Pierce Simmons | Guest Reporter
Are the Grammys becoming a thing of the past? Before the recent Grammy, people used to have “Grammy parties” similar to Super Bowl parties. It was a big deal. Today however, the Grammys have lost their appeal with the masses. The general population have become disengaged because, like many of the artists, they too feel that they do not reflect on today’s culture in popular music and influence.
Many have expressed that the Grammys are becoming very commercialized. Recent Grammy ceremonies have the lowest attendance on record. Are the Grammys falling on deaf ears?
The Grammys started on May 4, 1959. These awards are presented by the Recording Academy to recognize achievement in the music industry. The first ceremonies were held on both coasts simultaneously, one in Beverly Hills and one in New York City. Since 1959 the Grammys have been televised; however, starting in 1971 the Grammys were televised “live.”
The Grammys have remained the same until 2012 when they decided to add new categories, such as best urban contemporary and best classical compendium. When the Grammys first started only 28 awards were handed out. After that time, categories were added and/or removed. At one time they had given up to 100 awards in one ceremony. Many categories are awarded today, but the main four categories are Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist. Only three artists have won all four. Christopher Cross (1980), Norah Jones (2003) and Adele (2009) Best New Artists (2012 and 2017) received the other three.
The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences was established in 1957 and is made up of musicians, songwriters, producers, engineers and recording professionals that are dedicated to improving the cultural condition and quality of life for music and its makers. The process of how an artist gets nominated for an award, starts with an entry sent to the NARAS by companies that are registered with the NARAS. There are 350 “experts” who review the over 22,000 entries that have been submitted. These experts send the entries out to the voting members in a private online voting format. The members decide the top five recordings and are asked to only vote in fields of their expertise. However, that requirement is not regulated meaning that many of the experts voting are not familiar with a particular category/categories making it hard, if not impossible, for them to judge the category at all. Academy members are supposed to only vote on quality with no influence outside gifts or bribes. Any other outside influences, including sales and personal relationships should be disregarded. The votes are then tallied secretly by Deloitte, an independent accounting firm. After all votes have been counted, the winners are announced.
One of the biggest problems with the nominating process is that independent artists cannot get recognized as easily as artists signed to labels. It wasn’t until the 2017 Grammy awards ceremony that we saw Chance the Rapper, who is an “independent” artist, win three awards. This couldn’t have occurred if the Grammy’s powerhouses wouldn’t have allowed nominations to come from streaming services like Spotify, SoundCloud and Apple Music where users determine the top artists. Even more interesting is that he won Best “New” Artist, even though he’s been an established artist since 2013 with songs like “Cocoa Butter Kisses” and “Juice.” This brings us to another topic of Best “New”Artist: many of the so called “new artists” have actually been established artists for at least a few years. “New” in definition means to current fans that this artist has come onto the scene within the year that the award is being presented. This past year had artists Lil Uzi Vert, Alessia Cara, SZA, Julia Michaels and Khalid. Out of these five nominees, only Khalid and Julia Michaels were new artists, yet Alessia Cara–whose been around since 2015 and who has won four JUNO (Canadian Music Award) nominations in 2016–won the award for Best New Artist at the 2018 Grammys. It is amazing that a true “new” artist such as Lil Pump who started his music career in 2017 who had a small following on social media of a few thousands, which grew to exceed millions and who has topped the Billboard charts at number two within the same year, wasn’t nominated in the category of New Artist.
This is where it gets tricky. It seems that the experts truly do not vote just on quality. Many past losers and surprisingly winners have voiced concerns that it is to increase sales for the music industry. Judging should involve how many records are sold, the amount of streams and how big of influence an artist creates in culture. This is currently not allowed in the judging process making it an outdated behavior. The Grammys need to enter a new era and embrace the technology that is growing faster than apparently they can keep up with.
