Exploring the arc of genre, community and gender representation in the biggest music awards – the Grammys.
It’s time for another Grammy season!
The ones who’ve been following it since years are familiar with the adrenaline rush that comes with the biggest music award ceremony. The beginning is marked by artists and actors that ceremoniously walk the red carpet in suave outfits. The hosts inexplicably give rise to an already all-time-high excitement. The adrenaline rush to see artists perform while you sing along the biggest hits in front of the screen. Oh, and the unparalleled joy to see your favourites take that iconic gramophone shaped award home. One award night had the power that goes beyond recognising talent. It provides a platform that makes communities feel heard, represented and acknowledged.
But let’s face it, Grammys has not had the best track record getting it right.
Let’s turn back time
The first ever Grammys were held on 4th May 1959. This non-televised ceremony took place twice – the first in a hotel in Beverly Hills, California, and the second in the Park Sheraton Hotel in New York City. It was curated by National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), also known as The Recording Academy, to recognise achievements in the music industry. The golden gramophone trophies have now become an adornment for the most celebrated artists across the world.
Or, so we thought.
All that glitter isn’t gold
Through the years, the Grammys have constantly faced criticism. The biggest, and the core of a lot of Grammy discourse, is the lack of representation and diversity among nominees and winners. These criticisms arise from limited genres being recognised which consequently leads to a poor reflection of global music.
Another issue is the lack of representation of women in the major categories, particularly in genres such as hip-hop, where women are often underrepresented and overlooked. For instance, in 2019, when the Grammy Awards announced nominations, not one woman was nominated in the Best Album of the Year category, despite female artists like Dua Lipa and Ariana Grande topping Billboard charts.
Furthermore, the nomination process has been a subject of controversy for years now. The process and behind the scenes of the Grammys is known to be opaque. There have been targeted attacks at the “secret committee” that governs the winners. There have been suggestions that the awards are massively influenced by financial and political factors.
Some argue that these criticisms are held just by ‘fans’ of artists who’ve not bagged awards. But then again, does that argument really hold strong when the artists themselves have come forward to talk about it?
The ones that got away
The Grammys have faced a tremendous backlash for under-representation of the contribution of black artists and people of colour. In the past years, a lot of artists have shown their disapprovals and gone as far as boycotting Grammys altogether.
In 2016, Frank Ocean’s album, “Blonde”, did not make it to the nomination list despite widespread critical acclaim. He stated that the Grammys was out of touch with contemporary music and time and again sidelined black artists.
A similar opinion was shared by Tyler, The Creator in 2019. The year saw another huge stir when Drake boycotted the Grammy Awards. It was reported that he was infuriated with the constant snubbing of hip hop artists and especially the way his music was treated after having the numbers to support its success.
The Weeknd in 2020 publicly called out the Grammys. He tweeted demanding more transparency in the process. Many renowned artists like 50 Cent, Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber, among others, have also expressed their criticisms in the past.
Another recent instance that brought Grammys under the spotlight (and not for the best reasons) was in 2022. BTS needs no introduction, that’s the kind of impact this South Korean boy band has. The primary argument has been that given the popularity and critical acclaim for their music, BTS has not been recognised for any major categories.
These artists gave way to larger conversations of the role of the Grammy Awards in recognizing and celebrating musical excellence. A conversation that is still ongoing.
Through all of the criticism
It would seem that in 2019, The Grammy Awards really took the wise words of Uncle Ben seriously, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Ahead of the 64th Annual Grammy Awards, The Recording Academy announced an inclusion rider addendum to curate a more inclusive and diverse celebration of music.
This was a welcome change and seen as a transformative and pivotal moment in the industry. The CEO of The Recording Academy, Harvey Mason Jr. said in a statement that just like the industry, the Grammy Awards are evolving too. And with each year, they aim to bring the global music community closer together.
A concern that lingers is that the success of the inclusion rider has not been made public.
65 years later..
The 65th Annual Academy Awards held on 6th February made a mark in history. While Beyonce broke records with her 32nd Grammy award, Lizzo became the first black woman to win Record of the Year in this century. The 2023 Grammys had a strong representation of the LGBTQIA+ representation as Kim Petras and Sam Smith received the award for Best Pop Duo/Group Collaboration.