It’s Time to Fix the Grammys

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Photo: Unsplash.com

Dylan Becker, Staff Writer

 

The 2022 Grammy Award ceremony will take place in April, and when the nominees were announced back in November, the laundry list of names was exactly what we all expected: Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran. Pardon the cliché, but it was like deja vu. 

 

Once thought to be a prestigious ceremony designed to celebrate artistic merit and the best music the industry has to offer, the Grammys have turned into nothing more than a popularity contest. The same artists get nominated year after year, filling the top of the award lists. Safe, nondiversified picks stack up one over the other as the Recording Academy refuses to dive past the surface into the deeper world of impactful music and musicians. So while at first glance, winning a coveted statue may seem like validation of an artist’s career, in reality, all it means is that you’ve sold a lot of records. 

 

If you look at the history of Grammy contenders, you’ll find a staggering lack of diversity, both in gender and race. Of all nominations between 2013 and 2021, only 13.4 percent of nominees were women. And while over 81 percent of Billboard’s Top 10 Best-Selling Albums in 2020 were made by non-white artists, these same artists represented only 26.7 percent of all nominees between 2012 and 2020. 

 

Meanwhile, the Grammys have become oversaturated with popular and commercial works of artists like Swift and Sheeran, whom the radio shoves down our throats. But where’s Baby Keem’s nomination for Rap Album of The Year? Or Don Toliver? Why doesn’t Tyler, The Creator ever get the nominations he deserves? How come SZA received no credit for her recent solo work?

 

If we want winning a Grammy to mean something, it’s time to stop prioritizing who sells the most records and consider the artistry and resonance of the music itself. 

 

Take Tyler, The Creator, who dazzled fans and critics alike with his highly acclaimed album IGOR, known for its incredible production and genre-bending tendencies, not for rap. Despite many believing IGOR was the best album to release ahead of the 2020 Grammys, it was nowhere to be seen in the Album of the Year category. Instead, Tyler was relegated to the Rap Album of the Year category——an award he would end up winning, despite the fact that his album was about as far away from rap as you could get. 

 

When asked about the situation, Tyler had this to say: “It sucks that whenever we — and I mean guys that look like me — do anything that’s genre-bending or that’s anything, they always put it in a rap or urban category.” He added that the rap nomination felt like “a backhanded compliment… Like, oh, my little cousin wants to play the game, let’s give him the unplugged controller so he can shut up and feel good about it.” 

 

The same thing happened back in 2005, when Kanye West took home Grammys for best rap song, best rap album and best R&B song, but lost the Best New Artist category to Maroon 5. “Everyone was sure — including us — that he would win,” said Maroon 5 guitarist James Valentine in an interview with grammy.com. “So we were genuinely shocked when they called our name.” 

 

How can the Grammys be considered legitimate when even the winning artists seem to recognize that racial bias and a failure to recognize the best music have somehow become ingrained in the system? Even Adele was floored when her record “25” beat out Beyonce’s “Lemonade” for Album of the Year in 2017. “I can’t possibly accept this award,” she said during her acceptance speech. “I’m very humbled and I’m very grateful and gracious. But my artist of my life is Beyoncé. And this album to me, the ‘Lemonade’ album, is just so monumental. Beyoncé, it was so monumental.”

 

Clearly, the Grammys are broken. It’s time for the Recording Academy to look beyond the surface and find music that is really changing the industry and the lesser-known artists who inspire countless people. Instead of prioritizing who sells the most records, the Academy needs to look at the music itself. They need to consider artistry. They need to consider the way a song or album impacts listeners—how it makes people feel. They need to celebrate creativity and originality and modernization. Artists who are constantly innovating must no longer be left in the shadows while those with big names, slick productions, commercial success and tons of radio play are rewarded. The Grammys need to go beyond the surface in order to find the best pieces of work each year, the gold standard of music, in order to put an end to this mollified popularity contest once and for all. 

 

After all, no one finds gold on the surface.