As the nominations for the 60th Grammy awards are announced, one can't help but wonder if any of them make sense any more.
The road to the Grammy Awards is on its way. The nominations are out and the hype is already everywhere. Famous designers are already planning their artistes’ dresses for the grand Red Carpet. Awards season is just around the corner and one can’t stop hearing the phrase ’The big night’ everywhere.
All that is great. But I invite you to pause for a moment and ask, ‘What does it even mean to win a Grammy any more?’ Does it really award deserving artistes for works based purely on musical merit? Are the nominations truly reflective of the public consciousness of the times? Does not winning a Grammy change the value, status or greatness of an artiste? Is it really the gold standard of music recognition, as it purports to be?
Let’s take a deeper look. The Grammy Award turns 60 this year. And as usual, it will be broadcast live on January 28, and millions of people around the world will tune in. But we live in an age where YouTube videos amass millions of views in a matter of minutes.
It’s the era of virality—of live streaming, music on the fly, of ‘Netflix and chill’, of unlimited free porn and infinite content. It is easier than ever today to turn on, tune in and drop out.
So, does the Grammy mean the same as it did 60 years ago? Certainly not. Almost nothing remains the same over 60 years, but to what degree is the change is the question here.
Today, you don’t need a grand televised event to gain recognition. You can launch into fame from your very own garage, with just some basic recording equipment and an original voice. We live in a time when ‘going Platinum’ doesn’t even technically require you to sell 1 million actual physical records. Streaming and downloads also count to make the numbers now.
Jay-Z’s new album 4:44 for instance went Platinum in under a week after the release, in spite of being released exclusively on the streaming service Tidal. So much so that Jay-Z’s photo for the ceremony was taken before the album even released! And of course 4:44 is a forerunner for the 2018 Grammys. This is Jay-Z we’re talking about here. And sure it’s a great album but consider this.
Jay-Z, along with Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) and Bruno Mars make up four out of the five nominations for Album of the Year, one of the main awards for the night. That leaves the fifth nominee Lorde as the only woman in the running. Notice a pattern here? The only white person nominated here is a woman. The Recording Academy’s attempt at a reply to the issue of racial misrepresentation at awards festivals, which reached its peak during the 2017 Oscars, seems like it’s overcompensating for its past sins.
For starters, picking the winner for Album of the Year is like the race for the Democrats’ candidate for President in 2008. It’s either a black man or a white woman! Either way, it sounds like a very safe play on the part of the Recording Academy—a thinly veiled apology to years of neglect and misrepresentation passed off as a win-win situation. Secondly, there are no white men in the running. But does completely excluding a demographic suddenly make the Grammys fair now? And how is it not fundamentalist if you leave an entire race out?
Strikingly, Taylor Swift and Adele’s names are not on the list for any of the big categories. And what happened to Ed Sheeran? He definitely has a lower number of nominations than expected. It’s white exclusion!
If this ‘token racism’ takes the forefront, then the Grammys are not really awarding artistes based on merit. It could be argued that the winners are purely circumstantial—at the right place and the right time, an unintended benefitor of the current political scenario.
Judging by previous trends, the Grammy is famous for doling out awards to already established artistes. So it is a bit of a relief to see the academy finally throwing the spotlight on artistes such as SZA (who leads the nominations among the women with a total of 5) and Cardi B (whose hit single Bodak Yellow is nominated for Best Rap Performance).
But the big awards of the night usually sees an already established artist stealing the show. So assuming Jay Z wins for 4:44 this year, what message would that send out to the world?