The audience in New York and on social media booed at one award handed out last night. Ed Sheeran beat out P!NK, Lady Gaga, Kesha, Kelly Clarkson for Best Pop Solo Performance. To make matters worse, he didn’t even show up to receive his award! Sheeran sparked further cries of foul this morning when he posted on Instagram that he slept through the awards show, but that his cat was celebrating.
Ellen Degeneres tried to smooth things over a bit, acknowledging all of the nominees, and pretending to take some of the blame for Sheeran’s absence.
The outrage over Sheeran’s win cut across a few areas. First, Sheeran’s song is about his obsession over a woman’s body. Second, the song beat two very powerful, emotional songs by women. And finally, he was the only male nominee in his category – and still walked away with the Grammy. Well, he didn’t actually walk away with it, but enough about him being a no-show… some people are upset about Ed Sheeran’s win, and I want to examine why.
I looked back at past winners in this category, to get a sense of the kinds of songs that have been nominated for Best Pop Solo Performance in the past, and how many had overt sexual overtones. To my surprise, few did. The Best Pop Solo Performance is a relatively new category, only first presented in 2012. In 2014 there were two songs nominated that contained themes of women and empowerment; “Brave” by Sara Bareilles and “Roar” by Katie Perry. While perhaps not containing the same depth of emotions of hope or pain as this years’ nominees – “Praying” or “Million Reasons” – Perry and Bareilles were beat out in 2014 by Lorde and her more light-hearted song “Royals.”
Fast forward just four years, and the political and social landscape has greatly shifted, especially during the past several months. I appreciate the outpouring of support for women shown last night by many of the celebrities in attendance. I can understand the disappointment that the only male nominee in a category full of strong women and powerful songs won, especially this year. The controversy sparked by Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” being selected as the winner is a complicated one. Sheeran claims, at least in one interview, to have originally written the song for Rihanna.
This bring up a complicated question; if the song were performed by a woman, as Sheeran intended when he wrote it, would there be the same outrage about it winning a Grammy this year? I’m not sure, but I believe it’s worth pausing to think about.