The Grammys, like the Oscars, have been criticised in the past for its archaic voting processes and its lack of representation. At the most recent Grammys, back in February, Adele’s 25 won Album Of The Year, the biggest award, over Beyoncé’s Lemonade – and even Adele was like…um… this isn’t right. Like the Oscars, the recording academy promised change. One of the biggest changes was that the Grammys finally allowed their members to vote online. Per The Verge:
Grammy nominees are decided by voting members: music industry professionals who have creative or technical credits on at least six commercial tracks on a physical music release, or 12 on a digital album. They’re not just label bigwigs. They’re songwriters, touring artists, and engineers. And, there’s only about 13,000 of them.
Before this year though, those 13,000 members had to wait for their ballots to come in the mail. Remember, these members are working musicians and music professionals themselves. They’re on the road. They’re in the studio. They’re travelling from here to there producing and creating with other artists. They’re not waiting for the postman or postwoman to come deliver the mail. Which is why so few of them had a say in the past. With digital access, they now have a way to contribute to the highest honour in their business. And that contribution was immediately evident in yesterday’s Grammy nominations.
Bruno Mars, 24K Magic
Childish Gambino, Awaken, My Love!
Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.
See the difference? Also, basically Donald Glover is made of gold right now.
There were obvious changes across other categories too. So many new artists who made a big impact this year were acknowledged. Like Sza. And Cardi B. And Khalid. And… Kesha! Kesha’s album is terrific. She now has her very first Grammy nominations. You can read more about the recording academy’s improvements and those results here at The Verge. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. And it also doesn’t make me any less bitter about why these modifications had to happen.
A reminder that a black woman hasn’t won album of the year in nearly 20 years despite the existence of Beyoncé, Mariah, Solange, Alicia, Rih— Micah Singleton (@MicahSingleton) September 13, 2017
Beyoncé delivered a masterpiece in 2016. A year later, her husband released an album that would not have been possible without that masterpiece. She has never won Album Of The Year. And he just might.
How do we feel about that? Tell me how to feel about that.
And yet, that’s only a possibility. Because there’s always Kendrick Lamar. Duana and I just talked about him on this week’s episode of Show Your Work after reading his feature in Variety. What was the motivation behind this interview? Who was it for? My theory was that it was for the Grammys. And, as we know now, Kendrick is contending at the Grammys. What’s interesting about that is not necessarily about the competition but about the participation.
Many artists of colour have known the Grammys, up to this point, to be a system that operates on bias. Many artists of colour have complained (Kanye). Others, like Frank Ocean, have simply chosen NOT to engage. He did not submit Blonde for consideration last year.
Kendrick, whose work is focused on identifying and interrogating social inequalities, who has performed at events like the Grammys to openly challenge and criticise systems of oppression, has decided to be a part of the Grammys. As Duana and I debated, it would seem like he’s mobibilising change from within, from a position of reform, as opposed to taking a revolutionary approach, which is to tear it all down and start all over again. It’s what Beyoncé does too. Not unlike the way Drake’s doing it in the film and television side of the business. Is that surprising? And should it be?
Still, maybe let’s not get too optimistic. Because in my opinion, even though Jay’s leading with 8 nominations, and even though Kendrick’s DAMN. really should be Album Of The Year, in the way he’s moving the artform forward, if we’re going by how the recording academy historically swings, it’s probably going to be Bruno Mars. Nominations are one thing. What will win is another. Nothing against Bruno Mars but it’s about what’s digestible. Even though more of the 13,000 recording academy members were able to put forward their selections this year, that doesn’t mean the part of the membership that made the choices from previous years, the ones who chose Adele over Beyoncé, are gone. They’re still around. They’re the MiniVan Majority of the recording academy. And for them, Bruno is the safest choice, especially since they don’t have Ed Sheeran to vote for.