The sun rose over Los Angeles the next morning, and the organizers of the 51st annual Grammy Awards announced that neither singer would perform at the evening’s big show. Knuckles sore from delivering multiple contusions to her face and arms, he turned himself into the authorities, was booked, then released on $50,000 bail. Eventually, he was charged with two felonies for which he was quickly forgiven or forever despised.
No matter where you fell on that spectrum, at Sunday night’s 55th annual Grammy Awards, you will be encouraged not to think about any of it.
She’s expected to stride onto the Staples Center stage to sing alongside Bruno Mars and Sting. He’s expected to be out in the crowd, next to her empty seat, cheering her on. They’re both up for minor trophies, but the biggest news is that they’re officially back together, a decision only an industry that stands to profit from their senseless reunion could smile upon.
“I decided it was more important for me to be happy,” she recently told Rolling Stone. “I wasn’t going to let anybody’s opinion get in the way of that. Even if it’s a mistake, it’s my mistake.”
Starry eyes read that as “owning it,” but either way, she’s profiting from it. She dominates headlines as a superstar who’s sold more singles than any artist of the digital era. So as long as we’re buying her hits at $1.29 apiece, this will continue to feel like our mistake, too.
Because she never appeared to grasp the significance of his brutality. Because he never came across as truly sorry for it. Because they both know the world keeps them under 24-hour surveillance. Because this entire ordeal seems to feed on our sustained, rapt attention.
And when we feel like we’re doing something wrong, we can stop. We can boycott products, turn off televisions, give up sugar and caffeine. Can’t we do the same here? Ignore them? Would it be rational? Ethical? With any chance of success for them or for us?
Just as their reconciliation refuses the redemptive narrative, it refuses a simple response. But five winters deep, even saying their names feels like complicity.
Grammy night has been a sparkly mile marker in this fog, annually updating millions of couch-sitters on their progress, or lack thereof.
She made a low-key return to the Grammys stage in 2010, dressed in a white, feathery frock, Jay-Z standing by as her tuxedoed guardian. Together they accepted an award for their collaboration “Run This Town.”
In 2011, three months after “What’s My Name?” became her seventh No. 1 single, she performed it at the Grammys, the song’s refrain sounding more like a search for her own identity than bedroom trash talk.