Another Year of Grammys, Another Year of Controversy

Jack Keane, Contributing Writer

The 2020 Grammy Awards took place on January 26th, with many of the globe’s top musical artists and celebrities in attendance. With Meek Mill, John Legend, DJ Khaled and Roddy Ricch paying homage to the late Nipsey Hustle, and Alicia Keys delivering a heartfelt speech about the universal language that is music, this year’s event had an abundance of passion. 

The ceremony took place in the wake of the untimely death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, and the superstar’s legacy was honored throughout the night through performances from celebrities such as Alicia Keys and Lizzo. The fact that the awards were held in the Staples Center—home of Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers—added to the emotion of an already sentimental night. 

A recent scandal within the Recording Academy including vote-rigging allegations and sexual misconduct also added additional drama to the event. Despite recent events, however, the show went on, with a variety of performances incorporated into the night’s set, making for another entertaining year of music awards. Many of the night’s results, however, proved one thing to be true, which is that the music industry is changing, becoming more of a business each year than a submission of artistic expression.

Billie Eilish took home five awards, including three from some of the major categories, provoking sentiments of bias within the Recording Academy. While the young artist undeniably traveled an arduous path to success and made her mark in the pop culture community, not everybody agreed that she was quite deserving of awards she won.

In response to Eilish’s hit “Bad Guy” winning Record of the Year over tracks including “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, Emmett Lewis-Hoeber ’20 remarked, “When people think of 2019, they are not going to think of ‘Bad Guy.’  They are going to think of ‘Old Town Road.’” Lewis-Hoeber argued that although “Bad Guy” was one of the most popular songs of the year, it did not have quite the same overall social media presence and impact as Lil Nas X’s first release.

This is not the first time the Recording Academy has made questionable decisions in terms of award recipients, as the awards have a history causing controversy and backlash. Acclaimed rapper Jay-Z has been nominated for 77 Grammys, with Kanye West having been nominated for 69 and Kendrick Lamar for three. Nonetheless, none of these highly praised artists have won a golden gramophone. It is decisions—or the lack thereof—such as these that call the reliability and accuracy of the Grammys into question.

This is not the first time the Recording Academy has made questionable decisions in terms of award recipients, as the awards have a history causing controversy and backlash.”

Atop the list of controversial decisions made by the Recording Academy this year was selecting Tyler, the Creator’s Igor as Best Rap Album. The album is without a doubt a true artistic masterpiece, as it swerves between funk, punk, R&B and other genres. However, it is not rap. The mastermind behind the collection’s creation himself will agree that a mistake was made in naming his album Best Rap Album, and won’t do so simply out of humility. There is a larger racial and social issue within the decision to award his album Best Rap Album and he let his feelings regarding this be known, stating after winning the award that “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.” This is a sentiment shared by several artists.

A similar situation took place earlier in 2019 when “Old Town Road” was removed from the country charts for “not embracing enough elements of today’s country music in its current version,” according to Billboard. There was a profuse amount of backlash following this decision, and it put the music industry’s racial progression in perspective for many people. These are two prime examples of racial biases—implicit or not—within the music industry, and society’s impotence when it comes to acknowledging black artists as more than rappers.

This year’s Grammy Awards showcased an array of entertainment in addition to questionable decisions, evoking drama among some viewers. A sense of community was built throughout the night, as audience members took in powerful speeches, however, there remained—and still remains—a disconnection in regards to race, bias, and the music industry during the ceremony. However, it is young artists who are aware of such biases who can speak out to call attention to them and help revive the art without boundaries that music was created to be.