For the past 60 years or so, musicians from all over the world have gathered on the picturesque streets of Downtown Los Angeles every winter or spring for a shot at a chance of a lifetime: An opportunity to win a golden GRAMMY Award. Longlisted as the dream of all dreams for professionals and hobbyists alike, fandom and the field have come to position a win or series of wins as the end-all-be-all for an entertainer’s commercial life but what happens to the health of the field when said dream begins to show itself as a logistical, cultural and creative nightmare?
Seeing broadcast for the first time in the year 1959, The Recording Academy (formed two years prior in 1957) essentially created The GRAMMYs to honor a score of assorted vocalists, instrumentalists, producers, engineers, songwriters, and composers who at the time, due to differing circumstances, wouldn’t or couldn’t be formally recognized by the already established and inexplicably powerful Hollywood Walk of Fame Project. Finding its footing in the proceeding decades, The GRAMMYS would eventually come to take on a life of its own thanks to the formation of The Grammy Foundation in 1989, the formation of The Latin Recording Academy, and subsequent Latin Grammy Awards in 1997 and 2000 respectively, and millions of annual viewers but with life comes to the duty of living responsibly and that call of duty may be forever lost on the powers that currently be. An ecosystem in and of itself, the music industry functions on the back of hundreds of thousands of miscellaneous workers from thousands of counties, countries, cultures, and other collectives but looking at your average telecast, you’d be hard-pressed to find proof. Though a slew of artists of color has gone on to take a gramophone home, their white peers have taken home many, many, many more and often at those artists’ expense.
In the 2000s, consumers’ taste (through considerable breakthroughs in technology) underwent a thorough and dramatic shift. Human beings could now download, buy or even stream just about any genre, creator, or sound from any locale straight from their laptops, PCs, tablets, or phones and naturally, plenty of those genres and creators would see what some would call historic benefits. Hip-Hop (once the unfiltered language of the streets) had for better or for worse, become the voice of both Black and Non-Black youth across the globe, sending our emcees and their testimonies to the top of regional and international charts, and yet The Academy has continued to miss the mark. Repeatedly and especially when it comes to Hip-Hop’s women. Blazing a vibrant and significant path, Rap’s Mademoiselles have frequently crafted its most stunning moments and most lavish lyrical tales, only to be met with The Academy’s near-total dismissal or outright scorn. Recounting her experience with the show in 2012, Young Money icon, genre leader, and Queens, NY-native Nicki Minaj had this to say on Twitter:
“Never forget the Grammys didn’t give me my best new artist award when I had 7 songs simultaneously charting on billboard & bigger first week than any female rapper in the decade- went on to inspire a generation. They gave it to the white man Bon Iver. #PinkFriday”
And not only have Hip-Hop’s female heavyweights been routinely slighted, but Pop and R&B’s leading ladies have also had to battle for their fair share of recognition, too. Trailing off of two back-to-back magnum opuses “Lemonade” and “Anti” (released in 2016), Columbia Records’ Beyonce and Roc Nation’s Rihanna Fenty were shoo-ins for several categories after ruling the Hot 100 for months on end and equally gripping loyal and casual listeners with their projects’ highly personal, divisive, and eerily timely story-telling but on the night of The GRAMMYS in early 2017, neither Fenty nor Knowles-Carter would be given their dues. Nominated eight separate times, Fenty surprisingly came away empty-handed and though Knowles-Carter fared a bit better (nabbing two out of nine nods), one snub, in particular, would cause a veritable firestorm. “Lemonade”, perhaps her biggest work to date, saw Knowles-Carter soar to heights previously unknown, sonically and socially. Based around her profound struggles with familial ties, infidelity, feminism, race, sexuality, and self-empowerment in the media, the album, a markedly more self-assured and impassioned departure from 2013’s self-titled LP, was an unstoppable juggernaut and quickly came to define modern Black femininity for much of an entire generation via tracks like “Freedom” ft. Kendrick Lamar, “Daddy Lessons”, “Sorry” and instant arena anthem “Formation”. But ultimately, the highest prize (album of the year) went to British pop-star Adele Adkins for “25”, the follow-up to 2011’s seismic ‘’21”. A move so controversial that even Adkins herself would publicly try to make amends for.
