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Diversity in The Grammys: The Absence of African-American Winners
The Grammys are an award show that was created by The Recording Academy, which is a U.S. organization of musicians, producers, recording engineers, and other recording professionals. The awards provide a Grammy, or originally called Gramophone Award that recognizes outstanding achievement in mainly English-language music industry. The very first Grammys held its first ceremony on May 4, 1959. The annual presentation features live performances by some of the most noticeable artists, and the presenting of the awards that have even more of a popular interest. The Grammys shares recognition of the music industry alongside other performance award shows such as the Academy Awards, the Tony Awards, and the Emmy Awards.
The representation of minorities in The Grammys, mainly African-Americans has stayed at a certain level of portrayal since the Award show’s debut in 1959. The Grammys have attempted to add some diversity to them by adding more minorities to their nominations lists and giving awards to artist that deserve them. The purpose of this study is to discuss whether or not the representation of minorities is being undermined by The Grammys trying to feed into the masses and upkeep their reputation. The time span of this focus is from 2014 to 2017, but I will also include background research to further support my findings. Previous winners of Grammy awards will be quoted in order to show the disconnection from what people think a Grammy is and what actual artists see them as.
In 1958, rock ‘n’ roll made a big explosion onto the scene of music, alarming a group of executives along the way. The executives were conflicted as to whether to recognize “good” music or to recognize rock ‘n’ roll for its eruption into the music industry. The higher ups took it upon themselves to set a standard in the music industry. Since the very beginning, The Grammys have been at a difference with not only rock but almost every other genre of music. From R&B to street-bred music, and rap. The first ever award for rock music was not given out until 1961. Some of the best recordings have often failed to win a Grammy in the first forty years of Grammy history.
Over the years, The Grammys have been criticized by many artists and music journalists because the musicians feel that the Grammys generally award or nominate more commercialized albums rather than those that are critically successful. In 1996, when American rock band Pearl Jam won a Grammy for “Best Hard Rock Performance”, the band’s lead singer Eddie Vedder went on stage to say “I don’t know what this means. I don’t think it means anything.” (Vedder, 2008). This goes to show how little some artist think of being awarded a Grammy for their accomplishments. Glen Hansard, leader of the Irish rock group The Frames, commented in 2008 that he believes the Grammys represent nothing inside of the real world of music (Hansard, 2008). Instead, it is completely industry based. Another quotable statement that can be applied to this situation comes from lead singer of metal band “Tool”, James Keenan. He says “I think the Grammys are nothing more than some gigantic promotional machine for the music industry. They cater to a low intellect and they feed the masses. They don’t honor the arts or the artist for what he created. It’s the music business celebrating itself. That’s basically what it’s all about (Maynard, 2012).
Artists such as Frank Ocean, Drake and Kanye West spoke out about skipping this year’s Grammy Awards to protest their lack of diversity amongst it’s nominees. Drake was reported saying The Grammys do not fairly represent black or younger artists. From less of a statistical side, Kanye West has received 21 Grammys but has never won one while up against a white singer. American singer and songwriter Frank Ocean did not even bother to submit his albums from the following year because to him “It [The Grammys] just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down (Ocean, 2017).
Another case of a diversity issue with The Grammys concerns the likes of Macklemore. In 2014, Macklemore swept a Grammy from Hip-Hop artist Kendrick Lamar. Rolling Stone believes the music industry went as far to recruit Kidz Bop to boost Macklemore exposure to as a plan to dethrone Hip-Hop artist of the year, Kendrick Lamar. Both “The Heist” and “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” were nominated for Best Album of the Year in 2014. Both albums received positive reviews from critics, but Kendrick Lamar received a 91 on Metacritic whereas Macklemore only received a 74. Once again, both albums debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 chart, with Macklemore selling seventy-eight thousand copies and Kendrick Lamar selling two hundred and forty-two thousand copies. By the RIAA’s standards “The Heist” was recognized as reaching Gold status, with over five hundred thousand copies sold on April 3, 2013. On August 21, 2013, “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” was certified Platinum by shipping and selling one million copies in the United States.
On December 9th, 2014, American rapper J. Cole released his third studio album “2014 Forest Hills Drive”. On this album, he has a song called “Fire Squad” where he talks about the popularity or mainstream music and white privilege. On the record, J. Cole says
“History repeats itself and that’s just how it goes
Same way that these rappers always bite each others flows
Same thing that my n**** Elvis dd=id with Rock ‘n’ Roll
Justin Timberlake, Eminem and then
While silly n**** argue over who gon’ snatch the crown
Look around, my n****, white people have snatched the sound
This year I’ll prolly go to the awards dappered down
Watch Iggy win a Grammy as I try to crack a smile”
This song is his attempt to restore the balance in Hip-Hop as he talks about white privilege and white appropriation of the culture. More specifically the Macklemore-Kendrick Lamar Grammy snub and Iggy Azalea’s new found popularity.
The longstanding exclusion of black talent from award shows such as the Oscars and the Grammys forces the age-old question: Why? Both of these organizations are handled on a voting system made up of a certain team of members. Knowing this information makes the average person interested in music or even the Grammys want to know who the real culprit is pulling all the strings. With ongoing backlash, the Grammys have attempted to straighten up their acts with “dramatic steps” to diversify its nominations and present a more accurate reflection of the industry itself.
Earlier this year, at the 59th Grammy Awards there was an outcry concerning who should have won Album of the year. This outcry sparked the big debacle as to if The Grammys have an issue in diversity with the winners of their awards. The nominees list consisted of Adele, Beyoncé, Justin Bieber, Drake, and Sturgill Simpson. The winner of the award turned out to be Adele for her album “25”. This was a shock to everyone, including Adele herself. This rubbed some of the fans the wrong way considering this was the eighth year since a non-white artist took home the event’s biggest award. The very next day the new hashtag on Twitter was titled “#grammyssowhite”. At soon as this hashtag got out, storied were popping up questioning the diversity of the voters for the awards.
In 2017, Adele winning over Beyoncé was not the only Grammy snub. It was just the biggest one of the night. Barbadian singer Rihanna was nominated for eight awards off of the strength of her eighth album “ANTI”. “ANTI” at the time was certified 2x platinum by the RIAA, it peaked at number 1 on the Billboard 200 and spent 33 weeks in the top 10. Sadly, she walked away not winning a single one out of eight nominations. Rihanna’s biggest upset was not winning the award for Best Pop Duo/group with their smash hit “Work”, which sold more than 1.7 million copies in the United States alone. She lost out to 21 Pilots for their song “Stressed Out”. Fuse wrote an article saying that they believe The Committee for The Grammys are just continuing to use black women in pop to raise their own ratings without giving them the recognitions or respect they deserve within the mainly white categories.
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