The 66th Annual Grammy Awards are approaching and guess who is missing from nominations once again? Black artists. While this no longer comes as a shock to many, it’s extremely disheartening when “music’s biggest night” fails to properly recognize the hard work and talent of Black artists. As explained by Complex, maybe it’s on us for thinking an industry run by anti-Black narrow minded people would offer Black folk a seat at the table, anyway.
The Musicians Hall of Fame describes the Grammy Awards show as “the most prestigious music award show featured each year. The Grammy awards are presented by The Recording Academy and recognize musicians of every age and every genre.” The Grammys is a night of recognition and a time for artists to receive the flowers they respectfully deserve. Most of them at least. The Musicians Hall of Fame continues “Following the Hollywood Walk of Fame project, which began in the 1950s, a renewed interest in music and the recording industry led to the creation of The GRAMMY Awards as a way to honor the music industry’s most talented composers, songwriters and musicians.” The Grammys are more than just music, with red-carpet fashion being a huge part of its culture and many after-parties being hosted by celebrities and brands who attended the award show.
While the presence of Black artists at the Grammys have never been the main topic of discourse in the past, the immense amounts of snubs that Black artists have experienced when nominated alongside their white counterparts is alarming. Clear examples of this is Beyoncé, who was snubbed of multiple projects when nominated for Album of the Year. In 2015, Beyoncé’s self-titled album lost to “Morning Phase” by Beck, and in 2017 her iconic, groundbreaking album “Lemonade” lost to Adele’s album “25.” There are many more Black artists that have been notoriously snubbed for awards, including Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” which lost to Taylor Swift’s “1989” in 2016 and “DAMN” loss to Bruno Mars’ “24k Magic.” CNN states, “Black performers represented about 38% of all artists on Billboard’s signature chart from 2012 to 2020, yet they received only 26.7% of top Grammy nominations during the same period. Only 24% of this year’s top Grammy nominees were Black, according to the study.”
Who do we point our finger at for the blatant neglect of recognition of Black artists? We could start with The Recording Academy and their flawed voting system that has yet to change since the 90s. The way the Grammy voting system works is artists, record companies and Recording Academy members submit projects and recordings they think are deserving of an award. A screening of each entry is done to ensure its eligibility. After screening, the nomination process occurs. “To help ensure the quality of the voting, members are directed to vote only in their areas of expertise.” The Recording Academy states. “They may vote in up to ten categories across up to three genre Fields plus the six categories of the General Field.” The process concludes with the final round of voting. “After nominations have been determined and announced, Recording Academy voting members vote in up to ten categories across up to three Fields in the genre Fields plus the four categories of the General Field to determine the winners. To ensure the quality of voting, members are directed to vote only in those Fields in which they are peers of the nominees.”
Within recent years, The Recording Academy’s way of voting has been found to be heavily flawed. The Recording Academy claims to not be swayed by project popularity and chart positions, choosing to prioritize artistry over stats throughout the voting process, according to Vox. However, The Recording Academy contradict that statement throughout the nomination process, ignoring many talented projects and recordings by Black artists that have been selected for nomination. All in all, the process is flawed and neglects to recognize non-critically acclaimed and upcoming artists. It focuses on charts and how big of a name you have before examining the work of the artist. It’s a popularity contest, whether the Recording Academy chooses to phrase it that way or not.
The Grammys are notorious for only putting Black musicians in a specific box. Black artists are often nominated in categories like R&B, Hip-Hop, Soul, Rap, Reggae and a few others. Business Insider shares what Tyler, the Creator thinks about the separation and labeling of Black music. “After winning best rap album at the Grammys in January , Tyler, the Creator blasted the award show for relegating Black artists to specific genres and categories. ‘On the one side, I am very grateful that what I made can be acknowledged in a world like this,’ he told reporters. ‘But it sucks that whenever we, and I mean guys that look like me, do anything that’s genre-bending or anything, they always put it in a rap or urban category.” The industry has used the word urban as an umbrella term for lots of Black artist work.
The Grammys had a category named “urban contemporary” and have since changed it to “progressive R&B.” While changing the name was a respectful move, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the industry continues to reward Black artists only within a designated box, limiting their chances of receiving awards for categories that better align with their “genre-bending” work. It makes it hard for Black artists to properly receive the flowers they deserve when the committee doesn’t give Black artists a chance to branch out of genres that have been heavily connected to our culture. Doing this misrepresents and undervalues Black artists, and continues to disproportionately reward white artists more than Black artists.
The long lists of artists that have been and continue to be snubbed by the Grammys has divided industry moguls. Many artists now refrain from attending the award show or even submitting their projects for voting and eventually nominations. The Slate states, “Many black artists have boycotted the Grammys, like Drake, The Weeknd, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa, Teyana Taylor and so many more. They each have different traits but boycotted for one reason: black representation. Some artists went as far as not performing when asked.”
Outside of the Grammys, lots of industry ceremonies, like the VMAs and the Golden Globes, continue to devalue Black artistry. The industry as a whole has a lot of work to do structurally to create a more inclusive and better-represented award ceremony.