The Problems with The GRAMMYs and Music Award Shows
Updated: Sep 21
With the 62nd GRAMMYs airing a few weeks ago, it's apparent that there is a problem with the GRAMMYs and music award shows as a whole. The GRAMMY Awards are supposed to be music’s biggest night, so why are the most prominent names in music absent and why are views dropping? Let's dive into some of the previous controversies that might be drawing viewers away from the GRAMMY Awards and what can be done to fix the problem.
Got 99 Problems (and Views are 1)
It’s no mystery that the views for this year’s GRAMMYs plummeted. There was a steep drop to 18 million viewers from 2017’s 26.1 million viewers. We didn’t see any big artists such as Beyoncé, Drake, Adele, Nicki Minaj, Frank Ocean...the list goes on. Granted, most of these artists weren't nominated or haven't released any new music lately, but they don’t even bother showing up for the press.
Frank Ocean and Drake have been vocal in the past about not taking the GRAMMYs seriously. Drake once rapped “I could give two f*cks ’bout where the GRAMMYs go.” He also expressed confusion for winning Best Rap Song in 2017 for “Hotline Bling,” which he claimed was not a rap song. Frank Ocean fired back at the GRAMMY Awards producers for criticizing him due to his “faulty” performance in 2013. He also had something to say about the Album of the Year winner that year. “I’ve been tuning into CBS around this time of year for a while to see who gets the top honor and you know what’s not ‘great TV’ guys? 1989 getting album of the year over To Pimp A Butterfly,” he wrote. “Believe the people. Believe the ones who’d rather watch select performances from your program on YouTube the day after because your show puts them to sleep. Use the old gramophone to listen, bro, I’m one of the best alive.” Preach, Frank, preach.
To add to the controversy, let's take it back to the #GrammysSoMale backlash. Former Recording Academy President, Neil Portnow, said women need to “step up” in order to be recognized at the GRAMMYs. Horrible, we know. As if women haven’t been “stepping up” and making incredible music since forever. Portnow stepped down and Deborah Dugan took his place up until 10 days before this year’s GRAMMYs. She was placed on administrative leave for acting in a hostile manner towards Claudine Little, Portnow’s former assistant, on January 16. Dugan filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing the Academy of voting irregularities. According to Dugan, the Grammys are often rigged by board members. “There are incidents of conflict of interest that taint the results,” she said, resulting in a quick denial from the Academy. “We’ve known as an industry for a long time that we have a monumental problem with gender issues,” she told NPR in December. A task force, led by Times Up president, Tina Tchen, filed a report documenting that only 22 percent of Grammy voters are female. Very messy.
Things Get Race-y
In 2017, Beyoncé and Adele were up against each other for Album of the Year. Many expected Beyoncé to win for Lemonade, but Adele won for 25. People were shocked, to say the least. Adele herself thought Queen B should’ve won. So much, that she broke her GRAMMY-award to give a part of it to Beyoncé. Adele called Beyoncé “the artist of my life,” and said the award should have gone to Lemonade. Beyoncé, teary-eyed, mouthed “I love you” at Adele.
Music scholar John Vilanova commented about this problem when Taylor Swift beat Kendrick Lamar for Album of the Year in 2016. "In the last ten years, there have been seventeen non-white artists nominated for Album of the Year," Vilanova wrote. "Of those seventeen, the only winner was Herbie Hancock in 2008. His album was a collection of covers of songs by the white folk artist Joni Mitchell." He went on to explain how every category besides the top four was racially marked. Beyoncé won Best Urban Contemporary Album for Lemonade. She only won once in a top category, for "Single Ladies" back in 2009. Most of her 20 Grammy awards are in the R&B category. Crazy, right?
Don't Mess With The Army
Fans were upset when Korean Pop bands BTS and BLACKPINK weren't
nominated in the mainstream top awards. Instead, the GRAMMYs created a separate K-Pop category. The Army, a BTS fan base, and other K-Pop fans criticized their choice to create a separate category, especially since BTS has sold almost 400,000 copies in the United States. BTS Map of the Soul: Persona was the sixth top-selling album in the U.S. in 2019.
When the popular Reggaeton song, “Despacito,” swept the nation in 2017, it got the Song of the Year and Record of the Year nominations. The Latin song swiftly made it to the top music categories (as it should have), but why was that honor not extended to Korean Pop? The bottom line is that it shouldn't matter if the top songs or albums aren’t primarily in English. What matters is the music being listened to. If that happens to be music in a different language, then it deserves the top music nominations. It's as simple as that.
Enough is Enough
There goes that word again. Tyler the Creator, who won Best Rap Album for IGOR, felt like it was a “back-handed compliment,” despite being excited about his win. “I don’t like that ‘urban’ word. To me, it’s just a politically correct way to say the N-word. Why can’t we just be in pop?”
Black artists are usually confined to two categories: Hip-Hop/Rap or R&B. For example, Lil Nas X was disqualified for Billboard Hot Country Songs for “Old Town Road” at one point, most likely because the song was too “urban” for country. Lil Nas X also did not win Record of the Year, even though“Old Town Road” holds the longest-running No. 1 single in the history of Hot 100. Billie Eilish eventually dethroned him with “Bad Guy,” but he still holds the record. “Old Town Road” was 2019’s anthem, there's no denying that. We stan Billie and congratulate her on her success, and we’re not saying she doesn’t deserve the award, but we’re just a little confused here.
What Can be Done
The fact is, the GRAMMYs and other music award shows have been accused of being out-of-touch, sexist and racist. The New York Times has described the Grammys as having a “long skewed old, white and male feel, only tangentially in touch with contemporary pop music.” Rap officially surpassed pop music in 2017, but rap music had an influence over pop culture for years before that. My question is, why is it that R&B or Rap/Hip Hop is represented the least at the Grammys and other award shows? There is no need for separate categories for artists when they could easily win the top categories. Music awards need to start considering popular music, a.k.a rap music, and let go of the pop/rock exception of the past. They also need to be more gender-inclusive with the artists and get rid of the notion of creating unnecessary categories. Like Frank Ocean once said, believe and listen to the people.
The music industry is huge and it’s only fair that credit is given where it’s due. Unfortunately, award shows have been lacking, especially the GRAMMYs. With the #GrammysSoMale backlash in 2018, the constant ignorance when it comes to rap music in the top categories, and the unnecessary separate categories for top artists, it’s no wonder why we don’t see the biggest names in music at award shows anymore. Moving forward, we can only hope the GRAMMYs and other music awards will do better and fix these issues, so we can go back to enjoying them.