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The Ariana Grande Debacle Has Already Ruined the Grammys

The awards show messed things up with one of the biggest pop stars in the world. With Drake and Kendrick Lamar declining invitations to perform—and possibly skipping the show altogether—the headlines from Sunday night’s broadcast won’t be about what happens on stage.

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The godforsaken Grammys, jealous of the Oscars as usual, have decided they’d like a little humiliating pre-ceremony calamity for themselves. On Tuesday, Variety reported that Ariana Grande—one of the biggest pop stars in the world, and one of the precious few with no previous bone to pick with the ever-hapless Recording Academy—would neither perform at nor attend this Sunday’s 61st-annual Grammy Awards on CBS. Grande reportedly wanted to perform her new single, “7 Rings,” but the show’s producers asked her to do it as part of a medley instead, with other songs of their choosing. (The Grammys love medleys almost as much as they love late-period Steely Dan albums.)

Explaining this last-minute dropout to the Associated Press, Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich lamented that Grande “felt it was too late for her to pull something together.” He is eating those words as you read them.

A good sign that you fucked up, in your capacity as a Grammys producer, is when a major pop star addresses you on Twitter by your first name. Grande’s new record, Thank U, Next, is out Friday and will undoubtedly top the Billboard chart and dominate the cultural conversation that she is already currently dominating. It is mystifying that the Grammys wouldn’t let her do literally whatever she wants, especially given that what she wanted to do was perform the no. 1 song in the country.

This baffling decision echoes last year’s Grammys debacle, in which Lorde was both the only female Album of the Year nominee and the only Album of the Year nominee not offered her own solo performance slot. (Per Variety, producers wanted her to sing “American Girl” as part of a Tom Petty tribute, which is, of course, every New Zealand girl’s dream.) Lorde skipped the ceremony, during which only one woman (Alessia Cara, in yet another controversy) won a televised award, inspiring the lively hashtag #GrammysSoMale. Whereupon Recording Academy president Neil Portnow, best known for giving long-winded mid-ceremony speeches on his favorite topic, told Variety that to fix the problem, “women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls” need “to step up.” The response was unpleasant. A good sign that you fucked up, in your capacity as Recording Academy president, is when Fiona Apple wears a shirt that turns your first name into a verb.

So no Ariana Grande on Sunday. And no Drake, Kendrick Lamar, or Childish Gambino performances either, per a New York Times report on the Grammys’ ongoing and ever-worsening attempts to solve their diversity issue. (All three of those artists, despite being up for multiple major awards apiece, wouldn’t even confirm that they’d attend the ceremony at all, a popular move known colloquially as The Bieber.) In recent years, the Grammys have been roasted by everyone from Jay-Z (who infamously went 0-for-8 on his nominations last year and took it poorly) to Frank Ocean (who lambasted Ehrlich as “old” in a righteous 2017 Tumblr post about his refusal to even submit his album Blonde for consideration) to Kanye West (a pioneer in this realm, as in all others). The Grammys have no feel for rap, R&B, and upper-echelon pop, and consequently have been bleeding credibility and goodwill for years. It is genuinely impressive that this situation keeps getting worse.

Per the New York Times report, the Recording Academy took concrete steps this year to combat its #GrammysSoMale problem, forming a task force, inviting 900 new members to vote, enlisting Alicia Keys to host, and expanding its major-category slots from five to eight, which resulted in a broader and much zanier field than last year’s. (Album of the Year nominees include Drake, Cardi B, Janelle Monáe, Kacey Musgraves, Lamar’s Black Panther soundtrack, Post Malone, and two legitimate wild cards in Americana singer Brandi Carlile and R&B newcomer H.E.R.) The Grande flap—in which, to repeat, arguably the biggest pop star on earth was not allowed to perform the no. 1 song in America—neutralizes all of that. This face-lift is a bust before it’s even unveiled.

Consequently, on Sunday, as usual, who doesn’t win—and who doesn’t even show up—will be a much bigger Grammys story than whoever does. (The saddest line in the Times piece: “Taylor Swift, who is up for just one award, pop vocal album, is also in London, filming an adaptation of Cats, and is not expected to attend the show.”) This was supposed to be the year the Grammys figured it out, or at least radically shook things up in a tacit acknowledgment that they still don’t have it figured out. Instead, prepare yourself for, like, five separate Sting duets with random, ridiculous people, all punctuated by an Album of the Year victory for Post Malone. It’s music’s biggest night, after all. It is also, reliably, the dumbest. See you then, Ken.