The Grammys — a night of music, celebration and culture. The original concept of the awards show intended to praise the collective profundity of many artists’ works. In recent years, this sentiment has been replaced with shock value.
Now infamous for unnecessarily extravagant celebrity appearances and anxiously delivered performances, the Grammys have devolved into one of the most stressful nights in music for artists and their audiences. For whatever reason, the show has managed to maintain its billing as representing the best in music. Each year, there are fewer logical voting decisions and more underlying social issues that reveal the corruption within the industry.
The main issue is the inherent racism, sexism and inconsistency in the Academy’s decisions when seeing the nominees. Every few years, the Academy seems to reveal its true colors in patterns, but it undermines these later to accommodate whatever social movement reigns supreme. It haphazardly attempts to cling onto relevancy through fleeting attempts at pacifying its harshest critics.
Take the 2014 show, for example. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Kendrick Lamar had both produced albums. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis had released the commercially successful album “The Heist.” A pop-leaning hip-hop record, the project was solid, providing both socially charged tunes (“Same Love”) and mass-appeal anthems (“Can’t Hold Us”). Macklemore had talent, but the project was by no means the best work in hip-hop that year. Yet, he still won for Best Rap Album, defeating Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d. city.”
Lamar’s major label debut was an instant classic. It intricately wove a narrative of oppression and personal strife into a society that constantly belittles and overlooks the plight of minorities in America and, in this case, Compton, Calif. Meticulously focused and expertly crafted, “good kid” was the show-stopping concept album that had something to say in an industry that continually rewarded the mindless and banal. To have “The Heist” defeat the album for a Grammy was laughable, and it perpetuated the very same source corruption outlined within “good kid.”
So, the narrative seems established, right? The mainstream pop records always win, right? Just one year later, the same issue occurred, this time with a black woman. In the Album of the Year category, Beyoncé lost to the commercially nonexistent, albeit critically acclaimed “Morning Phase” by Beck.
Her self-titled project was by any other measure, the album of the year. Beyoncé innovatively changed the entire way music was distributed and marketed, offering no prior promotion and featuring immaculately produced visuals for every single track. For this revolutionary project to fall to one that has already been culturally forgotten was heinous.
The issues continued in 2015 when Lamar’s follow-up to “good kid,” “To Pimp a Butterfly,” lost Album of the Year to Taylor Swift’s “1989.” Though “1989” was an incredible project deserving of high praise, Swift’s victory inadvertently maintains the hypocrisy of the Academy and its blatant racism. This is further solidified by its curation of a Best Urban Contemporary Album to account for “urban” artists — as if Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” was not a Pop Vocal Album (Rihanna’s “Anti” and The Weeknd’s “Beauty Behind the Madness” fall into the same category).
The most egregious offense of this category is its tradition of not airing during the live presentation. The only exception is 2017’s show. Beyoncé rightfully won Best Urban Contemporary Album for “Lemonade” and was given the opportunity to give an acceptance speech. This, though, was an obvious attempt by the Academy to pacify backlash for giving Album of the Year to Adele’s “25” over “Lemonade” — again, the bigger cultural juggernaut lost. Adele herself pointed out how “Lemonade” was far more impactful as an album.
The issues persist, but the tides never change. This year’s nominees have a decidedly minority-heavy, female-driven demographic. In major categories, women reign supreme. Janelle Monaé, H.E.R., Kacey Musgraves and Ariana Grande, among other female artists, have each earned multiple nominations. This year is another attempt to correct the Grammys’ narrative, but will it ultimately deliver? Will Janelle Monáe’s “Dirty Computer” claim Album of the Year? H.E.R. Best New Artist? Ariana Grande’s “Sweetener” Best Pop Vocal Album?
Only time will tell whether the Grammys can find the right path or if it will be too little, too late. Either way, the show should not be considered an accurate representation of the best in music. The Grammys, at least for the last decade, are a flop.
Kieran Sweeney is a senior writing about music. His column, “Bop or Flop,” runs every other Friday.