On the Grammys: Have a cigar
The 60th annual Grammy Awards have come and gone, with Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic” sweeping all three major categories. These results came as a surprise to many predictors—especially that Mars beat Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” This surprising and confusing upset is just another installment of the Academy’s long, proud history of being out of touch and completely risk-averse. It always confuses me how an organization whose sole goal is to award the efforts of the most prominent, important and popular musicians within a given year could fail to do so constantly.
The biggest selling album of 1967 was “Are You Experienced?” by then-freshman artist Jimi Hendrix, yet Hendrix neither received recognition at the 10th awards, nor at any other point during his lifetime. The rest of the 1960s awards were mostly dominated by Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand and musical soundtracks, which I think most would agree does not provide an accurate representation of ‘60s music. Through the 1970s, the unquestionably biggest band in the world was Led Zeppelin, yet the only recognition they ever received was a nomination for Best New Artist at the 12th awards (two years after their actual debut, mind you), which they lost. In 1991, the same year of Nirvana’s totemic “Nevermind,” which received only one nomination in the Alternative music category, Album of the Year was given to Natalie Cole for an album of duets with her late father, Nat “King” Cole, on songs that were already decades old. Oh, and they have just a slight history of, until recently, completely ignoring black artists whose names aren’t Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder.
In my opinion, the Grammys lacks two aspects that have led to this constant reoccurrence of obliviousness: youth and gall. First off, the Recording Academy voting on nominations and winners is made up of selected voters from within the music industry who have a track record of success in the industry. The problem with that is, for the most part, popular and current music is often the providence of younger listeners, yet those who have the ability to choose which songs, albums and artists are acknowledged come from an older generation. Those voting in the ‘60s probably scoffed at Hendrix. Yet now, we have baby-boomers voting who idolize Hendrix but scoff at someone like Cardi B. It reminds me of a line from a song many voters of today probably recognize and adore, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
The other part of the problem is that the Grammys seem to have a strong inclination to avoid controversy by not recognizing controversial or more politicized music. “24K Magic” beating out “DAMN.”—similar to Adele’s “25” beating out Beyonce’s “Lemonade” from last year’s awards—highlights the trend of trying to award the least threatening artist possible. This attempt to avoid controversy ends up causing more controversy. In the highly politicized climate in which we live, artists who can convey an activist energy into their art should be recognized, not sidelined in favor of the most water-down, palatable artist.
Yet, the primary outlet for recognizing music is so incredibly incapable of doing just that. Their back-room, highly exclusive and elitist approach to appreciating music is off-putting to many people in the music industry. It isn’t hard to see why many artists in the past have scoffed or ignored invitations to the Grammys. I have no expectation for any of this to change ever, which is why my interest in future nominations and award ceremonies is nonexistent. The Grammys are basically meaningless if not everyone can get an equal, fair shot. Because at this point, who really cares what a bunch of music executives think deserves praise anyway?