By Paige Daniel
In case you don’t exist somewhere on the internet where people talk about music, collective heads rolled in outrage after the 60th annual Grammy Awards were held on Jan. 28. Usually I concede and watch the ceremony despite its continuously disappointing three hours of television. This year, however, I abstained from watching it at all.
I could not have known that this would end up being more an act of rebellion than the act of laze that it was initially. It is hard to care about the Grammys when its praise has been misplaced time and time again. Even Adele acknowledged how out-of-touch the awards had become when she won the Grammy for Album of the Year last year, expressing a sentiment shared by many: that Beyoncé should have won the very Grammy Adele was holding.
Then again, perhaps it is silly to put faith in a ceremony that gives its biggest awards to the most financially successful mainstream pop music. It has always been an issue that the ceremony just takes itself too seriously – why pretend that the interests of the Grammys lie outside of chart popularity when most of their logic around naming nominees and giving awards is based on that system?
There is a certain attitude amongst particular groups of music listeners and critics that the Grammys are rigged, but nonetheless they still view and participate in discussion about them in the hopes that maybe, things will be different next time. The backlash against the Grammys this year, however, was tinged with the politics of an issue currently garnering attention.
In light of the recent #MeToo movement attempting to confront the widespread issue of sexual assault in various industries, artists at the Grammys wore white roses to signal their alignment with the cause. This proved to bleed through to what viewers had expected of the awards ceremony; there were a wealth of women nominees – but only three women ended up going home with an award from the main award categories presented on the televised show.
Watching the backlash unfold on Twitter was basically like viewing the show itself with an endless commentary loop, and people vocalized their discontent about the Grammys snubbing almost all of the women who had been nominated in their respective categories.
There was an expectation amongst the audience pooled on my own social media that this year had to be different – that the considerations of gender and diversity as of late would have to have some bearing on the outcome of the awards ceremony.
Tweets about these snubs and the outrage that followed racked up hundreds of thousands of engagements in the form of likes and shares.
How could Kesha, a woman who had just recently confronted her abuse by pop producer Dr. Luke both in court and in song form (which was Grammy-nominated), lose to Ed Sheeran, an artist that admitted his winning song was created specifically for the charts?
How could only three women (Alessia Cara and the country group Little Big Town) win Grammys when many women had been nominated in all of the categories? These types of questions were asked at length by the audience I witnessed online.
It was in the shadow of these considerations that my choice to not invest time or energy in either watching the Grammys or caring about them took on a pallor of protestation. One question from the audience I follow was louder than the rest: Do the Grammys have a gender problem?
It seems odd to ask for an award show to dole out justice in the form of shiny gold trophies. Should we expect these institutions in media to reflect perfectly the concerns of the time?
Don’t get me wrong – of course, women should be nominated for and win awards. But should hopes for gender parity be rested on or expected from an institution like the Grammys, one that has been losing its cultural credibility slowly for a while now?
I don’t think there is an easy answer. There is a counterargument, too: the Grammys are supposed to award the “best” music in each category. Are the Grammys truly “snubbing” women artists if they awarded the “best?”
Is it possible that none of the women nominated had music worth awarding? A rebuttal to this would take some time to flesh out the dynamics of the issues women have faced in the music industry, and we would be here for far longer than the space allotted. It would also have to be a given that the Grammys’ criterion for what is worthy of an award are completely sound and fair (which I am sure can be contested).
The outrage had something to do with the taste of the audience I saw responding; they clearly skew toward women artists in general, but that doesn’t discount the fact that there were viral tweets about the problem perceived. This suggests a wider audience online than reflected in my relatively small sample size.
This response showcased the Grammys’ audience – but what about the people running the Grammys? What did they have to say to that audience? Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy in charge of the Grammys, definitely had something interesting (or rather, ridiculous) to say.
His response to questions of why so few of the nominated women were awarded goes like this: “It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level,” he said. “[They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome.”
This quote exemplifies a fundamental misunderstanding of the very industry Portnow has a prominent position in.
Do we want to get into how women have been explicitly discouraged from becoming music producers? Do we want to get into the testimonies from countless women that upon expressing the desire to start their music careers, they were told by their label that they must change their image or appearance? And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
It is not a question of wanting or not wanting on women’s behalf, and to pinpoint that as the issue is profusely ignorant.
Following his statement, 20 women from the music industry penned a letter calling for Portnow’s resignation from his position. Before their letter, though, the outcry from others had caused Portnow to issue an apology for his statement.
Their letter was released around the same time that Portnow announced a new initiative at the Recording Academy – a task force for the advancement of women in the music community.
Hopefully this is not just lip service, but I don’t think anyone should hold their breath. In the meantime, I will continue to care less about the Grammys.