The complaint of minority artists that white artists dominate the annual Grammy Awards has been heard. But the opinion piece, ‘On issue of race, Grammys leap past the Oscars, then stumble’ published under the heading ‘Kanye might just have a point’ in this Friday’s newpaper got one important point wrong.
The author noted that out of all the top categories, that black artists were shut out of the top awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of The Year. He felt that The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face” was somehow snubbed out of the Record of the Year Grammy when Bruno Mars & Mark Ronson won that award for “Uptown Funk,” citing that Bruno Mars is Puerto Rican and Filipino. Say what?
Not so fast! Hawaiian born Mars started life as Peter Gene Hernandez. His mother is Filipino, but his father is Jewish and Puerto Rican. Puerto Rico historically has a large black population, going back to its time as a Spanish colony. The black, European, and native Taino population did a lot of mixing around over hundreds of years. There is, in Puerto Rican culture, alot of internal racism and an attitude that whiter is better. Mars act is an homage to the black music stars of yesteryear. Not wanting to be pigeonholed as a hispanic artist who should restrict himself to singing in Spanish, he went with his childhood nickname, Bruno with Mars added for an out-of-this-world pizzazz.
Meanwhile, Kanye West tweeted, “Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, New York Times, and any other white publication [to] please … not comment on black music anymore.” But what makes music black? Why are Beyonce, Kendrik Lamar, or The Weeknd black, and the lead singer of Alabama Shakes is mixed-race but Bruno Mars is overlooked? Brun means brown in French. Is this the new modern equivalent of Jim Crow where an artist must now prove some percentage of blackness to gain credibility or be considered white? How black is black enough to count as black or African-American?
While there is much speculation about Mars’ racial background, he’s been largely silent on the issue, at least in interviews. He also, occasionally shows up to social events with an afro rather than his trademark pompadour, as he did in the “Uptown Funk” video. Notably, he is about the same shade as his backup singer/dancers and significantly darker than is the white dude in the video, Mark Ronson. The song cuts a not-so-fresh but fun, danceable groove which could have been performed by 70s/80s funk bands like The Gap Band, Rick James, Zapp, Chic, Earth Wind & Fire, The Time, Rick James, or James Brown himself. Mixed-race Mars certainly doesn’t really qualify as being part of the white establishment. And his music certainly deserved recognition.
On another note, the song’s co-writers include Phillip Lawrence who frequently works with Mars, and Lawrence is most assuredly African-American. This is a win for him.