Billie Eilish was the “Bad Guy” at this year’s Grammy’s

Julia Nicholson, copy editor

If I hadn’t begun to think that the Grammy’s were moving in a polarizing direction before, I certainly did after Billie Eilish took home the night’s four highest awards at the 62nd annual award show. After a little over a week of reflection from “music’s biggest night”, I’m still upset at how the Grammy’s turned out, and not hopeful for their future. This year in music wasn’t bad, so why were the Grammy’s?

The night didn’t have the best press leading into it, as the Recording Academy’s President and Chief Executive Deborah Dugan was placed on leave ten days before the event. Dugan had been appointed as the Academy’s first female president before filing complaints of “voting irregularities, financial mismanagement, exorbitant and unnecessary legal fees, and conflicts of interest” within the Academy, according to The New York Times. This led to many rumors, including one that attributed Taylor Swift’s absence to protesting Dugan’s removal, and many wondering how the night might play out.

Going into the night, almost anybody could’ve told you that 18-year-old Eilish’s night looked promising. Due to the overwhelming success in sales from her debut album and her young age, the Best New Artist award didn’t receive much debate prior to the night; everyone agreed it would rest in Eilish’s hands. My pick would’ve easily been Maggie Rogers, but I’ve been let down by many of their recent picks in the category (Dua Lipa and Meghan Trainor? c’mon), so I didn’t have any hope for her winning. Besides, if they were going to properly acknowledge Rogers, her debut album, “Heard It in a Past Life”, would’ve been up there next to Eilish’s as a contender for Album of the Year. 

While there weren’t a plethora of exciting albums released last year, it feels like a scam to have 2019 in music represented by Eilish’s “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” which eventually took home the prize for AOTY. The Recording Academy claims that this award is “without regard to album sales, chart position, or critical reception,” but Eilish’s underwhelming style and overwhelming chart success would lead me to believe otherwise. Eilish’s success and popularity have rested solely in the hands of the youth. In previous years, the Recording Academy seemed to choose the most universally adored musician that would cause the least amount of debate. My only insight into this vote was that the year was dominated by new artists, and so the Recording Academy could think of nothing else to do but give the award to their young heroine. “WWFAWDWG?” was anything but exciting for me. Each track feels like Eilish is on the brink of outstanding songwriting and glorious vocals, neither of which ever quite pay off. If I had it my way, Lana Del Rey would finally be rewarded by the Recording Academy for her album “Norman F****** Rockwell”. As an artist who generally flies under the radar, Lana’s recent album caught more mainstream attention, and rightfully so. After working on her craft publicly for a decade, “Norman F******* Rockwell” seems like the perfect culmination of her writing capability and sonic cohesion. 

While she wouldn’t be my pick to have won Best New Artist or Album of the Year, I can understand them. However, shortly after receiving her gramophone for Best New Artist, Eilish went back on stage, this time joined by brother and collaborator Finneas, to accept Song of the Year. If there was any point in the night that made me want to turn off my television—excluding Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C’s “performance”—it was this one. If you’re unfamiliar with the Grammy’s, Song of the Year embraces the composition of a song and is awarded to its songwriters; a quick glance at this year’s nominees would convince anyone that this award should not rest with Eilish and “Bad Guy”. I would have been satisfied had any other nominee—Lady Gaga’s “Always Remember Us This Way”, Tanya Tucker’s “Bring My Flowers Now”, H.E.R.’s “Hard Place”, Taylor Swift’s “Lover”, Lana Del Rey’s “Norman F****** Rockwell”, Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved”, and Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts”—won. Every song on that list is more memorable, insightful, relatable, or powerful than “Bad Guy” in terms of writing and composition. This isn’t to say that I don’t respect Eilish and her brother’s talent when it comes to lyricism; in fact, I think every other song on her album, lyrically, is more interesting than “Bad Guy”. Besides, what is Eilish even saying in “Bad Guy”?

The last award of the night went to Eilish. At this point, the night felt too much like one big “Eilish party” for anyone else to slow her momentum and take home Record of the Year. This didn’t make me any less stunned, however, that a single as irrelevant as “Bad Guy” was given so much recognition. If I had my way, Bon Iver’s “Hey Ma”, a timeless but inventive record, or Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Old Town Road”, the year’s most popular and surprisingly lovable record, would’ve taken it home. (Plus, if the Recording Academy followed through with their plan to reward sales’ success, “Old Town Road” would’ve taken home the prize; it outperformed Eilish’s single and broke the record for the longest consecutive No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.)

Beyond the individual wins, the night itself just didn’t feel right. With music’s biggest names absent—Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Drake, Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Adele, and Katy Perry were amongst the artists who didn’t attend—the night advertised music’s newer names to attract an audience. With so much promise, excitement, and talent, why was only one name emphasized to that degree? Where was the love for Lil Nas X, H.E.R., Rosalia, Camilla Cabello, and Lewis Capaldi? The night had felt so Eilish that I forgot Lizzo had taken home three awards herself. 

What was even more unfortunate was how Eilish had to react to her back-to-back (to-back-to-back) wins. The 18-year-old was less excited and grateful, and more confused and annoyed. Before she won Album of the Year, Eilish was seen mumbling “Please don’t be me,” and she echoed this sentiment after nearly every award. Eilish inarguably had a fantastic year and produced an impressive record but should’ve been acknowledged to a much lesser degree. By awarding her for an album that wasn’t universally admired, the Academy took away the genuine wins she would have received and her space for improvement. Given the situation, I’m curious to not only see where Eilish will go from here, but where the Recording Academy will as well.