JaJuan M. Morris-Guity
Why do We Care About the Grammys Again?
In the court of public opinion, the Grammys have been lauded as “the judge and jury” for how and what America perceives to be among the highest tier of musical composition. For the most part, this precedent has been undisputed for a solid portion of the award’s 60-year reign. Although this has been the reality for over a half a century, the “chief” evaluators of who win these awards have become infamous for selecting the more commercial candidate over the critically better or more culturally impactful contender.
Some notable miscalculations of the past include:
British rock band Jethro Tull who won Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance over legendary rock band Metallica in 1989.
Will Smith beat out Busta Rhymes, Notorious B.I.G. and Missy Elliott in their prime for Best Rap Solo Performance in 1998.
Evanescence won Best New Artist over 50 Cent right after he dropped one of the most classic hip-hop albums to date with his freshman debut: “Get Rich or Die Tryin’”.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis won Best Rap Album in 2014, eclipsing four mind-blowing hip-hop records: Drake’s “Nothing Was The Same,” Jay-Z’s “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” and Kanye’s “Yeezus.”
These are just some of the controversial instances that have taken place among the show’s long-spanning history that have led to its increasingly bad rap. For a presentation that has been criticized for its shady antics for such a long time, the most pertinent question is: “why do we still even care about the Grammys in 2021?”
While many find the Grammys to be the golden standard of “what’s hot,” many are now calling into question its validity and whether it should continue to be celebrated at its traditional level of global repute. Despite its undeniable prestige, this trend of not giving deserving artists their proper flowers has led major artists and music enthusiasts to believe the Grammys are rigged and out of touch at an almost absurd level.
As recent as this week, artists have shown how fed up they are with the annual music ceremony. In a statement to The New York Times, The Weeknd said Thursday he would “no longer allow my label to submit my music to the Grammys.”
The Weeknd has become the latest artist to be slighted by the Grammys. “After Hours,” his fourth No.1 album, became the first record since Drake’s “Scorpion” (2018) to spend four consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard 200. Logic would conclude this record would at least be nominated. The Weeknd was snubbed completely. Almost immediately after hearing the news, he expressed his grievances via Twitter.
Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of the rock band Tool shared some “food for thought” related to this plight in 2002.
“I think the Grammys are nothing more than some gigantic promotional machine for the music industry. They cater to a low intellect and they feed the masses. They don’t honor the arts or the artist for what they created. It’s the music business celebrating itself. That’s basically what it’s all about.”
On top of its hazy voting process, a multitude of popular artists have been open about condemning the Grammys. In 1989, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince boycotted the presentation after the Grammys decided the only award they wouldn’t televise was the inaugural Best Rap Performance award for their popular crossover track “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”
In 1999, Jay-Z boycotted the Grammys in support of DMX and the lack of love he received after releasing two No.1 albums - “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot” and “Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood.” Frank Ocean opted to abstain from not only attending the ceremony but deliberately forfeiting his second studio album “Blonde” from the nomination pool in 2017. Ocean told The New York Times “that institution certainly has nostalgic importance. It just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from.” In November, Nicki Minaj tweeted her thoughts about the apathy she has received throughout the entirety of her career from the institution.
These are just a few notable instances of artists not being afraid to hold the institution accountable but all point to the platform’s inevitable hubris: their system is inherently flawed, archaic and in desperate need of reinvention.
Taking this anti-Grammy movement a bit further, some artists have chosen to defend the notion that receiving a Grammy doesn’t define one’s career. Someone who has become a leading voice against the institution’s dominance is Drake. After receiving his fourth Grammy award in 2019 for Best Rap Song (“God’s Plan”), Drake declared the accolades don’t determine his worth as an artist and urged others to think the same.
Ironically, his mic was cut off during the latter part of his speech but he was able to get his point across. Recognition from the Grammys isn’t everything. All that matters is fans’ love and appreciation and the fact artists get to do what they love for a living.
Quite frankly, that’s the true championship.
With this being said, should the Grammys continue to hold such high value among the masses of society? Is it designed to celebrate true musicianship or is it solely industry-driven? And if it’s the latter, why do we continue to subject ourselves to such a dwindling system? Let’s dare to examine the inner workings of this outstanding institution.
Born on May 4, 1959, The first Grammy Awards ceremony was held to honor the best and brightest in music. Presented by The Recording Academy, the award show is considered one of the four major annual American entertainment awards alongside the Academy, Emmy and Tony Awards. While its reputation certainly precedes itself for being credible with little to no thought, the institution’s flaws behind who determines the winners have become undeniably glaring and may clearly showcase why award determinations are botched with such recklessness.
First, let’s understand who’s calling the shots. In order to become a voting member, one must first meet at least one of the following:
Have been credited with 12 physical or digital tracks released online only and currently available for purchase; with at least one track in the past five years.
Have six credits on commercially released tracks currently available for sale and distributed through physical distribution outlets (such as record stores), with at least one track in the past five years.
Won a Grammy
Gain an endorsement from a current voting member
While this criteria seems unbiased on the surface, a closer look will highlight their rubric is a breeding ground for elite judges who are more likely to harbor bias in favor of mainstream artists. According to a discrimination claim filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, former Recording Academy president and CEO Deborah Dugan avowed that members of the board of trustees and the nomination review committee “choose artists with whom they have personal or business relationships with.”
On top of having a team of voters who are predisposed to favor more prominent artists, the Grammys has an additional team of “expert” personnel consisting of the national chair, president/chief executive office, the awards department head and the national board of trustees for further refinement.
Due to their stages of murky assessment, the likelihood of someone winning simply by virtue of their quality as an artist is slim. If an artist is popular on the radio or falls under the mainstream gaze, it increases their chances of greater recognition - regardless of how impactful their work is. From a brief glance, this doesn’t seem like the worst offense. But when you take into account the volume of nominations that may or may not appeal to or even reach evaluators, the entire operation begins to lose credibility swiftly.
When it’s all said and done, hopeful rhetoric and agitated Twitter rants only go so far. The only way artists of color will receive their just due and flowers they deserve without struggle is by appreciating and bolstering our own award shows. We must champion our own award institutions with enthusiasm. We must uplift our own with as much verve as we give to the Grammys who have historically ignored our contributions to music and culture. Instead of complaining about the Grammys, Black artists can be more resolute about showing up and showing out to Black-centric award presentations like the Soul Train and BET Awards. These presentations have consistently shown up for us year after year so it’s only right the energy is reciprocated. Without question, this is a viable method that will shift the allure and overall respect of our awards, hopefully leveling the playing field.
Last November, Drake proposed a new leaf for musicians and members of the music industry on his Instagram.
“I think we should stop allowing ourselves to be shocked every year by the disconnect between impactful music and these awards and just accept that what once was the highest form of recognition may no longer matter to the artists that exist now and the ones that come after...this is a great time for somebody to start something new that we can build up over time and pass on to the generations to come.”
Maybe that “somebody” will be Drake. Perhaps, it won’t. But what’s set in stone is the glory days of this long esteemed presentation have passed and hopefully this realization will usher in something fresh and worthy of appreciation and proper investment.