The State Of The Grammys
The Recording Academy's Grammy Awards have long been considered to be the highest prizes to be aspired to by musicians everywhere. Even just being nominated is seen as an immense honor by many within and outside the music industry. Over the years, that reverence and deep respect for the golden gramophone has gradually dissipated. From complaints about the length of the show to occasional god-awful performances, general interest in the Grammys has waned year over year.
But perhaps the main grouse many have with the Recording Academy’s marquee event is that the show often seems out of touch with popular music trends. In recent years, that concern has been amplified by voices calling for more diversity among the nominees and, ultimately, the winners. This is especially for the main trophies (Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, and Best New Artist).
A number of popular artists and industry figures have been quite vocal about calling out the Recording Academy on what are described as snubs. Kanye West, for instance has had several outbursts on and off the stage criticizing some of the choices for awards. West, himself, has 21 Grammys but none in any of the major categories despite being one of the most prolific artists chart-wise.
While Beyoncé Knowles-Carter has not been as critical of the Grammys, many of her fans and supporters have expressed similar sentiments. During the most dominant periods of her career when she was passed over, there were many observers and fans questioning the choices of the Grammy decision-makers. For instance, in 2015, many were left disappointed when Album of the Year went to Beck's Morning Phase
instead of Beyoncé’s Beyoncé
, and in 2017 when Adele took home the same trophy. Furthermore, analysts looking at the 2010s period when hip hop and R&B dominated the charts, found that Bruno Mars was the only non-white act to cop the Album of the Year Award.
These and other instances led to many boycotting or simply snubbing the Awards ceremony themselves. High profile acts, including Taylor Swift, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Justin Bieber, and Rihanna all stayed away from the 2020 Grammys. And, although the latest edition of the Grammys was believed to contain the most diverse nominees in recent history, it was steeped in controversy prior to the big night. This, as a result of former Recording Academy Chief Executive Officer Deborah Dugan making some damning allegations.
Will all that said, the New York Times posted a thought-provoking article
the day after the 2020 Grammys. In the article, questions were posed to readers about the Recording Academy's response to criticisms leveled at the Grammys, among other related arguments. The piece has since racked up over 120 answers to date. Below, we share the questions and a few of the recurring themes:
Did it seem like much has changed?
Very few of the respondents believed that the 62nd Grammy Awards reflected change as it relates to being more diverse. In fact, only about five of the comments seemed to agree that the 2020 Grammys signaled a shift towards more diverse artists. Harrison Carter from Hoggard High School was one of those who felt this way:
“This year's Grammys was definitely one for the history books. I felt that the black artist community was extremely well represented compared to what has been seen in past years. Not only did Alicia Keys host the event, the majority of guest performers were black as well. Lizzo, a pop singer does not fit the typical mold of a "Hollywood woman." She is black and plus-size. However, she was featured in the opening performance and was nominated for 8 Grammy awards. She ended up winning 3.
This year, the LGBTQ+ community was represented strongly by Tyler the Creator, and Billie Eilish. Both fall into the category and won big this year.”
Did the awards handed out this year closer reflect the types of music most people were listening to?
If the music most people listen to is interpreted as the most popular, then most of the respondents were in agreement with this point. More than 50% agreed that the Grammy Awards handed out tended to reflect the most popular songs and artists.
However, almost as many felt that popular did not mean best. In other words, they felt that just because a musical work and/or its performer was popular did not mean it/they were good enough to win a Grammy. Michele Mastropieri from Glenbard West High School was one of the many who held this general view and had this to say:
"The Grammy awards do not convey the best in music today like they once did. They have become just a simple award show driven by publicity and greed, therefore causing many great artists to be overshadowed and thrown under the rug in favor of more drama heavy singer/songwriters. The Grammys now only serve to fill the egos of the artist and celebrities that attend rather than placing a spotlight on the year’s most innovative and inspiring music."
Other respondents such as Audrey Pauer, also from Glenbard West High School, opined the Grammys’ focus on song popularity on the radio did not take into account the diverse listening habits of many people nowadays. In her comment, she noted:
“I personally didn’t listen to many of the artists nominated. We’re living in a generation where teens aren’t restricted to the dozen or so songs constantly played on the radio. With streaming services like Spotify, it’s become much easier for teens to branch out into other genres of music and discover new and less well-known artists and songs.”
