I’m not willing to condemn el sabor latino Jennifer Lopez injected in her Motown Tribute at the 61st Grammy Awards Show; Black Twitter, and the prolific writers at Blavity and the Root have done a decent job at voicing the thoughts of many black Grammy Awards viewers. But even before the social media comment machine decided to aggressively question, “Why J Lo?” as a tributary of the historic record label, my thoughts were going through shoots, and climbing ladders trying to figure out why I was so bothered in spite of the obvious; sentiments that there are an abundance of black soul artists that could have at least collaborated with her on the tribute, now turned, tributo.
Bruno Mars over the years has received similar backlash for the cultural appropriation of black music. I could never bring myself to join in on those commentaries. There’s something about the way he keeps humble, unapologetically credits black artists for the inspiration behind his music, and exhibits an inexhaustible showmanship that dim those criticisms.
His music also falls under the umbrella of R&B, soul and funk, all of which, align with the familiar Motown Sound that brings on a certain nostalgia to its listeners. The J Lo sound I’ve been listening to for decades doesn’t fit neatly into those genres, which could explain my tremendous anxiety about the artist selection for that particular tribute. I would have appreciated a Motown Tribute from Bruno, despite his race.
I’m more aware that my anxieties from Sunday night’s tribute are rooted far more deeply in the lack of musical representation than lack of race representation. And I have questions: Were other artists offered the part? If so, did they reject the offer? What decision-making model was used to make the choice?