After the Grammys once again opted to snub successful Black artists in their nomination process, artists like the Weeknd have been speaking out against the Academy. Artist Aubrey Drake Graham, better known as Drake, has now joined the chorus. Graham is now calling for the Grammys to be replaced entirely after yet another example of bias against the success of Black artists who have consistently topped charts.
How it Started
The rift between Black artists and the Grammys nominating body has significant history.
Since it’s inception in 1959, the Grammys have continually snubbed great Black artists. In an era when the country is rightfully focused on Black Lives Matter, an important component of equality is being overlooked: culture. Love him or hate him, The Weeknd’s album After Hours has shattered records and topped charts since its release in April. Hit single Blinding Lights didn’t just nudge Post Malone off the throne of top 10 of the Hot 100 chart’s longevity record, it shoved him off.
And yet the situation for Black artists remains unchanged. Black music greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Prince, Donna Summers and others have all been given the cold shoulder. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine any work of music legend Prince overlooked in favor of Christopher Cross, an artist many don’t even remember today.
As the country continues to focus on preserving Black lives, the pervasiveness of the white-washing and subversion of Black culture continues unrestrained as nominating bodies like the Grammys continues to act with impunity to silence Black voices.
When the first rap category was added to the Grammys in 1989, the award was given to Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff for Parents Just Don’t Understand. But in an uncomfortable echo of segregation, the award wasn’t given the respect of being presented in the televised portion of the ceremony. Instead, it was awarded off-camera. Smith boycotted the show, and DJ Jazzy Jeff showed up to receive the award alone.
Everyone remembers Kanye West‘s 2010, “I’m’a let you finish,” moment when Taylor Swift was considered to undeservedly win Album of the Year over Beyonce‘s acclaimed, “I am…Sasha Fierce.” While an amusing moment in a snapshot, and a concerning sign of things to come for West, it also marked one of the first very public decries of bias in the award’s ceremony.
The Weeknd is Snubbed Despite Acclaimed Success
10 years later, the problems remain pervasive. While the process determining winners remains problematic, the greatest problem lies in the nomination process. If Black artists aren’t on the list, they can’t win. And this year, the Academy opted to overlook The Weeknd’s critically acclaimed and wildly successful After Hours, with the chart-topping single Blinding Lights. Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, known by fans as the Weeknd, immediately decried the corrupt Academy.
While TMZ reported that the snub was due to a dispute between Tesfaye and the NFL over a contract to perform for both entities, the Academy denied the rumor.
CELEB reported on Tesfaye’s response to the snub; “After the list of nominees hit the web on Tuesday, November 24, the singer — whose new album After Hours slayed the charts this year — fired back in a tweet, ‘The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…’”
Tesfaye was quickly joined by other artists and music industry greats who saw the snub as an intentional slight in the spirit of years of Academy snubs of Black artists.
Kid Cudi, who recently helped launch app Encore to keep artists connected with their fans during the pandemic, also had thoughts on the matter. In a tweet, the rapper opined, “Abel was robbed man this sh–s weak.”
And music industry giant Scooter Braun tweeted, “Congrats to all the nominees but @theweeknd and Sal you deserved to be there as well and deserved better. Brilliant artist and brilliant album.”
Drake Has Something to Say
Graham, joining the chorus against the Academy, goes one step further. The Guardian reports, “Drake wrote: ‘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 who come after.’
He said he had assumed that the Weeknd was ‘a lock for either album or song of the year along with countless other reasonable assumptions and it just never goes that way’. In 2018, Drake refused to submit his album More Life for Grammys consideration after being frustrated that his single Hotline Bling won best rap song in 2017 despite not featuring rap. ‘Maybe because I’ve rapped in the past or because I’m Black, I can’t figure out why,’ he said at the time.”
Will the Grammys Be Replaced?
Will the august body of the Recording Academy end up needing to be replaced by a more equitable entity? That remains to be seen. In 2018, in response to years of accusations of bias and racism, the Recording Academy did take some small steps to focus on equity.
Per The Guardian, “In March 2018, it established a task force to examine diversity and inclusion within the institution. Among other ongoing efforts, in September it founded the Black Music Collective (BMC), an advisory group comprising ‘prominent Black music creators and professionals who share the common goal of amplifying Black voices within the Academy and the wider music community’, with Quincy Jones and John Legend among them.
The BMC hailed the 2021 nominations as ‘historic’: ‘Ten Black women are nominated in the top four categories and more than 20 Black nominees are represented in the general fields. Also, for the first time, all six nominees for best rap album are Black independent artists. This is progress.’”
However, the BMC acknowledges 2021’s nominations as proof that their work isn’t done yet.
As outcry increases over the Weeknd’s snub, the Recording Academy and Grammys nomination boards face pressure to account for their processes and explain the glaring inconsistencies.
Per the BBC, Graham was never comfortable with his 2018 wins; “‘I won two awards last night,’ [Graham said after the 2018 ceremony]. ‘But I don’t even want them, because it just feels weird for some reason.’
Having returned to the ceremony in 2019, he criticised the Grammys on live television.
‘I want to take this opportunity while I’m up here to just talk to all the kids that are watching this, aspiring to do music,’ Drake said, as he picked up the best rap song trophy for a second time. ‘I wanna let you know we’re playing in an opinion-based sport not a factual-based sport.
‘So it’s not the NBA where at the end of the year you’re holding a trophy because you made the right decisions or won the games.'”
So far, representatives for the Grammys have acknowledged the disappointment and disgruntlement of artists and industry, but fail to acknowledge the gravity of the situation. While the BMC is progress in the right direction, the music industry’s history of stealing Black music and profiting off Black artists while consistently failing to acknowledge their influence and skill continues to be a very real problem. Maybe as music greats like Graham, Tesfaye, and industry peers continue to put pressure on the nomination body and the Recording Academy, they’ll finally step into the year 2020 and make some real and long-overdue changes.