Arts, Music, Column

Himes: At the Grammys, Minorities Win the Battle but Lose the War

It seems like all sorts of generally popular televised events are going downhill—nobody wanted to host the Oscars, and even the Super Bowl was a total bust. Last year, the Grammys faced serious backlash after only giving one female musician an award on air (Alessia Cara, for Best New Artist), and this year the popular awards show is seemingly losing performers every day leading up to the event. Ariana Grande backed out after a feud with Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich. Performance slots were offered to Childish Gambino, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar, only to have them all decline. Even Taylor Swift (nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album), a regular at the Grammys, will not be in attendance.

The Grammys face a problem central to nearly everything entertainment-related in 2019: The dichotomy between staying relevant, both culturally and artistically, and recognizing the true creative triumphs of the year.

After the Grammys were fiercely criticized last year, Neil Portnow, chief executive of the Recording Academy, said that “[women] need to step up,” a quote stirring so much backlash it led him to announce that he’d be stepping down in 2019. The University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released a report saying that nearly 91 percent of the nominees of the last six years were men.

The award show is also known for being stingy with black artists—a group that often sees the most nominations yet very few wins. The only Record of the Year win for a black artist in the past 23 years was Ray Charles’ 2005 “Here We Go Again.” The last time black musician to win Album of the Year was Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters in 2008, and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” for Song of the Year in 2010. Beyoncé has taken quite a few awards compared to her black counterparts, but her race has famously played a different and evolving role in her image as an artist.

To fix this, the Recording Academy added 900 new voters to increase diversity. Additionally, it added three candidates to each main category, so now eight acts are nominated for Album, Record, and Song of the Year, as well as Best New Artist. The Recording Academy also put together a 16-person task force to tackle diversity issues in the nominations process, which did help: This year, the Nominations Review Committee is 51 percent female and 48 percent people of color, which is a huge increase from last year’s 28 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

On a lighter note, it’s safe to say that the Grammys and other award shows are losing both viewers and performers because nobody cares who wins. Viewers tune in to watch performances and see what their favorite celebrities are wearing, and many might have little to no interest in any of those things but watch so that they are up-to-date the next day at school or work. The decline in popularity of shows like the Grammys have largely occurred within the last few years—the lack of believable (or fair) winners, absence of quality performers, and prevalence of social media so that you can skim over the highlights of the night all contribute to the show’s descent.

If the Grammys wants to get back on its feet, an increase in diversity (of all kinds—gender, race, and genre, to name a few), more performers, as well as less awards and speeches are all necessary. Like just about everything else, award shows need to keep up with the quickly-evolving world we live in—or else, viewership will dwindle so low that the Recording Academy might just become obsolete.

Featured Graphic by Ikram Ali / Graphics Editor

February 10, 2019

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