In the world we’re living in, of political turmoil and societal turbulence, chaos and wonder, let me ask: does anybody really care about the Grammys? Is it possible for any single person to care about an award that has almost become synonymous for white mediocrity, or are there still people trying to justify the win of 1989 (2014) over To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)? And, at the end of the day, does winning one even mean anything anymore, or has the whole show escalated to a few Academy voters there to feel self-righteous for a day?
The Grammys aren’t really synonymous with “diversity,” or “innovation,” or in some cases even good music (how many nominations did we give to Meghan Trainor? Is that the equivalence of us giving two Oscars to Ben Affleck?). The show has been heavily criticized for not even being “in-touch” with the music world, and has had a history of awarding artists whose work received less than stellar reviews from critics and fans alike. To exemplify this, in 1991, Sinead O’Connor became the first person to refuse to accept her Grammy, stating that her anger came from the commercialism of the award show.
But besides just not being “in-touch” with the music world – something an award show not only should be doing, but seems like it cannot exist without – the Grammys seem to purposefully push the segregation and exclusion in the music industry. In 1989 the award show introduced its first rap category, but did not televise it with the rest of the main awards, causing a boycott started by Def Jam’s Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen. Simmons then stated, “We didn’t care what the industry thought: That was the statement. We liked our status as alternative.”
But the televising of the category didn’t seem to do any better; in 2014, three out of the four rap categories were won by Macklemore, a win over critically and commercially acclaimed albums, like Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012) and Kanye West’s Yeezus (2013). Not to mention, the Academy’s not-so-subtle ways of trying to place black artists out of the forefront of the award shows, such as by creating the category of “Urban Contemporary” in 2013, or nominating critically and commercially successful albums by black artists under only the category of “Best Rap Album,” and not “Album of the Year” (see Kanye and Dark Fantasy (2010)). Frank Ocean has also been very vocal about his distaste for the award show, especially its ignorance about and exclusion of black artists; a distaste that has been met with backlash from Grammy producers, who claim his anger with the show comes from his weak performance back in 2013 (Ocean responded in a Tumblr post, where he called the producers “old”). It’s clear that the Grammys no longer represent the views of what the people believe should win (or did they ever?).
But more than anything, it seems that artists themselves don’t even take the award show seriously. After winning with Pearl Jam in 1996, Eddie Vedder accepted the award with, “I don’t know what this means. I don’t think it means anything.” Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon noted too, that, “I kinda felt like going up there and being like: “Everyone should go home, this is ridiculous. You should not be doing this. We should not be gathering in a big room and looking at each other and pretending that this is important.” For an award show that doesn’t gain respect from the fans, critics, or even the artists to whom they are awarding, it begs the question: what’s the point? Have the Grammys become a self-serving vehicle for voters to pat themselves on the back for awarding what they see fit, versus what the world does? Can an award show even hold weight if the world does not give it any, especially if that award show is sidelining “black visionary work…in favor of a white traditionalist one”?
While the Grammy committee have tried to appease this a little this year (no nominee for Album of the Year this time around is a white man), it’s hard to take seriously an award show that seems to have no real effect on sales or high-quality work. In the new age of independent sales and online streaming, it seems that the things the music industry used to hold as sacred – physical album sales, label deals, and Grammy awards – are no longer important or necessary; to that end, it seems as if the Grammys have been pushed into a corner, becoming more of a glorified set of performances than the award show it intends to be.
As the Grammys air, the world most likely will not stop for it. In today’s day and age, the year 2018, artists tend to work directly for their fans, an idea many old Grammy voters might find incredibly wild. But, as Frank Ocean wrote in his Tumblr post to the committee, “BELIEVE THE ONES WHO’D RATHER WATCH SELECT PERFORMANCES FROM YOUR PROGRAM ON YOUTUBE THE DAY AFTER BECAUSE YOUR SHOW PUTS THEM TO SLEEP. USE THE OLD GRAMOPHONE TO ACTUALLY LISTEN BRO.”
Written by Leka Gopal