The Grammys attract a large amount of attention every year — music lovers make their predictions for winners and anticipate their favorite artists faring well in the runnings. This year, however, the Grammys received intense negative criticism. Music websites, fans, and musicians themselves all voiced disappointment with the event for a number of reasons. The general consensus: the Grammys are becoming increasingly irrelevant because of social and political negligence.
Much of the discontentment with the event dealt directly with the award winners. Or, more accurately, the award losers. Specifically, Bruno Mars’ victory in receiving album of the year over Kendrick Lamar was a locus of frustration for many. Lamar’s Damn. was widely regarded as a historical album and a masterpiece of not just rap but modern music. Yet for the third time, Lamar’s socially and politically relevant album was beaten by a pop star.
Speaking on the issue, Chris Deville of Stereogum said, “[Mars] breathes such abundant life into his retro exercises that I’d argue he’s more creatively vital than most musicians working today. Just not compared to Kendrick Lamar, a skewed virtuoso whose work manages to stir up similar euphoria within me while engaging with weighty ideas and taking music new places.”
This pattern has been a heavily racial issue for many years. Lamar lost to Daft Punk in 2013, followed by Beck beating Beyonce in 2014, followed by Taylor Swift beating Lamar in 2015, followed by Adele topping Beyonce in 2016.
This year’s overlooking of the intelligent commentaries of Damn. seems to add to the lack of interest in important, frequently discussed issues in American politics.
The same was seen with Jay-Z who was completely shut out at the Grammys, winning no awards for his album 4:44. Riddled with introspection, vulnerability, and social awareness, Jay-Z’s album was expected to win at least an award within the rap category. However, long time artist and icon Jay-Z received nothing.
Other categories followed a similar pattern of dereliction. Many were critical of the lack of female winners at the event. According to Pitchfork, only seventeen percent of all 2018 Grammy winners were women — a statistic which seems incredulous given the talent of artists such as SZA, Lorde, Lady Gaga, and Kesha.
The only woman to receive a major solo award was best new artist winner, Alessia Cara.
This discrepancy between female versus male recognition at the awards ceremony was highlighted by the presence of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Many attendees of the Grammys wore white clothing or a white rose in support of women who have been sexually abused, assaulted, or harassed. B.B.C., Stereogum, Pitchfork, Vox, Forbes, and many other news sources accused the Grammy committee of hypocrisy for the gap between nominal support for the movements, and active, tangible support for women.
After the ceremony, Variety interviewed Recording Academy president, Neil Portnow. Portnow not only provided excuses for the lack of female winners, he also placed the responsibility on women rather than men or the industry for the lack of female winners.
Portnow said, “It has to begin with … women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level … [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome.”
Responses to the president’s comment have been extremely negative. At a female-only music festival in L.A., artist Fiona Apple adorned a shirt which read “Kneel Portnow.” On Friday, February 2, a number of female artists also conscripted an open letter calling for Portnow to resign as Recording Academy president.
The letter says, “We step up every single day and have been doing so for a long time. The fact that you don’t realize this means it’s time for you to step down.”
The Grammy committee itself quickly responded by designating a council to investigate and address biases against women within the music industry.
Portnow also issued a response statement shortly thereafter, saying, “I appreciate that the issue of gender bias needs to be addressed in our industry, and share in the urgency to attack it head on. We as an organization, and I as its leader, pledge our commitment to doing that.”
In response to the event as a whole, musicians have been nothing short of brutal.
Acclaimed folk musician and Grammy nominee, Father John Misty (Josh Tillman) commented on the event at a show in Sydney Australia.
Faking to receive his award, Father John Misty mocked an acceptance speech, saying, “When I was growing up everyone told me, you know — whether it’s like Mommy, Daddy, the church, schoolteachers, whoever — you know, everybody was always saying that, like, it’s what’s on the inside that matters, you know, and I think that this is really evidence of the fact that it’s what’s outside that matters.”
With viewing rates at an all time low, the Grammys struggle to find relevance. The issuance of the committee to investigate biases against women provides some promise; however, it is unclear how the Grammys will be able to recover from such a low year.