YES Award shows are still relevant – Henry Holmes
Who is Beck?” The internet cried the night of the Grammys. Beyoncé’s utter gamechanger of a fifth album seemed a dead cert to win Album of the Year, especially given her competition seemed practically null in the category; Beck’s nomination for Morning Phase seemed like a mere nod to his extensive musical career. But then he won.
In a world where Macklemore has won more Grammys than Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Nas, DMX, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Mos Def, Run-DMC, Public Enemy, Ja Rule, and Kendrick Lamar combined, it’s basically impossible to deny that the Grammys have a race problem. Approximately half of all nominations have been awarded to white men historically, with white women and black people of any gender each receiving about 20 percent each.
While Beyoncé does seem like the greater achievement as an album, it’s impossible to deny the talent that went into making Morning Phase. Songs such as ‘Blue Moon’ (also nominated for Best Rock Performance – another category where all five nominees were white men) are undeniably outstanding musical triumphs.
Beyoncé didn’t go home empty handed that night, winning three to add to her previous collection of 17. While she may have deserved that particular award, she’s not snubbed in the way that other, more subversive artists such as FKA Twigs, Against Me! and Perfume Genius, but then again, these awards have never been there for the underground artist – they’re where major record companies’ can toast each others’ achievements; spectacles to show the side of the music industry that it specifically wants to show to the public. If anything, it’s quite useful that there’s a specific actualisation of the music industry’s failings and explicit biases.
Either way, the Grammys are not where one should turn to discover music. Certain established awards such as the Mercury Prize, The NME Awards and BBC Sound of… do seem to make a positive difference. Admittedly, they do have their failings (Does anybody remember who Michael Kiwanuka is?), but they have allowed artists such as Young Fathers, Alt-J and Eagulls a boost of publicity that did help them. There are a lot of issues with these awards shows in terms of race, gender and genre, but those come from issues from the music industry and society at large, rather than being endemic of the shows themselves.
NO Award shows are no longer relevant – Naomi Southwell
“Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy?,” Chuck D once rapped. When Chuck D spat out that now infamous lyric, it was in response to the Grammy’s refusal to recognise rap within the award categories. Even today, its hard to argue that the Grammy’s are in touch with the nuances of the genre when the category of “Best Rap Song” still reads as a list of rap songs that are the least threatening to white people. This year Kendrick Lamar won Best Rap Song for his track “I” which is arguably one of Kendrick’s least recognisably “rap” songs of his entire career. The song has pop, funk and soul influences running throughout but its hardly a hard hitting rap song. If Kendrick had released his latest tour de force of a song, “The Blacker The Berry” an intensely complex, angry and bitter reflective rap track, in time for this years nominations, would this track have won a Grammy? Would Kendrick have even been nominated with this song? I highly doubt it.
If the Grammy’s still fail to recognise astounding achievements within various genres, including rap and hip-hop, do the awards have any relevance for music fans? Compared to seeing your favourite artist give an outstanding live performance, or being moved or challenged by the lyrics of their latest album or single, sitting at home watching them receive an award in a pristine and calculated awards ceremony hardly ranks as one of the cumulative experiences that define your love for a musician’s life work.
Critics of the Grammy’s often lament it’s now singular role as a method of boosting record sales. But I would argue it isn’t even relevant in this arena anymore. Admittedly “Grammy award winning artist” will add a nice few seconds on to the latest advert for Sam Smith’s album, but is that really going to motivate consumers to buy an album they have previously not parted the cash for? When people can listen to an artist’s entire discography for free on websites like Spotify, its hardly the Grammy’s that are going to remedy this problem and encourage more people to buy hard physical copies, or even pay for downloads, of tracks by their favourite artists. If the Grammy’s aren’t even relevant in a role for which they are often chastised, it seems hard to argue for their relevance to the wider music industry and for music fans alike.