COLUMN: Grammys do not equate to success

When Taylor Swift’s 1989 won Album of the Year at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards, I was livid.  Despite being the first time I had ever seen the Grammys live on TV, I felt personally cheated, and part of me is still a little peeved about it.

To Pimp a Butterfly is a modern masterpiece that’s socially poignant and conscious. It is an important album to have amid the recent rise of racial tensions after the killings of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and Eric Garner. This album was important for not only the black community but also America as a whole, and it gave a voice to the historically disenfranchised in the 21st century. It was also Kendrick Lamar’s best work to date, complete with an exploration of contemporary sounds of funk, jazz and hip hop, which created something that had never been done before.

In other words, I was mad when Swift won because Lamar deserved it more. And all credit to Taylor Swift — the snake that she is — she made a great album. With seven singles off of a single record, 1989 is an absolute powerhouse of a pop record. And while her awful acceptance speech that took a shot at Kanye West sparked one of the greatest exposés I will ever see in my lifetime, I would have preferred to see Lamar take the stage and accept the award.

Chances are, he won’t be the only artist I sympathize with for getting snubbed for an award. That’s why it’s important to take a step back and think what the Grammys really mean. To me, they’re not exactly popularity contests, but popularity definitely plays a major role in determining who wins a Grammy.

Did Taylor Swift truly put out the best album of the year in 2015? Probably not.

But did she put out one of the most popular albums of the year? Yes.

And that’s an undeniable measure of success. While Taylor sits in her snake hole watching the sales from 1989 pile up, her songs from the album are starting to become old news. Same with Ariana Grande and her album Dangerous Woman, which is nominated for Best Pop Album. It’s a great album that is true to Grande’s style and character, but in a couple of years, it’ll be old news. An album like Purpose by Justin Bieber, which is also nominated for the same award, is not only a great pop album, but it’s also the result of an artist trying to change their image, sound and outlook on their craft. I hope it will win, but I’ve been disappointed before.

This happens all the time with the Grammys. In 1992, Nirvana was snubbed for Best Rock Song by an unplugged version of Eric Clapton’s “Layla.” This is about as atrocious as it can get, aside from the whole Metallica incident. You know what song helped to launch the grunge movement of the ’90s and inspired an entire generation of rock? I’ll give you a hint — it’s not the unplugged version of “Layla.”

In true tradition of the Grammys, there are plenty of snubs to go around with this year’s nominations. Solange was snubbed for an Album of the Year nomination, though her album received rave reviews comparable to her sister’s. Also, I understand that the competition is stiff for this category, but how did David Bowie not get a nod? I can count on one hand the amount of artists who have had a final album like Blackstar.

There’s never a great answer why these atrocities happen. But I like to think that the people who are responsible for determining award winners are also humans who make mistakes from time to time. I’ll be furious, but I’ll also understand if Views trumps Blank Face LP or The Life of Pablo for Best Rap Album this year. I’ll understand that the critics who made this decision bought into the popularity, as we all do from time to time, without really giving the category much consideration. That, or they don’t know what the hell they’re doing.

The underlying question now is: How much value does a Grammy really have these days? Nicki Minaj still hasn’t won a Grammy, but did that ever stop her from selling millions of records? You can make the argument that a Grammy represents the reward of the hard work an artist put in to shape a work of art that matched their vision for a creative project, but you can also argue that it’s a trophy to be put on a mantle: nothing more, nothing less.

The late Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest once said in “Award Tour,” “I never let a statue tell me how nice I am.” He doesn’t need awards to validate his status as an artist, and he has a point; if you let awards dictate your success as an artist, you’re in the wrong business. That being said, getting some recognition for the hard work you do wouldn’t hurt now and then.

Regardless, award shows should not be taken that seriously. A trophy is never the end-all-be-all when it comes to determining who the best of the best is in music. I’m not going to suddenly change my opinion of an album like To Pimp a Butterfly overnight because it didn’t win a Grammy, nor am I going to change my opinion on an album like 1989 because it did win one.

I am, however, going to think that a year like 2015 was a great year for music, and even though the artist I wanted to win didn’t end up bringing home the gold, I can still recognize that listeners have a wide variety of great music to listen to. That’s never a bad thing. But, I’ll still be waiting for the results to come on Sunday because at the end of the day, every artist deserves to be celebrated for their work.

Spencer Lee is a junior majoring in narrative studies. His column, “Spencer’s Soapbox,” runs Thursdays.