Sadly enough, The Academy’s problems aren’t just limited to who is more likely to collect and receive trophies or accolades but what contributions are more likely to be properly understood and contextualized. On the surface, Popular Music and Rhythm & Blues’ artistic similarities may seem few and far between. Although both would spring from the same source in the first half of the 1900s, the latter half of the 1900s and onwards would see the two sets walk two radically different thematic and economic paths but in the year 2021? They often stand side by side and so much so that under certain contexts, they’ve almost become indistinguishable. With that fact and a supposed honor that finds its very basis hinging upon distinct categorization, you’ll inevitably end up finding yourself ruffling some rather forthright feathers. Stepping further in line with his boyhood influences, Stratford, ON’s Justin Bieber delivered his fifth collection “Changes”, a resolute tribute to his new life and wife Hailey Bieber on Valentine’s Day 2020. Working closely with long-time collaborator Poo Bear, Travis Scott, Summer Walker, Kehlani, The Messengers, Boi-1da, The Audibles, and HARV (all urban dynamos in their own right), Bieber unveiled a somewhat hesitant but fundamentally sound contemporary R&B record that he proudly lists as one of his finest musical moments so far but alas the actual sound is exactly where he and The Academy’s opinions of the record would come to differ. Following the reveal of three nominations for “Changes” (none of which were situated amongst the ranks of R&B), Bieber wrote a lengthy dissent on his Instagram page:
“To the Grammys I am flattered to be acknowledged and appreciated for my artistry. I am very meticulous and intentional about my music. With that being said I set out to make an R&B album. Changes was and is an R&B album. It is not being acknowledged as an R&B album which is very strange to me. I grew up admiring R&B music and wished to make a project that would embody that sound. For this not to be put into that category feels weird considering from the chords to the melodies to the vocal style all the way down to the hip hop drums that were chosen it is undeniably, unmistakably an R&B Album! To be clear I absolutely love Pop music it just wasn’t what I set out to make this time around. My gratitude for feeling respected for my work remains and I am honored to be nominated either way.”
Who within the Academy gets to decide what is seen as what? Are the artists and their teams themselves ever included in deciding that who or what? Does any aspect of the voting process allow for any semblance of self-governance for the people it claims to serve? And what or which group(s) of information actually factor into coming to a consensus anyway and why? These questions and countless others will continue to abound and with little ensuing clarity until we all honestly ask and answer ourselves this: Why do we as a community still allow The Grammys and The Academy dominance and sway when they no longer accurately or empathetically serve the community and have little-to-no lingering desire left to do so?
In the wake of yet another round of formidable performers facing glaring omissions (Summer Walker, Kehlani, Zayn, Halsey, South Korea’s BLACKPINK and Toronto, Canada’s The Weeknd being most prominent among them), the aforementioned Zayn leaves us with these ardent and wise words:
“F*ck the grammys and everyone associated. Unless you shake hands and send gifts, there’s no nomination considerations. Next year I’ll send you a basket of confectionary.” (Tweet #1)
“My tweet was not personal or about eligibility but was about the need for inclusion and the lack of transparency of the nomination process and the space that creates and allows favoritism, racism, and networking politics to influence the voting process” (Tweet #2)
Here’s hoping in the days, weeks, and months to come, the voices and plight of the industry’s most vulnerable will finally be fully heard, meaningfully addressed, and summarily eradicated. And hopefully, that eradication will show that maybe there never was a need for a hierarchy or “academy” to begin with.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @musicorigins.
The 2021 GRAMMY Awards air this Sunday, March 14th on CBS. See a taste of the major categories below and find the full list of nominees at www.grammys.com.
