On February 15, “The 58th GRAMMYs” awards show, self-declared as “music’s biggest night,” will air live on CBS, and everyone will have something to complain about, and little to cheer for.
While the Grammys might be music’s biggest night in terms of popularity, they are far from being music’s most important night.
Other major entertainment awards, including the Oscars, the Emmys, and the Golden Globes, are generally respected for honoring the more critically acclaimed works rather than the most popular. For example, the 2014-15 Oscars all but ignored hugely popular films such as “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Hobbit” in favor of smaller, independent films such as “Whiplash” and “Boyhood”, both of which flew under the radar until awards season.
This style and preference of choosing nominees makes shows like the Oscars more interesting to watch because they introduce viewers to lesser known films and shows.
The Grammys, on the other hand, follow the complete opposite pattern. Critically acclaimed music tends to be overlooked, and the nominations list becomes almost undiscernible from any Top 40 chart.
At this point, the Grammys become nothing more than a popularity contest. The crowd-pleasing, radio music is recognized as the best, and viewers miss out on being introduced to lesser-known artists who are pushing the boundaries of music. However, there are exceptions to this trend. Last year, multi-instrumentalist Beck took away the Album of the Year award (to Kanye West’s disappointment), beating hugely popular artists Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, and Pharrell Williams.
This is where the Grammys fall into an identity crisis. Voters can’t decide if they want to honor the year’s “biggest” and most “important” music, or what is widely regarded as the “best”.
Albumoftheyear.org compiles an average of 81 major publications’ year-end lists. Only one of this year’s Grammy-nominated albums, Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly”, even made the top 25 of albumoftheyear.org’s list. The remainder of the Grammy nominees for Album of the Year include Alabama Shakes, Chris Stapleton, Taylor Swift, and The Weeknd.
The “Best New Artist” category is the Grammys’ prime example of confusion and contradictory nominees. This year, pop singer Meghan Trainor is nominated alongside indie rock singer/songwriter/guitarist Courtney Barnett, making the Best New Artist nominees list possibly the only place the two have ever been compared.
Similarly, in 2012, folk artist Bon Iver was nominated in the category (five years after releasing his debut album…hardly “new”) alongside significantly more popular artists J. Cole, Nicki Minaj, and Skrillex, yet still won. This kind of inconsistency doesn’t make for an interesting or surprising show, rather, it makes for a frustrating viewing experience.
An award show as confused and nonsensical as the Grammys is one that shouldn’t hold as much weight as it claims to have. At the end of the day, the Grammys are no more than one big party that the dominant forces of the music industry throw for themselves.
The awards are nothing more than a popularity contest, and irrelevant in the critical reception of music. The Grammys show no signs of any true intentions to award the best in music, and anyone expecting otherwise will be sorely disappointed.