration and expressed a heartfelt thank you to his mom who stood by him beaming during his speech.
However, in a series of pressroom interviews, he called out the Recording Academy for its lack of representation and questioned why it was that his music could only be placed in the “rap” category: “It sucks that whenever we – and I mean guys that look like me – do anything that’s genre-bending, they always put in a ‘rap’ or ‘urban’ category.”
He continued to express his feelings about how the words chosen by the academy are micro-aggressive, and rooted in racism: “I don’t like that “urban” word. It’s just a politically correct way to say the n-word to me.” He proceeded to question why he couldn’t be categorised as “pop” and called the “rap” nomination a “backhanded compliment”. At the same time, he says he acknowledges that his music is “a whole other world” for the kind of people who are in attendance at the Grammys and then added, “I’m grateful that what I made could be acknowledged in a world like this.”
Tyler just taught everyone an invaluable lesson about the importance of using a win to educate. He was able to spectacularly convey being in two minds about being celebrated at the most prestigious music awards show of this century, while simultaneously acknowledging that people who look like him have had to struggle to have their work acknowledged under a system that was clearly not built to serve or celebrate them.
Moments like this reflect a powerful and necessary shift in thinking about who we celebrate and why and the fact that this took place at such a universally celebrated event like The Grammys will hopefully hit home even harder.