Opinion: Grammys or Scammys? 2021 Grammys Once Again Showed Lack of Inclusion and Diversity

Updated: Oct 16, 2021

The 63rd Annual Grammy Awards took place last Sunday, Mar. 14, in an outdoor setting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With Trevor Noah hosting the awards show, it was one of music’s biggest nights with Taylor Swift’s Folklore taking home Album of the Year, Megan Thee Stallion winning the award for Best New Artist, and Harry Styles’s popular hit “Watermelon Sugar” winning Best Pop Solo Performance. However, despite the ground-breaking nominations and awards throughout the night, the reaction to the show was mixed.

Jhené Aiko hosted the Premiere Ceremony that aired hours before the award show did, and many of the Golden Gramophones were handed out before the official ceremony began. By the end of the night, fans were enraged with #Scammys trending on social media, and tweets from artists, and their fans alike.

The Bare Minimum for BTS

This year marked a historic achievement for the Korean-pop group, BTS, who became the first K-pop group to receive a Grammy nomination, for their hit-single “Dynamite.” The song, which was the first all-English song released by the group, peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks.

While the song was nominated for Best Pop Group/Duo Performance, it came as a shock to many viewers when Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga’s collaboration on “Rain on Me” won the award during the show’s Premiere Ceremony. The disappointing loss, combined with the past shutouts for the K-pop group, angered fans further.

“The momentousness of BTS earning their first Grammy nod this year was tainted slightly by the nagging sensation that the Recording Academy only nominated ‘Dynamite’ as a conciliatory gesture to placate fans,” Bryan Rolli, a music and entertainment-based journalist wrote in Forbes. He went on to describe how, while the song was incredibly catchy with a unique disco-pop beat, it was far from the group’s best work.

Over the course of the last year, BTS released two albums with numerous tracks, including “ON,” “Black Swan,” and “Life Goes On,” all of which could have been serious contenders for major Grammy categories, including Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, or Best Pop Vocal Album. However, according to Rolli, it seemed as if the Recording Academy nominated the group’s least adventurous song in a relatively minor category. “It’s almost like [The Recording Academy] nominated them to say to their fans, ‘Fine, we’ve heard your complaints and we’ll give you what you want, now will you please shut up about BTS?’” Rolli wrote.

In mid-February, the Recording Academy announced that BTS would be performing “Dynamite” at the Grammys; the announcement came just weeks before the award show was to take place. However, when the awards were announced, many fans and critics thought it “sleazy” of the Academy to use the group’s performance to raise their views, which have been steadily declining since 2012.

Even then, the Academy’s “master plan” to garner views failed epically. The broadcast was watched live by 8.8 million viewers, a 53% decrease compared to the 2020 show. In comparison, BTS member Jeon Jeungguk hosted a live stream via V-live, a Korean live streaming service used by many celebrities. In just over an hour, Jeungguk garnered 22.1 million views, which was 2.5 times more than what the Grammys had.

The Weeknd Boycotts Future Grammys

When the official list of nominees for the 2021 Grammys was released in Nov. 2020, many were surprised to see Canadian pop star, the Weeknd, not on the list. The artist, whose real name is Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, had a record-breaking year with his album After Hours, claiming the spot as the biggest album in the first half of 2020. But, when it came to Grammy nominations, the Weeknd received none.

The artist, who recently performed at the Pepsi Super Bowl LV Halftime Show in early Feb., was clearly upset after the nominations were released. In a tweet, which gained 1.1 million likes, he stated: “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans, and the industry transparency…”

After nominations were released, many questioned the Grammy’s nomination process and zeroed the blame on the role of the anonymous expert committees. The committees review initial nomination choices by the thousands of music professionals who make up the voting membership of the Recording Academy, the nonprofit group behind the awards, and—for 61 of the Grammys’ 84 categories—have the final say about who makes the cut.

To the Grammy leadership, the committees are a check-and-balance step to preserve the integrity of the awards, but to suspicious artists, they are unaccountable star chambers that can overthrow the will of the voters.

Finding this process unacceptable, in a recent statement to the New York Times, the Weeknd claimed that he would be boycotting the awards in the future: “Because of the secret committees, I will no longer allow my label to submit my music to the Grammys.”

