The Grammy Problem

Here’s a fun fact: Bob Marley never once won a competitive Grammy. Neither did Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin. Nor did Kate Bush, Tupac or Queen. Nina Simone never won one, Diana Ross never won one, and Patti Smith never won one. Neither did The Kinks, The Velvet Underground, Grace Jones, The Who, Biggie, Björk, Iggy Pop, Dusty Springfield, Curtis Mayfield, Martha Reeves, The Supremes, Sly and the Family Stone, The Talking Heads, Buddy Holly, Thelonious Monk, Liz Phair or Chuck Berry.

Nothing, nada, zero.

Here’s another fun fact: Ed Sheeran, in a single night, has won (quite literally) infinitely more competitive Grammys than all of these acts put together…

Go figure.

The Rolling Stones never won a competitive Grammy until 1994. Pink Floyd never won one until 1995. Led Zeppelin never won one until 2014 with their live album “Celebration Day”. Lionel Richie’s “Can’t Slow Down” beat Prince’s “Purple Rain” to Album of the Year in 1985. Blood, Sweat & Tears’ eponymous album beat The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” in 1970. Tony Bennett’s “MTV Unplugged” beat Liz Phair’s “Exile in Guyville” (which wasn’t even nominated) in 1995.

So why, oh, why do we take the Grammys seriously? Their track record is worse than Nigel Farage’s attempts at running for Parliament.

The New York Times ran a piece last week highlighting that of all the 899 Grammy nominees from the past six years, less than 10% were women. Despite living in a world full of interesting, challenging and inventive female artists, the Grammys seem completely blind to the enormous talent these women consistently display. This year, SZA and Lorde – the two artists responsible for the best albums of 2017 (“Ctrl” and “Melodrama” respectively) – both went home without a single Grammy between them.

And then we come to hip-hop, undoubtedly the most influential and radical music genre of the past 25 years. Yet, in the history of the Grammys, only two hip-hop albums – two! – have ever been awarded the top prize of Album of the Year – Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in 1999, and Outkast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” in 2004. (Sorry, Kendrick. “To Pimp a Butterfly” was genius – perhaps the best album of this entire decade so far – but it’s no “1989”.) At a rate like this, the Grammys will soon be battling it out with Trump’s “Fake News Awards” for the title of Most Inconsequential Honours of the Year.

In short, the Grammys, like most award shows, are a crock. They should be treated as a bit of fluff, a fun evening where the biggest names in the industry strut their stuff, put on a good show, and nab a few cheeky headlines. But that’s about it. Don’t go looking for judicious decisions or any level of sagacity. Occasionally, however, the Grammys might get it right, like “Sgt. Pepper” winning Album of the Year in 1968, or “Songs in the Key of Life” winning in 1977. But, more often than not, they award the wrong people and the wrong acts. If the Grammys don’t change their game, their ballot boxes will always remain stuffed with choices that are bad, safe, boring, or just downright crazy.

(I mean Phil Collins’s “No Jacket Required” beating Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” to Album of the Year? Give me strength.)


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