Monday's Grammy Awards was watched by 25.3 million people. That may be a lot, but it's actually the lowest ratings they've had since 2009, and viewers are down 11% on last year. If you too are wondering how relevant this spectacle is any more, this may be proof that its popularity is waning. But why?
There's definitely value in traditions such as these awards, but they feel a bit token now. We've become accustomed to the democracy afforded by the internet, which gives us unfettered access and free rein to make up our own minds on what's good. So to have The Best decided for you feels impersonal and alienating.
That's why Kanye West making a scene on-stage at The Grammys was a good thing, although his anger was misdirected. When he said after the ceremony that "Beck needs to respect artistry and give his award to Beyoncé," he should have been pointing his frustration at The Grammys instead.
While it was a coup for creativity that experimental, unconventional artists such as Beck and St Vincent were recognised, it's usually more commercially-oriented artists that take home the trophies. Kanye's protest, in approaching the stage as Beck accepted his award, brought something else to light: the fact that the Grammys' moments of progressiveness are fleeting, and that they need to rethink their strategy in order to celebrate more wonderful weirdos like Beck and St Vincent going forward.
Too often they reward the same types of artists, plying the most mainstream performers like Taylor Swift and Macklemore with more gongs than they can hold, while pushing more challenging artists to the side. Even Macklemore was shocked when he won over Kendrick Lamar last year. Rapper J Cole shared a similar sentiment in his 2014 song, Fire Squad: "Justin Timberlake, Eminem, and then Macklemore/ While silly n----s argue over who gon' snatch the crown/ Look around, my n---a, white people have snatched the sound."
Over the decades the Grammys panel has chronically ignored albums that have gone on to make history for their cultural relevance and importance. Prince's Purple Rain, Nas' Illmatic, Nirvana's Nevermind, Metallica's Master of Puppets and Radiohead's OK Computer all missed out. As Cuepoint's DJ Pizzo says, The Grammys didn't even recognise hip hop until they introduced the Best Rap Performance category in 1989, and the Best Rap Album award was only introduced in 1995. That's long after the genre had established itself. And despite becoming arguably the most socially important and popular genre in the world, there was no televised rap category in this year's ceremony, as MTV points out. In the immortal words of Jerry Seinfeld, What's the deal? If they're looking to get down with the kids, they're doing it all wrong.
In a bid for relevance, the Recording Academy (which awards The Grammys) slashed 52 categories in 2012, and created 21 new ones. But this only sidelined alternative artists further. With the merging of categories such as Best Hard Rock Performance and Best Metal Performance, and the removal of others like Best Native American Music Album altogether, there became less room for diversity. They had the commonsense to remove the awkwardly titled Best Urban/Alternative Performance award, but there's still a disturbing tendency to pigeonhole people of colour into the R&B category. Beyoncé, for example, has only won one Grammy in the Pop category; but has won 14 for R&B, despite being widely considered a pop artist.
The Grammys need to start championing creativity and recognising artistic risk-takers instead of doling out armfuls of gongs to the same boring privileged pop stars. They're on the right track with awarding oddballs like St Vincent; now it's time for more.
The awards are still a benchmark of success, steeped in tradition. But their relevance and popularity may only extend as far as the red carpet. If The Grammys awarded more diverse talent that represented a wider range of what we listen to, buy and watch live, maybe their picks would resonate more strongly.
At the end of the day, the people have spoken by not tuning in. You're not alone in feeling jaded. In Fire Squad, J Cole wryly rapped: "This year I'll prolly go to the awards dappered down/ Watch Iggy win a Grammy as I try to crack a smile."
Backlash can be valuable. Kanye, the self-appointed Soldier of Culture, has a point: "respect artistry". Despite slipping into increasing irrelevance, the awards still mean something to people. The Academy just needs to remember that excellence comes in many shapes, sizes and colours.
Published on February 11th, 2015 by Catalogue staff
Follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahgooding
Liked this? Read some more stuff about Kanye West and music:
Subscribe to our e-newsletter for news you want, fashion you like and opinions to share.