The Grammys Show They Still Have Work to Do

Matt Rushford, Contributing Writer

On January 26, the 62nd annual Grammys took place, with mold-breaking pop artists such as Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X taking home top awards. While the Grammys would like to view themselves as progressive after recognizing such pop icons, the Recording Academy’s treatment of women internally, as well as their treatment of other artists who are outside of traditional pop standards, such as Tyler, the Creator and FKA twigs, signals that there is still a long way to go. 

The show itself was preluded with a major piece of news the week prior that the Recording Academy’s former CEO and president Deborah Dugan was placed on administrative leave after accusing the Academy of sexual harassment and corruption. In a Good Morning America interview prior to the ceremonies, Dugan claimed that “There are incidents of conflict of interest that taint the results.” Her report also brought up an incident where an artist sat in on the nomination committee and ended up earning an award nomination despite being ranked low by the committee.

This all brings up age-old criticisms that the Grammys are biased towards commercially successful artists who are more likely to influence the committee than other more talented artists. With accusations of sexual harassment and assault floating around the Academy, it’s hard to consider them a group focused on equality. 

But the issues continue past the Academy into the award show itself. The first issue arose during the shows tribute to Prince, which featured Usher and singer FKA twigs. Despite the fact that FKA twigs is also a talented artist in her own right, she was only asked to be a backup dancer for Usher. Following the event, FKA twigs tweeted that “of course” she “wanted to sing at the Grammys” but “wasn’t asked this time.” 

The decision is especially confusing given Prince spent his entire career working with women to help elevate and further their career, and giving FKA twigs the chance to perform alongside Usher would have been a good look for the Academy who is already under fire. 

To add more garbage to the metaphorical dumpster fire, the Academy also got flak for their decision to give Tyler, the Creator the award for Best Rap Album. During a backstage interview, Tyler stated that despite being “very grateful” for the award, the categorizing of his more pop and R&B-style album “Igor” as a rap album was a “backhanded compliment.” 

“It sucks that whenever we — and I mean guys that look like me — do anything that’s genre-bending or that’s anything they always put it in a rap or urban category. I don’t like that ‘urban’ word — it’s just a politically correct way to say the n-word to me,” he said.

And it’s easy to understand where Tyler is coming from when you understand the context of his career. While he began his career as a rapper, over his last few albums he has begun to branch out further, experimenting more with soul, funk, and R&B. “Igor” was a statement album that Tyler was continuing to branch out and experiment with other genres, so it’s fair to see why the nomination for Best Rap Album can be seen as a bit of a dig. 

All in all, the Recording Academy and the Grammys are far from perfect, and while it’s hard to fully fault them for everything they got wrong this year, they need more awareness about their public image. They are the defining award for music, a high bar that is seen with much prestige. If they wish to keep that reputation, they must work harder to root out corruption and give talented artists a diverse and just playing field.