• Darian O'Neil

Reachin' or Preachin'?: We Should Stop Paying Attention to The Grammys & Other Awards Shows Like It

Many artists dream of winning a Grammy one day; the allure and esteem of this award show is unmatched, and having one of those gold statues next to your name definitely raises the stock of an artist. It’s a crowning achievement in the music industry, like a championship in a way. Winning a Grammy or a similar award is supposed to be validation that all of an artist’s hard work is paying off and they are finally being recognized on a wide scale for it -- that they’ve made it. But is that really what it means?

There was a recent outrage on social media when pop artist Lizzo won "Best Soul Album" over Ari Lennox at the Soul Train Awards. The backlash was due to Soul Train’s reputation of being a historically black institution and the genre of soul being made almost exclusively for and by black people. Many people (Ari Lennox included) perceived this snub as disrespect, and some questioned how a “whitewashed” mainstream pop artist like Lizzo could win a soul award over someone who makes legitimate soul music. This would have been expected from a more mainstream institution like the Grammys, but if any award show should have understood it should have been none other than the Soul Train Awards, right? How could that panel of voters have gotten it so wrong? This whole fiasco made me question to myself: “Are we giving these award shows too much power?”

Let's examine the Grammys in particular. For decades, the Grammys have been an institution that has disrespected rap music and other forms of black art. Over the course of its sixty year history, only ten black artists have won the show’s most prestigious award of Album of the Year. Among those ten black artists only two hip-hop acts have claimed the award -- Lauryn Hill in 1999 and OutKast in 2004. While hip-hop has grown substantially in popularity since then, the Grammys still fail to recognize it (along with R&B, soul, and international music) as legitimate genres deserving of the top prize. It’s for this reason I wonder why we assign so much value to an award shows that doesn’t even begin to acknowledge or understand the nuances of black art.

More often than not, the Grammy committee has championed easily digestible, cookie-cutter music over culturally impactful, innovative works of art. There is a long history of meaningful black art being snuffed out or either neglected altogether at the Grammys. To name just a few from this decade: Macklemore winning “Best Rap Album“ over four decade-defining projects, Kendrick losing to Taylor Swift, Beyonce losing to Adele, and last year’s crushing defeat as country singer Kacey Musgraves won “Album of the Year“ over a record six black artists. While black artists have been given an increasing number of nominations in the past few years for face value, it is rare for them to actually secure any of the top awards. Even when black art does win, it’s overwhelmingly within genre-specific categories that are prefixed by umbrella terms like “urban contemporary.”

The Grammys and other award shows like it are strictly political. The out-of-touch, biased panels of these award shows prioritize popularity over substance, and that becomes increasingly clearer each year. The whole concept of a panel of “experts” deciding that one piece of subjective work is better than another based on arbitrary metrics such as popularity is outdated and unfair in and of itself. Awards should not validate an artist nor should they make artists feel as though they are inferior to their counterparts.

In an industry where legends like Nas, Snoop Dogg, and Bob Marley don't have one Grammy to their name, it's obvious that awards and accolades do not legitimize artistry. Some artists like J. Cole and Frank Ocean have outright rejected these institutions, refusing to submit their music for consideration and noting that these awards are not designed for artists that look like them. In my opinion, other artists should follow suit and realize that awards really should not hold as much weight as we allow them to.

"Honestly, its fuck Grammys til the day I die. I am no longer participating in that wild ass slave ass political ass cheating ass game any longer... I’ve just gotten to a point after three years of being silent on this topic, that my value is much beyond what closed door establishments have been giving us. Even how our peers are voting against us. I cannot partake." - GoldLink, via Instagram

These award shows will continue to wield power over the music industry as long as we all collectively pay attention to them each year. Being outraged when your favorite artist inevitably gets snubbed or loses does nothing to solve the problem, it only feeds further into an already corrupt and unfair system. If we truly want to take away the award shows ability to inaccurately uphold one artist over another, the solution is to stop watching and discussing these shows that assigns value to them.

Music is a subjective artform that should not be judged objectively and pit against each other in the first place. As long as the music resonates with its core fanbase and it brings the artist personal satisfaction, it's already won.


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