The Weeknd isn’t the first artist to publicly call out The Recording Academy. He follows the steps of Drake, Kanye West, and Frank Ocean, all Black artists who have reprimanded the Grammys in the past.

Zayn Calls Out The Recording Academy

Other celebrities have called out the Recording Academy and the Grammys on their lack of inclusion, including Zayn Malik, former member of One Direction-turned-solo artist. In a tweet just days before the Grammys, he wrote: “F*ck the Grammys and everyone associated. Unless you shake hands and send gifts, there’s no nomination considerations. Next year, I’ll send you a basket of confectionery.”

While the English artists’ latest album Nobody is Listening was not eligible for any nominations due to its release on Jan. 15, Zayn later clarified his tweet, stating that his comments were “not personal or about eligibility but was about the need for inclusion and the lack of transparency of the nomination process and the space that creates and allows favoritism, racism, and networking politics to influence the voting process.”

Furthermore, the evening of the broadcast, the artist once again took to social media, this time directly tagging the Recording Academy. “@recordingacad are moving in inches and we need to move in miles. I’m keeping the pressure on and fighting for transparency & inclusion. We need to make sure we are honoring and celebrating “creative excellence” of ALL. End the secret committees. Until then…#f*ckthegrammys”

A Historic Lack of Inclusion

The lack of inclusion has been made apparent by the Recording Academy for decades. In the 63 year history of the award show, only 10 Black artists have received the trophy for Album of the Year. Meanwhile, many non-white artists are relegated to the “Rap” or “R&B” categories.

Throughout history, Grammy nominees and winners reveal a voting bias within the Recording Academy, as artists of color are repeatedly put to the side and mediocre works are awarded over critically and commercially successful efforts from contemporary artists.

For example, in 2019, Tyler, The Creator, took home his first-ever Grammy for Best Rap Album for IGOR. However, the musician criticized the Recording Academy for placing “guys that look like me” in the rap and urban categories. In a backstage interview, he admitted that while he was “very grateful” for his win, the categorizing of his music as rap is a “backhanded compliment.”

“It sucks that whenever we — and I mean guys that look like me — do anything that’s genre-bending or that’s anything they always put it in a rap or urban category. I don’t like that ‘urban’ word — it’s just a politically correct way to say the n-word to me,” he said.

He ended the interview by saying that he wished the Academy would put more effort into recognizing artists like him on a more mainstream level, rather than being “pigeonholed” forever in urban categories.

American rapper, Sean “Diddy” Combs, also spoke up before the 2019 Grammys, with a point similar to Tyler’s. He said, “Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be. So, right now, in this current situation, it’s not a revelation. This thing [has] been going on and it’s not just going on in music. It’s going on in film. It’s going on in sports, It’s going on around the world.”

He urged Black artists and the Recording Academy to push for more inclusion of people of color. “We need transparency. We need diversity. This is the room that has the power to make the change. It needs to be made. They have to make the changes for us,” he said.

What The Academy Has To Say

Chairman and Interim Chief Executive Officer of the Recording Academy, Harvey Mason Jr. has made multiple statements and efforts in order to address the lack of inclusion, especially for artists of color, but there’s still much work to be done.

In 2019, Mason released a statement on behalf of the Academy stating the following: “Too often, our industry and Academy have alienated some of our own artists — in particular, through a lack of diversity that, in many cases, results in a culture that leans towards exclusion rather than inclusion.” Along with the statement, he promised an increase in diversity and inclusion.

That same year the Academy launched a Task Force for Diversity and Inclusion, in order to increase the number of females and artists of color. However, the task force had little success, angering artists even more.

This past Sunday, near the end of the show, Mason appeared in a video message where he acknowledged the criticisms that have been directed at the Recording Academy over the past months. He stated that he knows there needs to be more diversity, representation, and transparency, but he wants the artists and industry to “work with us, not against us” to build something “we can all be proud of.”

However, the Academy’s vague and ill-defined statement leaves viewers, artists, and their fans wondering — will there be any serious change? Or, is this another one of the Academy’s empty promises?

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