“You think I give a fuck about a Grammy?
Half of you critics can’t even stomach me, let alone stand me”

(Eminem, “Real Slim Shady”, 2000)

In recent memory there has been no shortage of voices decrying the Grammy Awards. Year[1] after year[2] (after year[3]) the ceremony faces a backlash against its picks for various high profile awards, frequently in perceived snubs towards artists of colour in favour of white performers. 2017 was no different; in fact the trouble started unusually early this year with a number of artists claiming in advance that they planned to boycott the awards for not being “relevant or representative,”[4] a claim which has dogged the Grammys for years. One of 2016’s most talked about artists, Frank Ocean, went as far as not submitting any of his music for consideration. This all came to a head at the awards last Sunday when the ceremony took place. The award for Album of the Year, seen by many as the most prestigious, was given to Adele for 25, rather than to Beyoncé for Lemonade. In the week since, this decision has attracted the ire of myriad commenters, as well as rousing those  who defend the decision to their keyboards. Conclusions as to where the blame lies were split between issues of race,[5] and the voting system,[6] with many also pointing out that Adele is simply more popular in terms of album sales.[7] What interests me is, given the nature of the Grammys, should commenters be surprised or even disappointed with this result?

The first thing worth pointing out here is that I am in total agreement that the Grammys frequently don’t give out awards to, or even nominate, the most deserving artists. In this instance, for example, Lemonade is a far more ambitious and exciting album than 25. It is both personally and politically charged, addressing issues of racial tensions in America as well as apparent strife in Beyoncé’s much publicised private life. These two strands can even be seen to dovetail on the lyric “he better call Becky with the good hair.” For what it’s worth, Adele did her best to make it clear her respect and admiration for Beyoncé and her work, going so far as to break her award into two pieces in order to share it with her fellow nominee.[8] But this gesture, along with previous and seemingly less sincere attempts to display magnanimity in victory,[9] does not change the history books. I understand that there is a level of subjectivity in musical taste, but in most conceivable metrics for quantifying the importance and accomplishments of a piece of work the artists on the wrong side of these awards controversies tend to have genuinely produced the better album.

Take 2014, Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d City was one of the year’s most critically acclaimed albums, widely considered groundbreaking in both its lyrical and musical content. The winner of the Best Rap Album award that year was Macklemore for the aptly titled The Heist, which was far less heralded than not just Kendrick’s, but also many of the other nominated albums (including Kanye West’s Yeezus). What is particularly jarring about this is that Macklemore’s win was in the Rap Album category. Not only are black artists regularly denied in the Album of the Year category, they are also frequently overlooked in what many would see as one of their “own” categories. While many explanations are proffered for this sort of occurrence it is hard to come to any other conclusion than that the group responsible for deciding who receives the awards is clearly out of touch, too often favouring white artists who are more palatable to conservative mainstream audiences. This is reflected in sales figures: Beyoncé is probably the highest profile artist in the world right now but Adele sells more records because she appeals to a silent majority of those buying albums.

Are the Grammys out of touch? Yes. Do they reflect the cultural significance of the music they award? No. Did Beyoncé deserve to win Album of the Year more than Adele? Probably. But is criticism of the Grammys for this either sensible or worthwhile? In my opinion, no. The reason for this is not because I’m happy with the decision making processes behind the awards, but because these reflect what the Grammys are as an institution. The reason people are so upset about the Grammys compared to other award shows is because they are the most prestigious and widely recognised awards. But the reason that they have this cultural caché is precisely because they reward the most popular music. I understand the public’s desire to see awards being given out on a basis which is more than just commercial but where do they draw the line? Many writers would be delighted if political firebrands Run The Jewels, darlings of the music press, were to start winning mainstream awards, but if the Grammys started recognising these artists then the most well known music awards ceremony of the year would become just another end of year list like those seen on Pitchfork and other music websites. The Grammys need to keep rewarding the most popular artists because that’s what makes people care about them. Admittedly, in the Beyoncé/Adele argument the line is blurred by the fact that both are massively successful commercial artists, but in general this is why white artists who sell more albums to white audiences keep beating more “credible” black artists to rap awards: the Grammys award commercial success and are thus commercially successful.

Rather than complain about Grammys not going to the most important artists maybe we should instead just stop worrying about the Grammys? You’d be forgiven for thinking that most people agree with the sentiment that Adele won unjustly. In reality the reason that this point of view is being aired so loudly at the moment is that the minority of fans with a genuine passionate interest in how music relates to social and cultural issues are those most inclined to raise this issue. Only by engaging the music listenership at large with these issues will we see archaic record industry institutions like the Grammys reflect them. Looking online it would be easy to think that most people are keenly interested in the future of the Grammy Awards, and indeed it does feel like the attention paid this year could be a watershed moment; but actually most people don’t care about who wins the Grammys because most people don’t care about music as much as critics like me are willing to admit.

[1] “Macklemore vs. Kendrick Lamar: Grammy Wins and Losses Spark Controversy”

http://www.mtv.com/news/1721194/macklemore-kendrick-lamar-grammy-controversy/

[2] Kanye Says Beck Should Have Given His Award To Beyoncé

http://time.com/3700870/2015-grammy-awards-kanye-beck-beyonce/

[3] “How Kendrick Lamar lost Album of the Year to Taylor Swift

http://fusion.net/story/268984/taylor-swift-beat-kendrick-grammys/

[4] Kanye West, Drake and Justin Bieber may skip the Grammys

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/jan/31/kanye-west-drake-and-justin-bieber-may-skip-the-grammys

[5] Is racism why Adele beat Beyoncé at the Grammys? http://edition.cnn.com/2017/02/13/entertainment/adele-beyonce-racism/

[6]Grammys 2017: Why Adele beat Beyoncé for Album of the Year

http://www.vox.com/2017/2/13/14595352/adele-beat-beyonce-grammys-why

[7]Grammys 2017: 5 Reasons Why Adele Won Album of the Year Instead of Beyoncé http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/5-reasons-why-adele-won-album-of-the-year-instead-of-beyonce-w466751

[8] Grammys 2017: Adele Breaks Award In Half

http://time.com/4668650/grammys-2017-adele-beyonce-award/

 

[9]Drake Calls Macklemore’s Grammy Apology Text Wack As F—k http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/drake-calls-macklemores-grammy-apology-text-wack-as-f-k-20140212