The Grammys vs. Artists of Color

Just over a week over, the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards took place, with eighty-three artists taking home an award for themselves. Comedian Trevor Noah stepped up as the host for the night, and big-name artists such as Cardi B, Taylor Swift, BTS, and more gave stunning performances. Despite the limited number of attendees due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Grammys still delivered a fantastic show. 

However, the Grammys have recently been the subject of much controversy, specifically regarding the Recording Academy and its process of choosing nominees/winners. The Recording Academy, which organizes the annual Grammy Awards, consists of numerous musicians, producers, and other industry professionals who narrow down the nominees and pick winners for each category. Many of the Academy’s members are kept confidential, and parts of the voting process are concealed from the public. 

This secrecy has caused many to become skeptical of the Academy and the Grammys as a whole. In fact, many point out that the hidden process may only aid the Grammys in their continued bias against artists of color. Canadian pop-artist The Weeknd even called out the Grammys for this after none of his music was nominated, despite his single “Blinding Lights” and his album After Hours reaching massive success worldwide. In a tweet from November of 2020, he stated that, “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans, and the industry transparency…” and promised he would be boycotting the Grammys from now on. 

Former One Direction member and current solo artist Zayn Malik also made a statement about the Grammys on his Twitter earlier this month, claiming that the secrecy of the Academy “allows favoritism, racism, and networking politics to influence the voting process.” 

Yet, they are not the first to speak out. Other artists such as Drake, Tyler the Creator, Frank Ocean, and more have previously spoken up about the Grammys’ unfair voting practices and discrimination. Even the former president and CEO of the Recording Academy, Deborah Dugan, called the voting process “rigged” and “corrupt” in her allegations against the Academy.

But to some, there may not seem to be a diversity issue at all. After all, the Recording Academy created a diversity and inclusion task force in 2018 in an attempt to improve representation, and artists of color are still winning awards each year. 

However, the issue is not with artists of color getting shut out completely; it is about how they are acknowledged in comparison to white musicians. In most cases, non-white artists are usually confined to minor categories or categories specific to their ethnicity and are excluded from major/general categories. For example, many black artists win awards for categories that are considered “black” music (such as R&B or rap), yet they are rarely acknowledged in the top four categories (Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best New Artist). Since the first Grammy Awards in 1959, only ten black artists have won Album of the Year. A similar story has played out in the other top categories, with only around 14 to 34 percent of the nominees and 14 to 23 percent of the winners being artists of color. Nicki Minaj even hinted at this in a tweet from November of 2020, stating that she had seven songs trending simultaneously on the Billboard Charts in the earlier years of her career, yet never received the Best New Artist award. 

With non-white artists being confined to small categories and snubbed out of high-ranking awards, it can be extremely discouraging for them and other people of color, especially since minorities have contributed a lot to the modern music scene.

“The idea of the Grammys is to give awards to artists that showed the greatest achievements, but so many POC artists didn’t even get nominated.” Nikitha Sivakumar, a sophomore at Apex High, replied when asked about her view on the Grammys. “I think if they don’t change their nomination process, then they shouldn’t even hold a Grammy Award show because they’re pushing away talented artists.” 

Another sophomore, Maria Prasolova, agreed with Nikitha. 

“I think the Grammys still have a huge impact and a lot of money and influence to their name,” she stated. “However, with more and more examples of them having an obvious bias against musicians of color, it’s clear that they are becoming outdated and won’t be as prominent in the future…” 

Although music is subjective and artists of color could have lost simply because their music “wasn’t good enough,” it is hard to believe that so many musicians and industry figures would call out the Grammys based on false claims. Whether or not you believe that these artists of color deserved to win, there is no denying that the Grammys has a diversity problem. While the Recording Academy has taken steps in the right direction to fix this issue with their diversity task force and other methods, they still have a long way to go in terms of offering transparency and unbiased voting for artists.

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