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How the Grammys Became the Most Meaningless Award in Pop Culture

An intricate 24K gold-coated horn and turntable mounted atop a palm-sized podium: the trademark trophy of the Grammy Awards show and a classic symbol sought after by some, while dismissed by others.


An intricate 24K gold-coated horn and turntable mounted atop a palm-sized podium: the trademark trophy of the Grammy Awards show and a classic symbol sought after by some, while dismissed by others. The annually occurring music award show, better known as the Grammys, is logically named as an abbreviation of the gramophone, an old record playing device used to listen to music in the 1890s. This year, the Grammys is set to host its 63rd showing in Los Angeles, California, on January 31. The long-running program will again promote nominated artists in over eighty categories. The show has run for so long, its system calls into question whether — like its emblem — it is outdated.

In 2021, the Recording Academy plans on having Trevor Noah, a popular comedy television entertainer, host the year’s show. Noah is a self-proclaimed “progressive person,” which makes his political outlook attractive to America’s younger audiences, including Berkeley High School’s (BHS) community. The Grammy Awards has a record of inviting many well-known comedians to host upon its stage. Among its list of hosts are names such as Ellen DeGeneres, James Corden, Mort Sahl, Jerry Lewis, and Rosie O’Donnell, all of whom were and are noteworthy names to the public.

This trend is not happenstance. It is only sensible for a show to display big names in order to attract larger audiences. However, these comedians have hardly any experience with the music industry. With the Grammys’ self-proclamation as “the world’s leading society of music professionals,” its irrelevant hosts, lack of diversity in the nominations process, and possible bias in its representation of the music industry’s best calls into question whether the show deserves significance in American culture.

Past Grammy nominations have encountered criticism surrounding the likely possibility that the awards are given based on sales as opposed to cultural significance. After Adele won the category Album of the Year in 2017, a range of music publications disagreed heavily with the result. Adele herself was in disbelief and expressed how deeply she felt that Beyoncé’s Lemonade should have won instead. Publications continued along this tangent, insisting that the outcome of the vote was impacted by a majority of Caucasian voters on the Recording Academy’s voting board.

The validity of past categorizing by the Recording Academy’s voting committee is all but iffy. The 2020 Grammys granted Billie Eilish five awards, with Eilish eventually just saying, “Thank you” on stage after giving so many speeches that night. Among her five wins, Eilish won the category Best New Artist, a confusing decision, given that she had made her debut over three years prior. Another category blunder nominated Drake’s “Hotline Bling” as Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance. Drake insisted that his song was not a rap song and suggested that his song was only nominated in those categories because he is Black.

Recent events involving the suspension of Deborah Dugan, the Recording Academy’s former female CEO, reveal an ongoing issue with the program’s honorability. After being placed on administrative leave, Dugan filed a complaint against fair process within the Grammys’ nomination system. In a response to Dugan’s claims, the Chief Awards Officer of the Recording Academy, Bill Freimuth, denied her allegations, retorting that the awards process takes place in an ethical manner and that voting members rely only upon an exhibition of “artistic excellence and technical merits” before placing their decisions. 

Although Freimuth’s argument sounds fair, it is slightly aside from the point. There is credibility in basing a vote upon perceived merit, but from whom that vote is cast begets an earlier flaw in the process. The Recording Academy has published diversity and inclusion efforts on its website, showing the most recent statistics of 2020’s voting board. Last year’s numbers show a 56 percent male and 44 percent female population on the nominations review committee, with 46 percent being people of color. The committee’s majority of white members is an unfair representation of the many diverse artists in today’s music industry. 

Music is a universal language, and award shows like the Grammys should be representative of popular culture. A board of voting members chosen by an obscure peer review board cannot have been fairly elected for the task of deciding the nation’s best musical artists, albums, and performances. Additionally, issues can be taken with the music industry’s overall gender disparity. According to Statista, out of the ten most Grammy Award-winning individuals of all time, only two are women. Out of the musicians nominated the most times for Grammy Awards, only one is a woman. An overall outlook of America’s music production industry in 2019 shows a baffling 5 to 95 ratio of women to men.

In terms of music’s effect on culture, the Grammy Awards should include a more cumulative vote from the American people. This system is already put to use by the American Music Awards, which allows the public to determine categories’ winners. The Recording Academy has yet to diversify its largely white male governance committee but acknowledges the need for diversity and is publicizing its efforts to improve upon it within the voting committee. If the Grammys continue to fall behind against the background of America’s changing values, its influence on popular preference will be tossed aside and discredited as nothing more than an outdated production.