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The Controversy Surrounding The Grammys: Are they Still the Music Industry's Most Prestigious Award?

Lola Portugal

The Gramophone Awards, now known as the Grammy Awards, have been going on yearly for some time now and I think everyone has already heard that they can be controversial, problematic, unfair or if they even matter anymore. Most people might be asking themselves why this is. By the end of this article, I hope that this question is answered.

The Beginning

To know how the Grammys became what they are today, it is necessary to know how they came to be in the first place. In 1955, the Hollywood Beautification Committee was working on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to be able to honour influential artists around the world and their contributions to the music industry with their very own star. To figure out who they would give these stars to, they contacted 5 music executives from 5 different record labels:

  • Paul Weston - Columbia Records

  • Lloyd Dunn - Capitol Records

  • Sonny Burke - Decca records

  • Jesse Kaye - MGM Records

  • Dennis Farnon - RCA Records

These men would meet up often to figure out who they wanted to honour, however, there were way too many artists who deserved credit for their genius, so they decided to create an award that would celebrate artistic achievements in the sonic sphere. With that, in 1957, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences was born and with it, the Gramophone Award. But what was (and still is) the problem that came with this award?

Why are the Grammys hated on?

The main goal of the Grammys when they were created was to judge records on their artistry only instead of sales and popularity, as other awards like the AMA's or Billboard Music Awards do. This actually turned out to mean that the academy was going to award what their definition of good music was, which caused a lot of trouble when it was first created and nowadays as we all know that music is subjective and that a person's definition of good music may be different to someone else's. So while they were praising artists like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, they were neglecting artists like Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Chuck Berry who are all famous figures of the Rock n' Roll genre, pioneered by black artists and considered scandalous at the time. Its nominations are also considered to be very extreme, specially those with the word "Best" in front: "Best artist"; "Best performance"; etc, as music's subjectiveness doesn't really allow a best anything to exist. Because of the Recording Academy's decisions, several controversies surged, such as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis winning "Best Rap Album" over Kendrick Lamar in 2014, The Weeknd being snubbed at the 2021 Grammys, and legendary artists like Queen, Diana Ross, Tupac, Snoop Dogg, Chuck Berry and The Notorious B.I.G having won 0 Grammys in their entire careers. But who in the system is responsible for this?

The Voting Process

Although the voting process of who gets nominated and who wins shouldn't be blamed for everything that is wrong with the Grammys, the situation is quite sketchy to say the least. To be a voting member, the only requirements are first, to be recommended by two peers in the industry and second, to fill out a profile. This makes it fairly easy and accessible to be a part of something that people's entire reputations depend on. To make it even worse, members aren't required to vote on areas they are knowledgeable or familiar about. So basically, a rock expert can vote in a classical music category and a country fanatic can vote in a rap category, which makes no sense whatsoever when taking into consideration the award's nominations. How will you accurately award a Best Pop Vocal Album if there's people voting who don't even listen to pop?

Are the Grammys a valid judge of what good music is anymore?

Honestly, the true problem with the Grammys is its reluctance to adapt to what's new. Once it adapts, the new is now old. Artists who guide music and are at the peak of their careers now, may win a Grammy years later and people are going to get mad that newer artists aren't getting it. This shows that the Academy is in a never ending cycle.

Overall, the award isn't one hundred percent a valid judge of what 'good music' is anymore and maybe it never was. However, it isn't all bad either. At the end of the day, no one will ever be able to pinpoint what good music is, so winning a Grammy or not doesn't say anything about the quality of an artist's music. The Grammys are here to celebrate important achievements in the music industry and it can really help artists to be even more influential and successful than what they already are. It shouldn't be considered as anything better or worse than what it truly is: an award.

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