Moving on from the Scammys
It was a nice Tuesday morning. I had just finished a great interview with an artist overseas and was ready for another fruitful day of working from home. I sipped on my earl grey tea and ate the most delicious homemade pumpkin bread. It was a peaceful day, my blood pressure was stable. Until it wasn’t.
*ding-ding* It’s Twitter – the workplace water cooler of the world. “Grammy nominations – a complete list,” I read. Oh? I had no idea. Anticipation for the Grammys is a lot like following American politics or being a Knicks fan – I always hope that good things will happen and the tide will turn, but I know I’m just setting myself up for more disappointment.
While many of the events of 2020 have been a whirlwind of confusion, stress, and shock, I think everyone had the Grammys screwing up their nominations as a lock on their 2020 Bingo Card. Because they had it on the 2019 Bingo Card. And the 2018 Bingo Card. And I’d bet my student loan debt that 2021 will be no different. The Grammys have been out of touch for a while, but this year contained some of the biggest snubs in the history of the award show.
Let’s start with the most obvious snub: The Weeknd. Not only was The Weeknd not nominated for Album of the Year (After Hours) or Song of the Year (“Blinding Lights”), he wasn’t nominated for anything. After Hours debuted number one on Billboard and the lead single “Blinding Lights” set the record for most weeks in the Top 10 of the Billboard Top 100 following its 40th week on the chart. The Weeknd received several nominations and awards at MTV’s Video Music Awards earlier this year and at the American Music Awards last weekend. Needless to say, The Weeknd getting absolutely zero love from the Grammys sent shockwaves throughout the Twittersphere.
Interestingly enough, it has been rumored that The Weeknd was given an ultimatum to perform at either the Grammys or the Super Bowl, and his decision to perform at the Super Bowl Halftime Show led to being shut out by the Recording Academy. Though the Academy has – obviously – denied this allegation, it continues a very suspicious trend for the award show.
But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Take a moment to check out the utterly disrespectful category that calls itself “Album of the Year.” As usual, someone needs to explain why Taylor Swift, Coldplay, and Post Malone – with their brand of non-threatening Forever 21 music – deserve to be nominated. While Jhene Aiko, Haim, and Jacob Collier put out good projects, none of them are worthy of the Album of the Year title. Black Pumas, a retro-soul band, is nominated for a project released in June of 2019.
Only one of the category’s eight nominations is respectable – Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia. As previously mentioned, there’s no love for After Hours. There’s no love for alternative heavyweights Tame Impala (The Slow Rush) or Yves Tumor (Heaven to a Tortured Mind). There isn’t a single rap album nominated in this category – tough luck, Freddie Gibbs (Alfredo) and Roddy Ricch (Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial). Beautiful posthumous releases from Mac Miller (Circles) and Pop Smoke (Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon) are also ignored. Even critically acclaimed albums from Fiona Apple (Felt the Bolt Cutters), Thundercat (It Is What It Is), Rina Sawayama (SAWAYAMA), and Harry Styles (Fine Line) were drastically overlooked in this category. And just to make sure the international audience was equally riled up, the Grammys showed little to no love to mega pop stars like BTS and Bad Bunny.
The Grammys have a long history of questionable voting processes and a stern reputation for being wildly out of touch with popular music. The self-proclaimed “experts” that make up the Recording Academy are faceless, their roles and qualifications widely unknown by the average viewer. A fundamental flaw with the voting process is the requirement to vote for every category regardless of whether you’re qualified to do so. Non-rap listeners are forced to vote in the hip-hop categories they likely know nothing about, leading to disconnected perspectives that result in, for example, Macklemore beating out Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Drake, and Kanye West for Best Rap Album. Academy members skew older, white, and male – the antithesis of the artists currently dominating the music industry. The 2010’s has seen an overwhelming rise in hip-hop and its influence, though the resistance of the academy to honor such a dominance feels quite deliberate and riddled with hopeless prejudice.
