After another disappointing Grammys show, it’s time for a change.
2018 was supposed to be the year the Grammys and the Recording Academy finally got their act together. They didn’t.
When the list of nominees was first released, music lovers everywhere praised the much-needed diversity after last year’s #GrammysSoWhite trainwreck. For the first time since 1999, no white male was present in the Album of the Year category. There were TWO rap albums nominated for Album of the Year, which has only happened twice before in the entire history of the Grammys. With rap surpassing rock as the most popular genre in the U.S. this year, it made perfect sense for the Recording Academy to nod their heads to the cultural change. Powerful female pop artists were nominated for their music and the artists slated to perform spanned across a wide array of genres and backgrounds. With all this in place, it looked like the the Recording Academy was finally willing to take risks.
When the awards ceremony began, things still looked bright. The attendees all donned white roses in support of the #TimesUp movement related to sexual assault, reminding women that they’re not alone in their struggles. Kendrick Lamar started the night with a breathtaking performance featuring Dave Chappelle that addressed the struggle of being black in America. Then, token white man host James Corden came on to praise the performance and how diverse the Grammys were this year. Here’s where things started to go wrong.
Throughout the ceremony, one award was given to a female artist. One. Almost all of the categories included female nominees, but besides Alessia Cara’s Best New Artist win (which SZA should have won, but of course the Academy took to the safe choice), all of the winners were exclusively male. Even with the host himself talking about how amazingly diverse this group was, the Grammys STILL managed to choose the male nominees, and the safe ones at that. Kesha’s heart-wrenchingly emotional power ballad about overcoming trauma from sexual abuse lost to Ed Sheeran’s song about the shape of a woman’s body. White roses in support of female empowerment mean nothing when objectification still wins over a woman’s experience with abuse.
The performances continued to prove the Academy’s empty display of false support. Kesha’s performance of ‘Praying’ brought her and much of the audience to tears, proving the support from the artists, but the behind the scenes work proved that the support was solely from the artists involved and not the people planning the event. Lorde, who was nominated for Album of the Year, was invited to perform, but she wasn’t allowed to do it alone. Instead, the Grammys wanted to feature her in a Tom Petty tribute. Does it really make sense to take such a huge pop superstar with a new album full of hits under her belt and force her to perform another man’s music instead? There’s no question that the audience would have loved to watch Lorde. Other male album of the year nominees got to perform, but Lorde wasn’t allowed to perform her own music or do it alone. I understand that it makes sense to get artists to perform together in order to include more big names in within a shorter period of time, but why cut the only female nominee for Album of the Year?
Speaking of Album of the Year, Bruno Mars’ win was a bad idea. No rap album has won the coveted award in Grammys history. With the popularity of the genre soaring and two incredible albums form incredibly culturally aware and diverse artists, it would make sense to make Grammys history and hand it off to Kendrick or Jay Z. Childish Gambino and Lorde were also fantastic contenders and their incredible work deserves recognition, but in a country suffering from neverending racial tensions, a black-dominated genre that’s become the most popular genre in the country deserves to win a major award. Kendrick Lamar’s album also topped every major music critic’s top albums of 2017 list. DAMN. is witty, hard-hitting, and musically beautiful. Bruno Mars’ win is symbolic of how out-of-touch the voting committee remains. His was by far the safest win — an artist with a few Grammys already under his belt and a lyrically safe album. There’s no mention of anything culturally relevant or slightly controversial. Just another pop record talking about love and girls. I’m not trying to say that Bruno Mars is a terrible artist. He knows how to make fun music and entertain people. But in this time where decisions have such strong cultural implications, he was the wrong choice.
The lack of recognition for female musicians has sparked an outrage among music fans. The hashtag #GrammysSoMale started trending after the show ended and the anger reached Recording Academy president Neil Portnow. His response was… dismal to say the least. He said that women need to “step up” and become part of the industry. He believes that women would be welcome if they did so. Ah, yes. Put the blame on women once again. Lorde, who started writing her latest album 4 years before its release, needs to step up. Kesha, who was sexually abused by her producer and hasn’t had closure from the lawsuit but chose to release music anyway, needs to step up. Lady Gaga, who has overcome various health issues and done worldwide arena tours and released an album with Tony Bennett, needs to step up. SZA, who worked hard to get signed to RCA and co-wrote songs with amazing artists like Rihanna, needs to step up. Rihanna, who released a beauty line and featured in huge hits along with having multiple critically acclaimed albums, needs to step up. The COO of Atlantic Records, Julie Greenwald, who was named Billboard Executive of the Year in 2017 while raising two kids, needs to step up. This isn’t even touching the female producers, songwriters, sound engineers, and everyone else behind the scenes who are busting their asses to make a name for themselves in the industry.
With the current state of the music industry, “stepping up” isn’t going to do much for women. The prevalence of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements as well as the countless allegations of sexual misconduct coming out against male industry professionals, some are afraid to hire females, calling them liabilities. An article was released on Billboard in December elaborating on the thought process of male executives. Attorney Dina LaPolt stated, “I think people are going to think twice about hiring women and promoting women is going to be a big issue now. If you have two people for the job — this guy or this woman — I just think the men are going to get more opportunities.” How are women supposed to step up if they’re losing job opportunities by standing up for themselves? The normalization of sexual misconduct among men in power makes them fearful that what they’ve been doing for their entire lives will get them in trouble. The solution for them, unfortunately, is just to get rid of the liabilities instead of changing their actions. The “boy’s club” culture that’s prevalent in politics, music, journalism, and almost any industry you can think of needs to end. Problematic men need to be held accountable for their actions and learn from them instead of blaming women for being too sensitive. It’s hard to say how this can be accomplished, but the first step is continuing to show support for the women who are oppressed and pulling support from those who continue the culture of oppressing them. It takes a long time to change a toxic culture, but it won’t happen without spreading awareness and letting those with power know that they can’t get away with this anymore.
It’s not time for women to step up. It’s time for a male-dominated music industry to open their eyes to the female talent that’s taking over the music world and the incredibly diverse artists who are using their music to spread meaningful messages. The Grammys continue to be a showcase of bland, safe popularity. The Academy could use the platform to showcase new, cutting-edge artists and promote music for the art that it really is. Capitalizing on false diversity will do nothing but slander the Academy’s credibility even more, if that’s even possible. The Grammys aren’t for real music lovers. They’re for a self-centered and sheltered Recording Academy.