By Akshara Karthik (‘22)
The beautiful 24-karat gold gramophone Grammy Award was once the most sought-after award amongst the music industry. Today, it still stands as a major music honor, though many artists have begun severing ties with the Grammys amid scrutiny and criticism over the Recording Academy’s lack of transparency and failure to foster diversity in their nominations.
Over the past decade, many artists have vehemently spoken out against the Recording Academy, including Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Drake, Eminem, and notably this year, The Weeknd and Zayn Malik. In a statement sent to The New York Times less than a week ago, The Weekend stated, “Because of the secret committees, I will no longer allow my label to submit my music to the Grammys.” This comes after “After Hours”, The Weeknd’s fourth studio album, was one of the biggest albums of 2020, debuting at Number 1 on the US Billboard 200 Chart and selling over 444,000 album-equivalent units. While The Weeknd already has 3 Grammys and 10 nominations under his belt, he, along with his fans, was shocked that he was not nominated for a single award at the 2021 ceremony, despite the impressive 2020 run “After Hours” had. Other stars have also spoken out, including former One Direction bandmate, Zayn Malik. Malik went on one of his signature Twitter sprees, blasting the Grammys and stating that “Unless you shake hands and send gifts, [there are] no nomination considerations,” furthering the rumor that nominations are largely based on monetary value rather than the music the artist puts out.
Much of the Grammy boycotting, which has become increasingly commonplace, is a direct result of the lack of transparency from the Recording Academy regarding its nomination process. According to the Grammys website, “Nominations are determined by Voting Members through the first round ballot or through either the Nominations Review Committee or Craft Nominating Committee processes”. But, who are voting members? Well, the Recording Academy preaches that voting committees are like a tribunal made up of an individual musician’s peers. According to Vox, these peers include other songwriters, producers, etc. who have met at least one of these requirements, as outlined by the Recording Academy: have been credited with 12 physical or digital tracks released online only and currently available for purchase, with at least one track in the past five years, have six credits on commercially released tracks currently available for sale and distributed through physical distribution outlets (such as record stores), have won a Grammy before, or have gotten an endorsement from a current voting member.
Apart from a dubious nomination process, the Grammys have a long history of getting shut out of top honor awards like Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist, and the coveted Album of the Year. Since the Grammys’ conception in early 1957, only ten black artists have won Album of the Year, which is minuscule compared to the hundreds of white artists who have swept the category. Moreover, there have been some other troubling trends that have often occurred during the Grammys, including white artists apologizing to black artists after defeating them in a category. This year, it was Billie Eilish, who apologized to Megan Thee Stallion, for winning the Record of the Year category for “Everything I Wanted” against Stallion’s “Savage”, which even Eilish felt guilty about, “This is really embarrassing for me,” she said onstage. “Megan, girl… I was going to write a speech about how you deserve this…But then I was like, ‘There’s no way they’re gonna choose me.’ I was like, ‘It’s hers.'” This comes after a similar occurrence in 2017 when Adele’s “25” won the Grammy for Album of the Year as opposed to Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”. During her acceptance speech, Adele couldn’t “possibly accept” the award since she too thought Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” deserved it.
Last January, Deborah Dugan, the former head of the Recording Academy, filed a complaint about the Grammys corrupt nomination process. Speaking to CBS News, Dugan stated, “In that room not only are there trustees that have conflicts of interest on particular artists that are nominated, but more importantly there are even artists that are nominated that are in the room…So for me, that’s just such a blatant conflict of interest.” Even if you may not be the nominated singer, if you represent the singer and are a part of the voting committee, a Grammy nomination holds easy financial gain for you. In addition, she opened up about the Recording Academy’s favor over white contenders, adding that one singer, who was “most [probably a] white male”, from the 20-person-long nomination list in the Category of Song of the Year, was moved up to the top 5. These incidents exemplify the Recording Academy’s lack of realization and movement towards more diverse and inclusive nominations.
Sure, the Recording Academy has made some progress. For example, Megan Thee Stallion won the Best New Artist Grammy this year, which was well-deserved. Additionally, H.E.R. pleasantly surprised many, winning Song of the Year for “I Can’t Breathe”, an ode to black Americans who have died at the hands of police, which was also well-deserved. Regardless, the Recording Academy has to do more to shine a light on black artists and be more transparent about their nomination and voting processes. Zayn Malik put it best, “[The Recording Academy] [is] moving in inches and we need to move in miles. I’m keeping the pressure on & fighting for transparency & inclusion. We need to make sure we are honoring and celebrating ‘creative excellence’ of ALL.”