Editors Note: The editorial was written in February of 2017 before the 59th Grammy Awards
Last week it was reported that Kanye West, Drake, and Justin Bieber are not attending the Grammys this year despite that all three of them having multiple nominations.
These artists join singer Frank Ocean in protest of the Grammys. Frank Ocean didn’t even submit the two albums he released this year, Endless and Blonde, for Grammy consideration. Ocean choose not to submit these albums because “the infrastructure of the awarding system and the nomination system and screening system is dated.”
These artists believe the Grammys are not relevant or representative when it comes to young artists and especially black artists. I don’t blame them. I believe that black and young artists have constantly been marginalized through the Grammy’s history and reforms need to be taken place to fix it.
If you look at this year’s Grammy nominations on the surface level, you may say they are absolutely representative of black artists. The four artists with the most nominees at this year’s Grammys are Beyoncé(9), Drake(8), Rihanna(8), and Kanye West(8), who are all black artists.
The fact is, while the Grammys have no doubt nominated many black artists in the past, they historically don’t win if they are head to head with white competition.
Let’s take Kanye West as an example. Kanye West has 57 Grammys nominations and 21 Grammy wins, each of which are the most for any rap artist. But, Kanye has never won Song of the Year, Record of the Year, or Album of the Year during his career and didn’t win Best New Artist in 2005, losing a majority of those awards to white artists.
With an artist, as successful, influential, and prolific as Kanye how is that possible?
In Kanye’s case and in the case of many others marginalized artists, especially rap artists, their awards are regulated to their genre. Every single one of Kanye’s Grammys have come for genre specific awards for Rap or R&B.
Despite having a large amount of nominations in major categories, black artists typically don’t win major awards from the Grammys (Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Album of the Year), which are the awards that have the most resonance.
While there are a few exceptions in the last 20 years, Outkast’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below won Best Album in 2004 and Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation of Lauryn Hill won Best Album in 1999, the problem persists. Just look at any Grammys award list from the past ten years to see that black artists don’t get the recognition they deserve in major categories.
In 2015, Beck’s Morning Phase won Best Album over Beyonce’s self-titled album even though Beyonce’s album was more critically acclaimed and sold significantly more copies.
At last year’s Grammys Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly lost Album of the Year to Taylor Swift’s 1989, despite the former have a score of 96 on Metacritic and the latter having a score of 76. Despite Kendrick winning Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, and Best Rap Performance it still wasn’t good enough to beat out a white woman’s pop record.
Kendrick was put into genre specific categories like many other artists so that the Grammys’ voters can say “you can’t complain, you got 5 awards,” even though none of those awards came in categories of consequence.
But, even genre specific awards aren’t necessarily safe spaces for artists of color these days. Another time Kendrick Lamar was white washed was in 2014 when Macklemore & Ryan Lewis won best new Best Rap Album, Best Rap Performance, and Best Rap Song for their album The Heist. They won those awards over not only Kendrick’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, but also over the works of other prominent hip hop figures like J Cole, Jay-Z, Drake, Kanye West, and A$AP Rocky.
Macklemore himself even felt remorseful for the win. After the show, he texted Kendrick the following statement: “”You got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and it sucks I robbed you.”
There are a lot more problems than Macklemore winning Best Rap Album though. How about how only two women of color have ever won a Grammy for Song of the Year? Or how only three men of color have ever won record of the year? Or how 77% of the time white artists win Best New Artist?
The Grammys are discriminatory even if the voters don’t notice it themselves.
It’s shocking that the Grammys have been able to get away with these practices for as long as they have, especially with the #OscarsSoWhite controversy from last year.
Artists are noticing the awards aren’t wholly representative and are starting to downplay its significance. So many people are tired of seeing their art being relegated to genre specific awards and not getting the recognition they deserve in major categories.
The Grammys voting system needs major reform to be representative of the diverse music industry we have today. If these exclusionary trends continue, the Grammys will alienate even more artists and music consumers until no one cares anymore.