The 2021 Grammys have been plagued with controversyFlickr/prayitnophotography

The Grammys have recently been in hot water. The Weeknd, one of the most successful artists of 2020, wasn’t nominated for a single 2021 award. This wasn’t just another casual snub, though: The Weeknd alleged that the awards were “corrupt”. He stated that he was asked to perform at the award ceremony, but was also scheduled to perform at the Super Bowl Halftime Show earlier that year. He claimed the Grammys didn’t want him to do both, so when he accepted the Super Bowl invite, they yanked his nominations. Allegations of corruption and conflicts of interest in the voting process have been widespread for years. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to possibly the worst major award ceremony in showbusiness.

A major and long-standing problem is with race. Between 2006 and 2020, the only non-white artists to win the main award, Album of the Year, were Bruno Mars (whose win I will discuss later) and Herbie Hancock (for a cover album of songs by Joni Mitchell, a white artist). This is despite swathes of talented ethnic-minority artists being considered: Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, Drake, Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd (prior to his 2020 snub) were all nominated without ever winning.

The Recording Academy, who run the awards, were clearly aware of this: in 2013 they established a new award for ‘Best Urban Contemporary Album’. Before you ask, I don’t know what ‘Urban Contemporary’ music is, either. However, when looking at the nominees for ‘Best Urban Contemporary Album’ over the years, its purpose is clear. Out of the 43 artists nominated for the award since its inception, all 43 have been black. The question then becomes: why can’t other races also make music that’s ‘urban’ and ‘contemporary’? The Academy didn’t have an answer; prior to the 2021 ceremony, they renamed the award to ‘Best Progressive RnB Album’ (even though there is already an award for ‘Best RnB Album’ – maybe these albums are just ‘regressive’ or ‘conservative’ RnB now?). As if that wasn’t enough, in a moment of unbelievable farce, they simultaneously renamed ‘Best Latin Pop Album’ to ‘Best Latin Pop or Urban Album’. It appears that the (notoriously white) Academy has decided that the ‘urban music’ baton has been passed from black people to Latinx people.

Concerns about diversity are often met with responses mentioning the word ‘meritocracy’. However, the awards fail on that end as well. This is another major problem: the Grammys are consistently wrong. In 2012, there was a huge controversy when Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, the most critically-acclaimed rap album of 2012 by miles, according to review aggregator Metacritic, lost the ‘Best Rap Album’ award to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s middling record The Heist. This prompted Macklemore (who was also the only white rapper to be nominated in the category) to apologise privately to Lamar. Lamar won the award in 2018 for his album DAMN, but lost out to Bruno Mars’s 24K Magic in the ‘Album of the Year’ category. Out of the five nominated albums, Mars’s was the worst by a good distance (again, according to Metacritic), but had the most sales due to its title track becoming a hit radio single. The Academy have always stated that they aren’t influenced by records’ commercial success and are only concerned with ‘quality’. Lamar’s album was the first album which wasn’t classical or jazz to win the Pulitzer Prize for music, but lost to an album described by Pitchfork as “really really horny”. This year, Justin Bieber’s album Changes, which was actually the second-worst major album of the year overall according to Metacritic, was nominated for ‘Best Pop Album’. Even the Oscars have never nominated the second-worst movie of the year for anything, ever. The Grammys seem to be on an active crusade to pick the worst albums.

“If the artists don’t care, why should anyone else?”

Recently, some artists have become disillusioned. Tyler, the Creator stated that his 2019 win for ‘Best Rap Album’ felt like a “backhanded compliment” because his record, IGOR, contained “less than 30%” rapping. He also called the ‘Urban Contemporary’ category “a politically correct way of saying the N-word”. Drake, arguably the most popular artist on the planet, didn’t submit his 2018 record More Life to the awards; the year before, his single ‘Hotline Bling’ was nominated in two rap categories despite containing no rapping at all. He said that it could have been “because I’ve rapped in the past or because I’m black”. Frank Ocean, the inaugural winner of ‘Best Urban Contemporary Album’, has also stopped submitting his music to the awards. If the artists don’t care, why should anyone else?


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I’ve left out a lot in this article. One thing is the bizarre eligibility window – which closes on 1st September to allow the Academy time to evaluate entries – and means that the 2021 ceremony features several albums released in late 2019. For some reason, the Academy haven’t considered the agonisingly simple solution already used by the Emmy awards: just have the ceremony later in the year. That being said, this whole article can be summed up in seven words: the Grammys suck. Stop caring about them.