The Grammy Awards: Are They Still Relevant?

05 February 2018 Comments Off on The Grammy Awards: Are They Still Relevant?


This past Sunday, January 28, the 60th Grammy Awards ceremony was held, and it once again occupied the attention of the music world with its controversial choices. Last year, Adele’s win over Beyoncé in the major categories was extensively discussed, and it started a much-needed conversation on the Recording Academy’s failure to adequately recognize black artists. While the Academy itself is known for its unconventional decisions (from Blood Sweat and Tears winning out over The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” in 1970 to Herbie Hancock’s album of Joni Mitchell covers being chosen over Kanye West’s “Graduation” and Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” in 2008, to name but two), this year’s nominees really seemed promising: this year, after all, was the first in the Academy’s history in which no white men were nominated for the Album of the Year category. That award, however, along with five others, was picked up by Bruno Mars for his album “24K Magic.”

“24K Magic” isn’t a particularly bad album, but it certainly isn’t a great one either – and with the other albums nominated for this, the Grammys’ highest award, being Lorde’s pop masterpiece “Melodrama,” Kendrick Lamar’s cultural commentary “DAMN.,” Jay-Z’s “4:44” and Childish Gambino’s “Awaken, My Love!,” it was clearly the weakest nominee. The Recording Academy is notorious for its rewarding of overtly radio-friendly artists, but this year has shown them being controversial for controversy’s sake. All of these albums were critical (and commercial) successes this year, generating overwhelming acclaim from multiple sources on the basis of artistic merit and risk-taking production choices. This is the third time Kendrick Lamar has lost in this category, although all three of his albums that have been nominated for it are rap masterpieces deserving the highest recognition – the fact that he has not received the award even once is quite frankly a scandal.
While the focus last year was on categorical mistreatment based on race this year it shifted more toward disregard based on gender. While the Grammys were explicitly political this year, with artists wearing white roses in support of victims of sexual abuse and more than one nod to the Time’s Up movement, they failed to internalize the message of this very important cultural movement by intentionally ignoring music made by female artists. Lorde, the only woman in the album of the year category, was also the only nominee in the category who was not offered an opportunity to perform. SZA, the most- nominated female artist this year, won none of the five awards she was up for. Only one female solo artist (Alessia Cara) won in any of the major categories. When confronted on such issues, the president of the Grammys simply said that women artists needed to “step up” when it came to being a part of the music industry. Such ill- considered decisions resulted in an awards ceremony where political messages were offered to the public as a product of profitability, rather than a response to the actual, terrible events that were uncovered in the course of 2017.
Considering the fact that this year’s viewership ratings for the event were at an all-time low, the Grammys no longer seem to hold the cultural relevance they once did. While it is certainly a respected awards ceremony, having been held for more than half a century to recognize the music of the time and serve as a testament to artistic ability, it now seems to be behind the times. For more than a decade, the Academy has made all the wrong decisions in choosing whom to award, and has failed to recognize the diversity of our era – be it with regard to the artists themselves or the creative output they produce.
Perhaps a good example of a trustworthy and influential institution would be the UK’s Mercury Prize, with its record of awarding the absolute cutting-edge music of the year (past winners include Skepta over David Bowie in 2016, Pulp’s “Common People,” Portishead’s “Dummy” and The xx’s debut album – all regarded as examples of music ahead of its time, and all proven to be cult classics); or even Canada’s Polaris Music Prize, which has followed a similar trajectory to that mapped out by the Mercury.
The Recording Academy would benefit greatly from following a more contemporary approach to music, one that recognizes and reflects the diverse landscape of artists and genres across backgrounds, instead of being an outdated, banal institution that is apparently less than keen to acknowledge the most culturally significant music of its time.