A Predictably Underwhelming Grammy Sunday

The Grammy Awards, the Gatsby party of all music award shows, had a list of nominations that was surprisingly solid this year. “Redbone,” Damn, SZA, Kesha, Pure Comedy, and of course, Bodak Yellow: the 60th Grammy nominees were a strong roster filled with culturally significant projects and emerging and well-established superstars. Even so, I was still skeptical about what the results would be.

For the past few years, the Grammys have snubbed strong contenders for its General awards, like denying Beyoncé of an Album of the Year for a third time during last year’s awards show even though she is undoubtedly the strongest and long-lasting pop star of the decade and arguably the 2000s in general. Similarly, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly was overtaken for Album of the Year by Taylor Swift’s 1989 and “Alright” for Song of the Year by Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards, even though it was critically acclaimed to be the best album of the year and perhaps the best rap album of the decade. Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city’s achievements was also denied the Album of the Year award and Best New Artist award two years before. In both of these cases, Beyoncé and Lamar usually win big in R&B, Rap, and Urban Contemporary categories, but to this day have still never won any of the main general awards.

The music scene is changing: according to the Nielsen Music Mid-Year and Year-End Report of 2017, hip hop/R&B has surpassed rock as the biggest genre of music, taking over 24% of all music consumption. This is largely due to the emergence of streaming and how people choose to listen to music in the information age. According to Forbes, hip hop/R&B has the same number of streams as rock and pop combined. Rappers like Kendrick Lamar or Tyler, the Creator are releasing profoundly political and personal albums year after year, and rising R&B stars like SZA and Daniel Caesar are unabashedly sharing their perspectives as people of color, gaining support from fans and critics alike all over the nation.

The results of Sunday’s Grammy awards don’t seem to recognize this shifting paradigm. Sure, they managed to acknowledge the power and popularity of music made by black artists by nominating many of them for the general awards like Album of the Year and Song of the Year. Like many others, I was hopeful that they would finally get the recognition they deserve after years of denial. However, just as the years before, Kendrick Lamar still does not have an Album of the Year to his name. Don’t get me wrong, 24k Magic’s summertime sunniness was enjoyable, but I don’t think it has half of the depth and significance that Damn did. Similarly, SZA’s breakout debut album and Cardi B’s blast into stardom were unrecognized.

It’s time that the Grammys start acknowledging the popularity and importance of hip hop/R&B in today’s culture. Fans aren’t happy with the predictability of the Grammys’ incredibly safe and boring choices, and it’s reflected in the ratings: the Chicago Tribune reports a 24% decrease in ratings from last year’s Grammy Awards. Stars like Frank Ocean and Solange have openly addressed the cultural bias so prevalent inside the judging systems of the Grammys, with Ocean ultimately opting not to submit his 2016 masterpiece Blonde for Grammy consideration at all. Unless the Grammys are willing to acknowledge their cultural bias (and sexist tendencies, as well), their so-called “expert” opinions will lose credibility with the younger generations who have no time to overlook their blatant ignorance of the times.