Many artists don’t even take the Grammys seriously. Dating back to 1986, Pearl Jam won a Grammy and the lead singer Eddie Vedder said, “I don’t know what this means…I don’t think it means anything.” This year, Kanye West spent his Grammy night eating at a restaurant in Germany, rather than attending the Grammys. Despite receiving 21 Grammys himself in previous years, West is very outspoken about Grammy nominations and has some valid points. During his Saint Pablo Tour back in 2016, on stage he said, “So, I don’t know if any of y’all remember: I was supposed to go on a tour with Gaga, like, about six, seven years ago —a while back. I remember, that it was something… She wasn’t nominated for Best New Artist, right? But they wanted her to perform at the show; they wanted her to open, right? So, the Grammys secretly changed something about the nominations in order to nominate her — in order for her to perform in the show. I’m saying this to y’all, because a lot of people, you know, they try to make a scene, like, ‘I’m so self-centered.’ But the album I listened to the most this year is Frank Ocean’s album. And I will tell you this right now: If his album’s not nominated in no categories, I’m not showing up to the Grammys.” What West was saying in this instance, was when the Grammy experts want someone to perform they can make it happen even if against their policies. As I mentioned earlier in this paper, the same thing happened when Chance the Rapper, who is an independent artist, was nominated and rules were bent to allow his nomination. It’s very apparent the nomination process needs a desperate upgrade.
This brings us to the eligibility period running from Oct. 11 to Sept. 30 each year. If a record is released later in the year, it is not qualified or eligible for that year. This practice makes the public think that their artist got snubbed because they think the year is a full calendar year. With the fast paced computer abilities of today’s world, couldn’t these last few months be included or a least reduced to the last month being ineligible?
The Grammys have also have been accused of being racist in the past toward black artists. Drake wasn’t nominated for song of the year “One Dance,” but was nominated for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Song Performance for “Hotline Bling,” which isn’t even a rap song. The Grammys once again disappointed the rap community this year for not recognizing Kendrick Lamar or SZA in any of the main four categories. As in past years, heavyweights like 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, A Tribe Called Quest, MC Lyte, N.W.A., Run-DMC and Pubic Enemy, among many others have never won a Grammy. The Grammy voters seem to prefer non-controversial artists who stick with traditional “safe” performances such as Bruno Mars, who mimics the sites and sounds of the past. Bringing us once again for the need of the voters to hit the fast forward button and get up to speed in the world today instead of dwelling on the past. New sounds and new ways of expressing one’s art is the future.
In addition to being racist the Grammys have also been called out on being biased against female artists. Most recently, Lorde was nominated for Album of the Year and didn’t perform because they didn’t offer her a solo performance like they had offered to all the male nominees. Then, the president of the Recording Academy Neil Portnow, said: “It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers and want to be part of the industry on the executive level… [They need] to “step up” because I think they would be welcome. I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face, but I think it’s upon us–us as an industry–to make the welcome mat very obvious, breeding opportunities for all people who want to be creative and paying it forward in creating that next generation of artists.”
An independent task force has been set up after the 2018 Grammy awards ceremony to address why more women are not winning awards. Female artists won in just 17 of 87 categories at this recent ceremony. Many female artists are very vocal about the inequality women receive, especially Pink, who posted on Twitter a rebuttal to Neil Portnow’s statement that women need to “step up.” On Twitter, Pink said: “Women in music don’t need to “step up”–women have been stepping up since the beginning of time. Stepping up and also stepping aside women owned music this year. They’ve been killing it. And every year before this. When we celebrate and honor the talent and accomplishments of women, and how much women step up every year, against all odds, we show the next generation of women and girls and boys and men what it means to be equal, and what it looks like to be fair.” Other artists that share her sentiment include Lorde, Charli XCX, Katy Perry, Sheryl Crow, HAIM, Tegan and Sara and Vanessa Carlton.
The Grammys are definitely behind the times and are in true jeopardy of becoming outdated. They need to reboot and upgrade their system and embrace the fast paced technology that is a part of all of our lives today or they may be forced to experience a hard shutdown.