Do the Grammys Have A Diversity Problem?

The Grammys is an award show which was created by ‘The Recording Academy’’ an American organization of musicians, recording engineers, producers and other recording professionals in 1959. The awards provide a “Grammy,” which recognizes outstanding achievement in mainly the English-language music industry.  

    Although BIPOC artists make up a significantly large majority of the music industry, the representation of minorities in The Grammys, mainly African-Americans has stayed at a certain level of portrayal since the award show’s debut in 1959. As the Grammy nominees are announced each year, there almost always seems to be a public outcry against the award show, which has raised questions over whether or not the award show has a race problem. 

The annual Grammy Awards are almost always full of surprises – and this year the nominees for the 2020 ceremony were no different. Most notably, this year’s “Album of the Year” category has become a hot topic of controversy on social media. Fans have swarmed across social media, complaining about the lack of diversity in this year’s Grammy nominees – with major BIPOC artists such as The Weeknd, Burnaboy, Rina Sawayama and BTS being side-lined, despite the unanimous cultural and commercial success of their music. The immense public backlash and outcry has even led to #robbed and #SCAMMYS trending on the Twittersphere.

The Weeknd took to Twitter himself to express his own feelings of confusion, despite his single “Blinding Lights” breaking Billboard chart records for the most weeks at Number One, and his album “After Hours” having one of the largest opening weeks of 2020, debuting with an equivalent of 444,000 sales in the United States. (New York Times). The Weeknd alleged on his Instagram and Twitter that the Grammys are “corrupt.” This has led to speculation that the artist was intentionally “snubbed” over a rumored ultimatum given between performing at the Superbowl or the Grammy awards themselves. 

However, The Weeknd received zero nominations this year, which came as a major shock and surprise to the internet. A few hours after the nominations were announced, he tweeted, “You owe me, my fans, and the industry transparency.” In a subsequent tweet shared later, he alluded to talks of a performance on the award show stage, writing, “Collaboratively planning a performance for weeks to not being invited? In my opinion zero nominations = you’re not invited!”

 Other artists such as Drake stood in solidarity, arguing that Black artists such as Lil Baby, Pop Smoke, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Popcaan and “too many names to even name” have been unfairly subbed by the Recording Academy. 

Nonetheless, the tale of racial inequality at the Grammys is one that has become a longstanding topic of debate over the years, and one that we are much too familiar with. Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly has been coined as one of the most powerful, progressive and culturally significant albums released that year. So, it was surprising to many that he album lost out on the coveted award to Taylor Swift’s 1989 – a great album in its own right, yet arguably just a comfortable selection of homogenous, sing-along anthems. A similar situation unfolded in 2017 when Beyoncé infamously lost out on the award to Adele, who even took to breaking her album in half that night, sharing her win with Beyoncé. At the time, Beyoncé’s loss, particularly on her Lemonade album (which greatly played homage to her African roots), spoke volumes to the Black community. The album was not only significant in its discussion of police brutality, classism, feminism, and black culture, but it also was a personal eclectic and was far more complex than anything she had previously produced. 

Not only are Black artists losing out on prestigious awards, but they are also being limited to smaller, and allegedly “racialized” categories as well. Tyler, the Creator spoke out against the Recording Academy following his win for “Best Rap Album” for his 2019 project, Igor. Tyler commented on the fact that whenever Black artists attempt to do anything genre-bending, they are almost immediately put into the “urban/rap category.” He argues that it felt like a back-hand comment, adding “I don’t like that ‘urban’ word [when it comes to music]. To me, it’s just a politically correct way to say the N-word, Why can’t we just be in pop.” (Urbjournal).

The Grammys have also been called out on many occasions for being “too white, too male, and too old.” To put things into perspective, only 10 Black artists have ever won “Album of the Year” since its debut in 1959, with the last being Herbie Hancock in 2008. (Insider). While everyone is entitled to their opinion over what they may consider to be the best music of the year, people look to the Grammys to showcase the best of the best, and when Black artists – who have been critically acclaimed by publications, and the general public are being underrepresented, it’s no wonder people speak out against it. Especially this year. 

Following the political climate generated by the Black Lives Matter movement, the Recording Academy had the opportunity to drive change in an industry that has historically failed to give Black artists the recognition they deserve – but they slept on it. 

Although the nominations have left many sour, there is a lot to celebrate. This will be the first Grammy award show since the word “urban” was dropped from many category titles, following widespread criticism for the term’s racialized connotations. Beyoncé has also become the most-nominated female artist in the award show’s history with 62 overall, and BTS has become the first K-pop group to earn a grammy nomination in a major category.

Sources –

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