“Music’s Biggest Night” usually doesn’t get it right
Let’s face it, no award show is perfect. I mean, when you’re tasked with navigating the treacherous slope of public opinion and personal preference, there’s no way you’re going to please everyone.
But in the realm of red carpets and golden trophies, one award show seems to emerge every year as the worst culprit: the Grammys. “Music’s Biggest Night” shows time and time again that it’s more interested in participating in a popularity contest of industry favourites rather than any sort of discussion on what constitutes truly amazing and culturally significant music.
A short trip down memory lane makes this blatantly clear.
Even thinking about the infamous 58th Grammy Awards from 2016 still makes my blood boil. Kendrick Lamar’s epic To Pimp a Butterfly, which received widespread critical acclaim for its vivid storytelling, brilliant lyricism and innovative samples (it was named the album of the year by Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Billboard and Spin, to name a few of its accolades) lost to Taylor Swift’s 1989. No hate to Taylor Swift fans (actually, a little), I’m sure her album was full of catchy, radio-friendly tunes, but the obvious deserving winner here was Lamar.
The same rang true at the 59th edition in 2017, when Beyoncé’s Lemonade was shafted for the same award, given instead to Adele for 25. While I admit that Adele has vocal chops like nobody else and released a great album, Lemonade was a once-in-a-career kind of album for Beyoncé, a reflection on and critique of racial and social issues and her marital issues with rapper JAY-Z. Adele even dedicated the damn award to Beyoncé during her acceptance speech.
And while Kanye West might not be the greatest person in everyone’s books right now, his 2010 masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, was, dare I say, a perfect album. Not a single second of the album feels like it’s wasted— it even earned a perfect 10 from Pitchfork, a title notoriously hard to achieve; no artist of any genre has yet to do it since. While this did earn Kanye Best Rap Album at the 54th Grammys, it wasn’t even nominated for Album of the Year.
But that’s how the annual Grammys often goes: They’re willing to nominate critically-acclaimed music, but the Academy’s praise ends there. The actual grand prize is too often reserved for the year’s radio darling.
This year’s nominees, announced back in December, don’t allude to the Grammys faring any better this year. The Album of the Year nominations were sorely lacking some of this year’s most impactful and critically successful releases, from Mitski’s Be The Cowboy and Noname’s Room 25 to Travis Scott’s Astroworld and Pusha T’s Daytona.
If Childish Gambino doesn’t take home song of the year for his epic cultural critique “This Is America,” then we’ll definitely have problems. And while critics have long been pointing out this vital flaw in the Grammys, viewers now seem to be taking notice as well.
The viewership of the annual ceremony, usually broadcast in February, has been steadily declining since 2012, where viewership hit a peak. Then, 2018 saw the lowest number of viewers to tune into the show in the last decade, drawing in an audience of just 19.8 million, in sharp contrast to 39.9 million in 2012.
The bottom line is, we shouldn’t create and support award shows that celebrate popularity: we have the radio, charts, and word-of-mouth for that. An award show’s principal purpose should be to honour artistic achievement that pushes boundaries, shows us something new, or changes the way we view the world, and often times that doesn’t translate into commercial popularity.
If the Grammy’s want to be taken seriously, they needs to start putting artistic achievement above dollar signs and play counts.