2021 GRAMMY Award Nominees:
Record Of The Year
(Beyoncé & Derek Dixie, producers; Stuart White, engineer/mixer; Colin Leonard, mastering engineer)
(Adrian Quesada, producer; Adrian Quesada, engineer/mixer; JJ Golden, mastering engineer)
DaBaby Featuring Roddy Ricch
(SethinTheKitchen, producer; Derek “MixedByAli” Ali, Chris Dennis & Liz Robson, engineers/mixers; Susan Tabor, mastering engineer)
(Tyson Trax, producer; Clint Gibbs, engineer/mixer; Mike Bozzi, mastering engineer)
“EVERYTHING I WANTED”
(Finneas O’Connell, producer; Rob Kinelski & Finneas O’Connell, engineers/mixers; John Greenham, mastering engineer)
“DON’T START NOW”
(Caroline Ailin & Ian Kirkpatrick, producers; Josh Gudwin, Drew Jurecka & Ian Kirkpatrick, engineers/mixers; Chris Gehringer, mastering engineer)
(Louis Bell, Frank Dukes & Post Malone, producers; Louis Bell & Manny Marroquin, engineers/mixers; Mike Bozzi, mastering engineer)
Megan Thee Stallion Featuring Beyoncé
(Beyoncé & J. White Did It, producers; Stuart White, engineer/mixer; Colin Leonard, mastering engineer)
Album Of The Year
(Fisticuffs & Julian-Quán Việt Lê, producers; Fisticuffs, Julian-Quán Việt Lê, Zeke Mishanec, Christian Plata & Gregg Rominiecki, engineers/mixers; Jhené Aiko Efuru Chilombo, Julian-Quán Việt Lê, Maclean Robinson & Brian Keith Warfield, songwriters; Dave Kutch, mastering engineer)
“BLACK PUMAS (DELUXE EDITION)”
(Jon Kaplan & Adrian Quesada, producers; Adrian Quesada, Jacob Sciba, Stuart Sikes & Erik Wofford, engineers/mixers; Eric Burton & Adrian Quesada, songwriters; JJ Golden, mastering engineer)
(Daniel Green, Bill Rahko & Rik Simpson, producers; Mark “Spike” Stent, engineer/mixer; Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion & Chris Martin, songwriters; Emily Lazar, mastering engineer)
(Jacob Collier, producer; Ben Bloomberg & Jacob Collier, engineers/mixers; Jacob Collier, songwriter; Chris Allgood & Emily Lazar, mastering engineers)
“WOMEN IN MUSIC PT. III”
(Rostam Batmanglij, Danielle Haim & Ariel Rechtshaid, producers; Rostam Batmanglij, Jasmine Chen, John DeBold, Matt DiMona, Tom Elmhirst, Joey Messina-Doerning & Ariel Rechtshaid, engineers/mixers; Rostam Batmanglij, Alana Haim, Danielle Haim, Este Haim & Ariel Rechtshaid, songwriters; Emily Lazar, mastering engineer)
(Koz, producer; Josh Gudwin & Cameron Gower Poole, engineers/mixers; Clarence Coffee Jr. & Dua Lipa, songwriters; Chris Gehringer, mastering engineer)
(Louis Bell & Frank Dukes, producers; Louis Bell & Manny Marroquin, engineers/mixers; Louis Bell, Adam Feeney, Austin Post & Billy Walsh, songwriters; Mike Bozzi, mastering engineer)
(Jack Antonoff, Aaron Dessner & Taylor Swift, producers; Jack Antonoff, Aaron Dessner, Serban Ghenea, John Hanes, Jonathan Low & Laura Sisk, engineers/mixers; Aaron Dessner & Taylor Swift, songwriters; Randy Merrill, mastering engineer)
Song Of The Year
(Denisia Andrews, Beyoncé, Stephen Bray, Shawn Carter, Brittany Coney, Derek James Dixie, Akil King, Kim “Kaydence” Krysiuk & Rickie “Caso” Tice, songwriters) (Beyoncé)
(Samuel Gloade & Rodrick Moore, songwriters) (Roddy Ricch)
(Aaron Dessner & Taylor Swift, songwriters) (Taylor Swift)
(Louis Bell, Adam Feeney, Kaan Gunesberk, Austin Post & Billy Walsh, songwriters) (Post Malone)
“DON’T START NOW”
(Caroline Ailin, Ian Kirkpatrick, Dua Lipa & Emily Warren, songwriters) (Dua Lipa)
“EVERYTHING I WANTED”
(Billie Eilish O’Connell & Finneas O’Connell, songwriters) (Billie Eilish)
“I CAN’T BREATHE”
(Dernst Emile II, H.E.R. & Tiara Thomas, songwriters (H.E.R.)
“IF THE WORLD WAS ENDING”
(Julia Michaels & JP Saxe, songwriters) (JP Saxe Featuring Julia Michaels)
Best New Artist
MEGAN THEE STALLION