The Grammy’s 2021: Despite Attempt to Modernize, Recording Academy still Falls Short


The 2021 Grammy awards nominations list was published this week, featuring several changes to award nomination numbers, new category names, and an overall attempt of the Recording Academy to prove it had made progress in terms of modernizing the awards and make a response to the claims of corruption, sexual harassment, and a “boys club” attitude from former CEO Deborah Dugan, who was fired only weeks before the 2020 awards show. Besides the claims of the former CEO, there had been persistent complaints about a lack of transparency in the recording academy’s nomination process and poor treatment of black and non-American artists. After the 2020 awards, the recording academy had denied allegations from the former CEO, but did plug and promote its efforts of diversifying the awards and nominations process. 

After the nominations list was published for the upcoming Grammys, there was some immediate items of note. There are several category name changes, including the category “Best Urban Contemporary Album” being renamed to “Best Progressive R&B Album,” coming after rapper Tyler, the Creator denounced the category name earlier this year. After his win in the 2019 Best Rap Album category with Igor, Tyler said “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.” Many black artists have stood up against the award show’s treatment of black artists, such as Frank Ocean and Kanye West who have boycotted the show altogether. Diddy had said in 2019 that “Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys…Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be.”

Although the recording academy changed some category names around, the 2021 nominations list unfortunately continued to prove the Grammy’s lack of transparency, poor treatment and acknowledgement of the diversity and breadth of music in America, and an inadequate effort from all fronts. One huge snub of this year’s awards show was a lack of nominations for singer The Weeknd, whose album After Hours was one of the top of the year. After the nominations were released, the Weeknd tweeted “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…” 

The snubbing of The Weeknd garnered a major response from multiple fellow stars. Nikki Minaj tweeted “Never forget the Grammys didn’t give me my best new artist award when I had 7 songs simultaneously charting on billboard & bigger first week than any female rapper in the last decade- went on to inspire a generation. They gave it to the white man Bon Iver.” Singer Drake went on to say “I think we should stop allowing ourselves to be shocked every year by the disconnect between impactful music and these awards and just accept that what once was the highest form of recognition may no longer matter to the artists that exist now and the ones that come after” on social media. “It’s like a relative you keep expecting to fix up but they just can’t change their ways.” Other snubs from the 2021 cycle include Halsey, who took to instagram, saying “The Grammys are an elusive process. It can often be about behind-the-scenes private performances, knowing the right people, campaigning through the grapevine, with the right handshakes and ‘bribes’ that can be just ambiguous enough to pass as ‘not-bribes.’” This statement came after news had been revealed of tense discussion between the Weeknd and the Academy about performances at the 2021 awards.

One further item of note is the changing of the “World Music Album” to “Global Music Album,” a so-called symbolic gesture symbolizing “a departure from the connotations of colonialism, folk, and ‘non-American’ that the former term embodied while adapting to current listening trends and cultural evolution among the diverse communities it may represent.” Despite the change in wording, the category nominated four artists previously nominated for the World category and one new group, showing that the category still serves the purpose of putting all artists who don’t fit in with the American style music mold into one group: giving them some form of recognition while “not creating space for them” elsewhere (Pitchfork.)

It’s clear from these reactions that the Grammy’s frankly did not do enough to increase transparency and create a credible and fair voting process to decide nominations. As Drake pointed out and as many have pointed out in recent years, the Academy continues to show time and time again that they either don’t want to change in their ways or they can’t. And it begins to beg the question of whether the Grammy’s are relevant anymore. One thing is for certain — the awards show is running out of time to prove to artists and audiences that it both cares about its artists and is capable of choosing winners fairly and transparently.

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