I stopped caring about the Grammy Awards about 40+ years ago, back when Stevie Wonder would always win. Obviously, they don’t let you vote for the Grammys until you are too old to really care about pop music. So they usually give Grammys to classy acts who appeal to grown-ups, like Stevie Wonder in the early to mid-70s. By now, Stevie has won 25 Grammys.
Back in the late 1970s, us bright white guys who wrote about music felt, deep down, that more Grammys should go to bright white guys who looked like us, like Elvis Costello. But mostly we understood how the Grammies had to work and didn’t pay much attention to them.
But lately, the bright white guys who write about music have decided that it’s racist and sexist for anybody other than old-time trouper Beyonce, who has been a star since the 1990s, to win any Grammys.
… Simply put, the Grammys, like America, have an inclusion problem — or more to the point, an exclusion problem. The 59th annual installment of the ceremony, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday night, was as noteworthy for who won as who didn’t, for who attended as for who opted to sit out. It was a show about borders — who is allowed to cross, who isn’t and who doesn’t even bother trying.
At the end of the night, when Adele won album of the year, she deferred to Beyoncé: “The way that you make me and my friends feel, the way you make my black friends feel, is empowering,” Adele told her from the stage, while behind her, a huge gaggle of predominantly white male songwriters and producers clapped enthusiastically.
These days, pop divas almost all have huge numbers of predominantly white (often Swedish) male songwriters and producers. I looked up the top pop songwriters in 2012, and they had names like Baroque composers: Johan Karl Schuster, Łukasz Gottwald, Wouter de Backer, etc.
In that moment, just a few feet separated Adele and Beyoncé, but the chasm between their treatment by the Grammys was huge, and potentially unbridgeable. It was #GrammysSoWhite come to life. For years, Kanye West has complained about how black artists — himself, but also others — are mistreated in the main Grammy categories. …
The Grammys’ race problem is so pernicious that some white winners have chosen contrition over exuberance — Adele’s embrace of Beyoncé, Macklemore’s apology to Kendrick Lamar in 2014 (Macklemore reportedly did not submit his most recent album for consideration this year) — demonstrating a greater understanding of the fundamental imbalance of the Grammys system than the Grammys themselves. …
Rihanna — looks on politely from the front rows. (Or, in the case of Mr. West and Mr. Ocean, who did not attend the Grammys, not even looking on.) There was also frisson in the ceremony’s lumpy attempts to bridge the age gap: When the show tried to highlight the work of Neil Diamond, via a clumsily executed version of James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” routine, it was clear that most of the assembled stars didn’t know the words to “Sweet Caroline.” …
Note that in this context, the pejorative “white” basically means “Jewish.” In other words, the NYT is saying: All you old Jews in the music industry who like Neil Diamond songs had better hurry up and die … to make way for middle-aged People of Color like Jay-Z and Jennifer Lopez.
, and during her acceptance speech for best urban contemporary album, preached about the power of inclusion: “It’s important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty, so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror, first through their own families — as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House and the Grammys — and see themselves, and have no doubt that they’re beautiful, intelligent and capable.”
Every thing these days is about Sailer’s Law of Female Journalism.
Honoring Beyoncé in categories devoted to black music goes part of the way to fulfilling that vision, but it’s where she’s not honored that feels more pointed: She has won 22 times, but only four of those awards have been in all-genre categories. (She has lost album of the year three times, to Beck, Taylor Swift and Adele.)
So long as the Grammys continue to strike a blow for the values of yesteryear over the energy of today, they will remain an agent of the status quo, not resistance or evolution. But when an institution stands still while its citizens are pressing for change, how long can the borders hold before everyone outside is let in, or everyone inside decides it’s not worth staying, and leaves?
As I wrote in 2013:
Have you ever noticed that basically everything you are supposed to believe in these days — feminism, diversity, etc. — turns out in practice to just be another way for hot babes, rich guys, super salesmen, cunning financiers, telegenic self-promoters, and charismatic politicians to get even more money and power?