In 2014, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis took home four Grammys, including Best New Artist and Best Rap Album, for 2013’s “The Heist.” While nobody was particularly surprised that the predominantly white recording academy had favored the most popular white rapper of the season, the sea of post-Grammy frustrations ran particularly deep that year. Kendrick Lamar deserved the Best New Artist Award, even though he had been putting out quality independent mixtapes since 2009. His major label debut “Good Kid M.A.A.D. City” had been considered an instant classic upon its release, and was universally favored to win Best Rap Album. Even Macklemore agreed, having sent Lamar a text message apologizing for “robbing” him. Afterwards, he self-righteously posted a screenshot of the text to his Instagram, because you can’t just do what you think is the right thing without letting everyone know.
At the time, Kendrick Lamar was my favorite artist across all genres of music. I remember being foolishly excited before the ceremony that year. It’s not often that the academy and I agree on an artist. In fact, it’s so rare that I’m skeptical when it happens. Yet Lamar was one the few artists who had managed to harness mainstream appeal while compromising little to none of his artistic integrity. I felt even more the fool when he lost, having gotten my hopes up for a ceremony that continually disappoints. It’s like having a significant other that cheats on you once a year, yet every year you happily take them back, only to catch them again. At least this time, I didn’t get a “sorry for stealing your girlfriend” text from Macklemore.
This year, Lamar took home five awards, including Best Rap Album and Best Music Video. Macklemore is nowhere to be found. This could be proof that musical pandering and gimmickry will never stand the test of time. Macklemore’s hit “Thrift Shop” will be recognized as a moment, with both its beginning and end resting comfortably in 2014. The Grammys tend to award moments and clichés like these, yet disguise them as measurements of musical excellence. In the end, it’s like a giant popularity contest, where everyone stands around and says, “Now, let’s not make this a popularity contest.”
The Grammys have consistently struggled to be an accurate measurement of artistic diversity and talent. Women represented only 17 of the 84 winners last week. Neil Portman, the current president of the recording academy, advised women to “step up” when asked why they represented so few of the night’s winners. It’s a surprising answer considering the current climate of the entertainment industry. You’d have to be living under a rock to not know how offensive that statement was, regardless of the generation. These are the kinds of individuals deciding who wins the most prestigious music award in the country. That’s why being snubbed at the Grammys is almost a rite of passage for an upcoming artist.
Lamar’s opening performance was easily the most captivating moment of the entire show. Cardi B graced the stage to perform a song with the night’s big winner, Bruno Mars, for a rendition of his track “Finesse.” While the moment felt authentic, she wasn’t given the space to showcase what was arguably 2017’s biggest hit, “Bodak Yellow,” which sat atop the Billboard 100 for three consecutive weeks, making her the first female rapper to do so since Lauryn Hill in 1998. At this time last year, she was virtually unknown. Her rise to pop superstardom was this year’s most important underdog story. She deserved far more than a guest spot from Bruno Mars, whose privileged existence stems from a family of musicians, and yet he still can’t make music for anybody other than drunk people at weddings.
The voting committee is out of touch with the music that truly speaks to a generation of information overload. Music accessibility is easier than ever. Streaming services create playlists for you and literally tell you what you want to hear. Yet the best songs, from unknown artists that aren’t reaching algorithm-ridden playlists, require some digging, as they always have. If we looked only to the radio and the academy to dictate our music tastes, songs like “Bodak Yellow” wouldn’t even exist to us. In order for The Grammys to be taken seriously by young people, we need young people to be involved in the process.