The Grammy winner has amassed an array of international guest stars – reggaeton rappers, Lana Del Rey, Kenny G – for his vision of global pop, but the bland effect is more amiable than eclectic
You might have imagined that Jon Batiste’s triumph at the 2022 Grammy awards would be greeted with delight. He won more gongs than anyone else: five in total, becoming the first Black artist to win album of the year, for 2021’s We Are, in 14 years. Here was a virtuoso musician who existed on the margins of the mainstream – best-known as the bandleader on Stephen Colbert’s talkshow and the author of the “user-friendly jazz songs” from the Disney film Soul – hoisted into the spotlight by dint of his talent alone.
Instead, his success was more ambivalently received. Batiste, the naysayers suggested, was was a safe choice, more redolent of the past than the musical present. We Are had abandoned the traditionalist jazz found on his previous album, 2018’s Hollywood Africans, in favour of soul with a distinct retro flavour. Batiste, one writer complained, wasn’t “someone at the forefront of this century’s defining hip-hop and R&B sounds”.
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