Several artists have spoken about the harsh realities of the Grammys, most recently with Drake and Tyler, the Creator dropping knowledge after their wins. With little exception, nonwhite artists, female artists, and those creating in the realm of hip-hop and R&B are consistently marginalized and barred from entering any of the four major categories. Frank Ocean declined to submit his 2016 opus “Blonde” for Grammy consideration for that very reason – why let people who don’t understand you or your art dictate its success? In one of his notorious Twitter rants earlier this year, 21-time Grammy winner Kanye West made the metaphor quite literal as he chose to urinate on one of his awards.
Controversy and criticism is nothing new for this awards show. The Grammys tried desperately to ignore rock n roll throughout the 1960’s. The Academy was livid in 1985 when Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down beat out Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. for Album of the Year, so much so that the voting process was changed. Steely Dan, a band popular in the 1970’s, shockingly beat out modern heavyweights Radiohead and Eminem in several categories in 2001, and a folk movie soundtrack from O Brother, Where Art Thou? took home the biggest prize in 2002. Lorde was the only woman nominated for Album of the Year in 2018, but she was shockingly not offered a live performance spot during the show. Following their win for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1996, Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder said in his acceptance speech “I don’t know what this means. I don’t think it means anything.” The list of incidents like this could fill a Game of Thrones-sized novel.
Former President and CEO of the Recording Academy Deborah Dugan (above) blew the whistle on several suspicious issues in the meritocratic system prior to the 62nd Grammys, including voting irregularities, hefty lawyer payments, and conflicts of interest among members. Though she destroyed a glass ceiling as the first female president and CEO of the Recording Academy, Dugan was removed from her post just ten days prior to the 2020 Grammys.
Honoring the music of today via the judgement of creators past their prime is a disaster waiting to happen. When several of the most creative, talented, and popular musicians over the course of many decades express genuine dismay in the legitimacy of your prestigious award show that you claim is “the biggest night in music,” that’s a big problem. The Oscars are similarly guilty of white-washing their nominations, much to the chagrin of the industry’s creative minds, but at least they are trying to take steps in the right direction by adopting several diversity requirements. Alas, history cannot be ignored.
Take a look at what happened when Marlon Brando rejected his Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather, opting instead to allow a Native American woman to speak on the plight of her people.
While some audience members bit their tongue and applauded, others outright booed, as if to say “how dare you intrude on our illustrious evening of self-indulgence with these frivolous problems.” Eddie Vedder was right. Award shows are, essentially, meaningless. They’re pro-bourgeoisie propaganda designed to further the white-dominance and envy of wealth that runs rampant throughout our society. It’s the reason why the Grammys have previously sought to delegitimize the Source Awards and the BET Awards in favor of their own gala.
In precise words, the Grammys and the Recording Academy are more focused on protecting the interests of their older generation rather than promoting the culture shifts and innovations of the younger generation. As the music industry becomes increasingly diverse and independent, the Grammys cannot put up this old pro-white male fight much longer – though it might already be too late. The aura of mistrust that surrounds the award show could already be too deep to recover from. More and more innovative musicians are abandoning the Grammys in favor of more forward-thinking platforms like the BET Awards, a trend that isn’t likely to let up anytime soon.
I’ve taken up a lot of your time already so let me rattle off my last several complaints about this year’s nominations: 1) How are you gonna nominate KAYTRANADA for Best New Artist when he’s literally been around for like five years??? 2) You nominated a Billie Eilish between-albums filler track as the Song & Record of the Year? I guess that 4-peat from last year wasn’t enough. 3) Just admit that Song of the Year and Record of the Year are the same damn thing! 4) To even consider Justin Bieber’s hot piece of garbage that is “YUMMY” as award-worthy single-handedly discredits your entire institution.
Be sure not to tune in to the Scammys whenever they air – watch the BET Awards instead if you want a more accurate reflection of the state of music today.
Dom Maiorca is a writer and filmmaker from Los Angeles, CA. He graduated from UCLA where he studied Psychology and Film & TV while contributing frequently to The Paper Mixtape, an independent student-run magazine. He loves talking about music and movies and is always looking for new recommendations for both. Some of his favorite artists include Childish Gambino, Toro y Moi, Tyler, the Creator, KAYTRANADA, Gorillaz, and many more.