On the other hand, there were a few respondents who felt that the most popular songs and artists were deemed to be popular because of the general public’s interest in them. In their opinion, this, therefore, meant the most popular musical works/artists deserved to win the Grammys. Ella, another commenter from Glenbard West High School had this to say:
“Don’t get me wrong I love watching The Grammys, but the awards primarily focus on the popularity of the artist, and I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with that. Often times artist that win are the ones you hear on the radio the most for that year, which makes sense. But because each person has a different taste in music, lots of people will disagree on who deserves a Grammy more. I feel as though a well-known artist who is listened to a lot deserves a Grammy because they have appealed to a larger audience.”
Does it matter who wins the Grammys?
For a number of commenters, it was felt that Grammy Awards didn’t have bearing on actual talent and so, for them, it did not matter who won. Some pointed out that it was difficult for the Grammys to get it right because music is such a subjective topic. In this regard, Steven Dunn from Florida had this to say:
“If you were to ask multiple people who they think is the future of pop there is a good chance that there will be all sorts of different answers and none of them are wrong because it's not something with a real factual answer. Instead of doing that I think they just go with the most popular answer and sometimes that is not the answer that everyone else is looking for.”
Did the pushback from popular artists about who gets the Grammys influence the general public’s perception of the Recording Academy?
There were mostly indirect responses to this question. For instance, one or two respondents mentioned Drake’s resentment for his song “Hotline Bling” winning an award in the rap category (because it is considered to be pop) and Tyler the Creator complaining about the same thing at this year's show. One respondent, in particular, expressed the opinion that artists who were unhappy with the Grammys were justified in their beliefs.
“I think that artists like Drake, Frank Ocean and Kanye West are right to be unhappy with the Grammys. The type of music that they make almost never wins the major awards like album, song and record of the year, and best new artist. My favorite type of music is rap, and I think that it is not expressed correctly in the Grammys.”
– Gabe Axelrod, J.R. Masterman.
Another commenter was a little more direct.
“The statements from Drake and Kanye West have really made me think about how a person is chosen to win. After further research, the winners aren’t chosen by the people but by fellow musicians. This doesn’t accurately represent the public’s opinion. That’s why many artists have been opting out of submitting their songs/albums for Grammys, which is fully justified.”
– Soka S, Glenbard West High School.
Does the Grammy voting process seem fair?
Fewer than 10 respondents spoke directly to this question, with the majority suggesting that the voting process was unfair.
“The Grammys are based solely on the popularity of the artist, if they allowed the voting to be open to the public it will then give other artists more of a chance to be recognized for their musical talent rather than their popularity,”
noted Morgan Clifford of Glenbard West.
Isabelle Better of Guilderland High School added: “I really don't understand that if this is an award show we are supposed to [watch] and root for our favorite artists, why we can't put it in the hands of the people to vote on who wins.”
For Melissa Dudley from Glenbard West, she believes voters should represent the diversity of all the different types of people who listen to music, instead of “mainly white, wealthy men”
as has been rumored. According to her, “This is ridiculous. The people who play this role should represent the diversity of the world, or at least United States. This lack of diversity also often contributes to even more, as the nominees and winners are mostly white.”
On the other hand, there were at least two comments that seemed in agreement with the voting system.
“The Grammy's award does represent the best music in the world today because it is based on votes. Then the artist is rewarded on how well their album or song did. Music reflects on many people. Also, many people listen to music for many different reasons.”
– Emily, New York.
For Emma P of Hoggard High School, although not in full agreement with how winners are chosen, the Grammy Awards was more or less a good platform. “In my opinion I think that the Grammy's are a great way to decide who the best artist are. It gives people a chance to vote and pick who they like the best,”
The Recording Academy and its Grammy Awards have been hit with controversy for years. While the most recent edition reflected some change, there are still many people who are not satisfied. From the comments, it seems the majority don’t believe the awards are fairly given. A few don’t think it should matter and another segment that thinks the process of nominating and choosing winners is simply not transparent enough.