This year, the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards were held on 14 March in all its glamour, or whatever of it could be brought together during this pandemic. However, at a time when people are mostly stuck bored at home, the Grammys’ viewership fell 53 percent from last year to 8.8 million viewers, the lowest rating recorded for the ceremony ever. This isn’t surprising though – the WHY Group, an initiative of Horizon Media that studies societal trends, released a report in 2019 that stated that only one-third of their sample group felt the Grammys were relevant to them; the rest didn’t bother to tune in. Clearly, the Academy has been experiencing a decline in its popularity. Why is such a mainstream event losing the anticipation that once surrounded it?
The very popular contention the public has with the Grammys is its blatant dismissal of ‘obviously’ deserving candidates. It feels like every year there is some misjudgment or plain apathy on the part of the Academy. For the 2020 Grammys, Ariana Grande’s Thank U, Next and Lana Del Rey’s NFR were viewed as the potential big winners, given how monumental these works were for their career and the pop genre as a whole. However, first-time nominee Billie Eilish grabbed five major Gramophones in one night; Mariah Carey has the same number after her illustrious career of nearly 30 years. How does one ignore this shocking observation? What’s more, Grande’s loss seems very reminiscent of Carey’s in 1996: two women who were nominated for multiple awards attended and performed at the show only to go home empty-handed. Other examples of snubbing like that of Rihanna in 2017 and SZA in 2018 just drive the point home. Such disrespectful behavior by the Academy acts as a repellent to both the celebrities and their fanbases. It seems as if the show just uses them as promotions without any regard for their hard work.
A significantly supporting factor in this conversation is that of the musicians’ own words against the Awards. I have witnessed many of them on Twitter, which is a bustling hotspot of unadulterated pop culture discussions, primarily because of all the spontaneous raw opinions several celebrities put out on the platform. A recent outburst there was that by Zayn Malik, the former One Direction member, who seemed angry at the Recording Academy and “everyone associated with it”. Malik accused them of letting their “favoritism, racism, and networking politics influence the voting process”. Another musician who recently tweeted about his qualms with the Academy was The Weeknd. It was consentaneous that he was supposed to be one of the strong contenders for Grammys. After all, Blinding Lights spent a record-breaking 52 weeks in the US Top 10 and became 2020’s most-streamed song on Spotify; his album After Hours went on to sell 418,000 copies in the first half of the year alone. Still, he did not receive a single nomination this year. Yeah… none. The fan outrage that followed was thus very justified. They blamed racial bias towards successful Black artists and the bitterness over the singer’s preference to perform at the Superbowl rather than preparing one for the Grammys. Abel himself joined in to call out the snub: “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…”, he tweeted (what makes the snub even more infuriating is the nomination of Yummy, arguably 2020’s and Justin Bieber’s career’s worst song, for Best Pop Solo Performance.) According to a statement provided to the New York Times, he would no longer allow his label to submit his music to the Grammys. These are just the latest instances; Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey, Jay Z, and Kanye West are few other famous names who have been expressing their disdain towards the Awards for a long time. With such influential musicians badmouthing them, the Academy’s reputation was bound to take a hit. Its ousted CEO Deborah Dugan accusing it of ‘vote rigging’ definitely doesn’t make things better.
Additionally, the lack of diversity in nominations has become a much more driving factor in the Grammy’s degenerating status at present. The struggle of Black representation has been highlighted for a long time. When they are nominated, they are largely restricted to ‘R&B’ and ‘Urban’ categories. However, the Academy’s poor treatment of the Korean boy group BTS intensifies the severity of their problem with inclusion and equal opportunity. Its constant incognizance of BTS every year keeps causing friction between the group’s fans and the Academy; the boy band’s recent loss resulted in the hashtag Scammys being trended by Armys. It can’t be denied that after such a brilliant streak of successful years, a Grammy is long overdue for them. Blackpink has become a major part of the music scene, and they too have been deprived of any nomination. As director Bong Joon-Ho said about the Oscars, I would say the same about the Grammys: they are “very local,” and people are fed up with it. The performances are also just becoming plain boring. Long gone are the days of Britney Spears-like choreographic brilliance or Whitney Houston-like vocal bravado – now the highlight of the show is Alicia Keys sitting behind a piano and congratulating the nominees. The creative spark just isn’t there anymore.
It can be seen that the Academy seems to be really out of touch with reality. Along with the Oscars, they have been seen as the standard of talent recognition, worldwide, for a long time; but are slowly losing this generations-old prestige. The audience wants fairness and originality from what has always been seen as a cultural forerunner. It has influenced the way other awards ceremonies are held and has been replicated by others to imitate the essence of what they started as and claim to be still. But it’s all slipping away. With the audience losing faith in decisions being unbiased, a sleuth of undeserving winners, various celebrities expressing their distrust in the ceremony, next to no varied inclusion and lacklustre performances, it would be difficult to retain what notability it is left with. It can no longer run on nostalgic importance. Thus, Grammys need to hark back to its original purpose and transform itself in unison with that.