The Grammy Awards is supposed to be considered “the biggest night in music.” For the past 63 years, the Grammys have been the most significant awards ceremony for viewers to tune into and celebrate their favorite artists — however, along with this, comes the public’s inevitable backlash against the results.
This year, Abel Tesfaye, also known as The Weeknd, decided to forever boycott the infamous award show after the Recording Academy completely excluded him from every category. The Weeknd has had the biggest year of his career — shattering streaming records and performing at the Super Bowl 2021 — but received no Grammy nominations.
A public outcry from both listeners and artists, such as The Weeknd, have sparked controversy about the necessity of the Grammys, and why award shows have failed all of us. Other celebrities such as Frank Ocean and Will Smith have also boycotted the Grammys out of outrage over nominations or the omission of certain categories from broadcasting on television.
The Grammys have had a complex history with Black artists. The Recording Academy gives Black artists a chance to perform on stage in order to ignite TV ratings, but never gives Black artists awards in the major categories. I am proud of Beyoncé, as she is now the most awarded singer in Grammy’s history. However, most of the wins that she received came from the “Black” categories like best urban contemporary album, but never from more major categories like album of the year.
Of course, we can never forget the time where Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won best rap album over Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Kanye West and Jay-Z in 2014. Not surprisingly, there are even more incidences of these Grammy upsets.
Speaking from the perspective of an avid music fan and as a Black girl, why do we, as Black people, place so much emphasis on receiving awards that didn’t originally have us in mind? We place so much pressure to receive a Grammy, but Black award shows like the BET Awards and the NAACP Image Awards are overlooked by many Black mainstream artists.
This demonstrates a deeper issue than just music politics: the pursuit for acceptance of what’s considered mainstream or white. I see this every day when Black people drop their accents and stop using African-American Vernacular English in front of white people. I see this every time a Black kid doesn’t want to talk about racism in their mostly white class because they don’t want to be considered a race-baiter. We are constantly searching for approval we never receive.
We search for this approval as a means of survival and preservation of our humanity. In order to receive respect and admiration, a lot of Black artists change their sound so that the mainstream would approve. In the process, they may think that they are celebrating Black excellence, but instead, they are upholding European standards of righteousness.
I remember watching a video of Puff Daddy, or whatever name you call him, demand the Recording Academy to restructure itself in 365 days. Now, one year later, the 2021 Grammys attempted to rectify decades of mistakes in one night.
For example, rapper Nas won the best rap album this year. For years, Nas was on the ascending list of artists who had never won a Grammy although he’s considered as one of the greatest rappers of all time.
Despite this move to give long overdue recognition, I think that a newer artist, like Freddie Gibbs or even Jay Electronica, should’ve won this category. The Grammys also missed out on an opportunity to nominate Lil Baby or Pop Smoke for their albums.
Songs like “The Bigger Picture” and “Dior” were soundtracks to the racial uproar after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and were extremely popular amongst newer listeners of rap music.
I’m also surprised that Chloe X Halle didn’t win any awards in the R&B categories. “Ungodly Hour” was one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2020, and this body of work received a lot of attention from fans and the greater public through Chloe X Halle’s iconic award show performances (Nonetheless, I still predict that they will be big stars one day.).
Although these attempts at giving recognition seem great at first, in hindsight the boycotts of the Grammy Awards and the talk about why these award shows matter will always be in the conversation. Yet, I think that’s the problem: we, as the general public, talk about the issue with award shows, but still give them positive attention.
I think the greatest way to reduce the Grammys’ value is to not pay attention to the production. By not even talking about the Grammys, we are not only divesting our voices, but we are also becoming detached from the emotional reckoning for when our favorite artists do not win an award, or when there’s a snub.
I think that celebrating entertainment — the people that motivate us during these trying times — is important. However, I think that music consumers should not pay attention to the controversies or the boycotts, because all publicity is good publicity for the Recording Academy.
Adesuwa Carlton is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]