The Grammys Are Horribly Out of Tune

Discussion of recent controversy, irrelevance of Grammy Awards, proposition of possible solutions

As I mindlessly attempted to keep up with my math teacher scribbling down notes at what appeared to be superhuman speed, a loud, sharp ding moved me from my trance. Looking up to gloss over the news notification that popped up onto my iPad, my lips curled downwards ever so slightly to form the edges of a frown. The Grammys had been postponed to March 14.


Normally, such news articles would brush right past me. This time, however, I snapped. The inside of my body filled with a fiery, hot rage as I swiped the notification away with contempt. Trying to get back to the calculus work that awaited me, I couldn’t help but feel enraged that this worthless event getting postponed was newsworthy enough to appear before me.


Okay, maybe that was a slight exaggeration of what really happened. Yet, at the same time, overemotional me had a great point– the Grammys have become an irrelevant awards show that truly doesn’t deserve the magnitude of attention it garners.


It seems as if the Recording Academy has been actively flirting with controversy for seemingly no reason other than to stir up drama. Time and time again, a decision is made that at first glance seems as if they have turned over a new leaf, only to later reveal that the second leaf was identical to the first.


Countless name changes of categories such as “Best Urban Contemporary Album” to “Best Progressive R&B Album” and “World Music” to “Global Music” hide the true underlying issues that plague the Grammys. Removing the word “urban” and “world” succeed in ridding racist and colonialistic connotations respectively. But the two new categories maintain the same practice of clumping minority artists into singular awards that have little to do with the actual music being judged. 


The reverse can also be true, as evidenced by the Grammys’ categorization of Justin Bieber’s latest hit album, “Changes.” In late November 2020, Bieber took to Instagram to contest the nomination of the project in numerous pop categories stating that his work was “undeniably, unmistakably an R&B album!” 


Even more blasphemous was the exclusion of The Weeknd from all 2021 Grammy nominations. It is genuinely inconceivable that this could even happen after the man had arguably one of the most successful musical years of all time. 


The Weeknd dropped the year’s most popular single in “Blinding Lights”, which broke a record by spending 35 weeks in the top five of the Billboard Hot 100;  he released the critically acclaimed studio album “After Hours”; he earned the number one rank on Billboard’s year end Hot 100 Artists chart. 

This wouldn’t be the first time the academy made a downright awful decision in picking winners or nominations. Back in 2013, “The Heist” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won Best Rap Album, beating out Kendrick Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” now widely considered one of the greatest hip-hop records to have ever been released. Although this one in particular hurts my soul (being the avid Kendrick Lamar fan that I am), it is only the tip of the iceberg of “What are you doing!?” moments that the Recording Academy has induced its fans into watching every year.


Nonetheless, there may be light at the end of the tunnel after all. According to data available on Statista, in 2020, the show saw its lowest viewership of the 21st century, amassing only 16.54 millions viewers, a steady decline since its peak of 39 million in 2012. One can only hope that these poor numbers push Academy Directors to feel greater urgency in reforming their clearly broken system.


However, it is of no help to the academy that awards shows are inherently flawed. It simply does not make sense to elevate the opinion of a certain board of individuals in order to grant awards to artists for their completely subjective work. At the end of the day, everyone has their own unique opinion and taste.


Proof of this? Open Spotify or Apple Music or whatever source of music you turn to and scroll through your playlists. How many songs have you added simply because they’ve won a Grammy? Most likely, the answer is very few.


Now think further: how many movies have you enjoyed because they’ve won an Oscar? How many TV shows have you continued binging through because they’ve won a Golden Globe? At the end of the day, art and entertainment are subjective forms of expression, and completely up to the interpretation of the beholder. 


With that being said, there are ways to adjust awards shows so that they have at least some significance. Creating more specific rubrics on which to base the judging or adjusting the pool of voters to ensure those who have possible financial gain from nominating a certain artist aren’t included, are just two examples. Even just simply providing more transparency on who is voting would go a long way. However, unsurprisingly, the academy has failed to do any of these. 


As a result, although I really have no idea what March 14 will be like, two things are for certain: The Weeknd and Lamar are still going to be in all of my playlists and I won’t be watching the Grammys.