Arts & Entertainment

The Music Beat: My Complicated Relationship with the Grammys

Mary Grace Ritter | The PhoenixRapper Tyler, The Creator won the Grammy for Best Rap Album with "IGOR."

The Grammys always yield mixed emotions from me. I’m excited that some of the artists I love and admire are being recognized on a larger scale — that they’re receiving this tangible recognition for their hard work. But with odd rules and genre-specific categories, the awards aren’t without flaws.

It’s just a popularity contest…

The awards can often feel the same as voting for middle school class president: it doesn’t matter how qualified you are, the popular kid is going to win.

Though the awards are mostly dictated by the year the works were released — the 2020 awarding songs and albums released in from October 2018 through August 2019 — there’s an additional note. Songs are also eligible for every Best Song category “if it first achieved prominence during the Eligibility Year,” according to the Grammy’s website.

This means that if a song has been out for a year or so, but only just gained attention from the general public, it’s still eligible for a Grammy. This can be beneficial for artists who suddenly skyrocket to fame off an older song — there’s still hope for that golden gramophone.

But to me it just seems like the Recording Academy voters aren’t doing their jobs. What makes a song any more Grammy-worthy because it’s popular? Shouldn’t it be these members’ responsibility to keep track of notable releases? At some point they’re letting Top 40 radio do their jobs for them.

I can’t complain too much. One of my favorite bands, Twenty One Pilots, won Best Pop Duo/Group Performance in 2017 for its radio hit “Stressed Out,” released in 2015. If that clause didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have gotten the iconic and utterly confusing moment when the duo’s name was announced and Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun stripped off their pants.

…But this year, they got it right…

Though the show functions on separating music into categories, at times shoving complicated, diverse works into the simple label “Pop,” this year for the 62nd annual awards, the Grammys rewarded genre-bending artists.

Billie Eilish historically swept the four most prominent categories, proving her weird goth-pop style is worthy of awards and recognition. Her debut album, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?,” doesn’t fit soundly under pop — much of the album includes a deep bass, distorted samples and electronic breakdowns. But it also isn’t just alternative or electronic.

With tracks from the cultural phenomenon “bad guy” to the heartbreakingly vulnerable “when the party’s over,” it meshes genres and themes phenomenally.

The Academy equally praised production as Eilish’s brother Finneas won Best Producer, Non-Classical. It would make sense that the producer of the Best Album would win, but when nominated alongside powerhouses such as Jack Antonoff (“Lover” by Taylor Swift, “Norman Fucking Rockwell” by Lana Del Rey) and Dan Auerbach (“Let’s Rock” by The Black Keys, “Walk Through Fire” by Yola), the choice becomes all the more notable.

Eilish isn’t the only artist awarded who twists styles — Tyler, The Creator won Best Rap Album for “IGOR.” The album brings together melodic vocals, pulsing bass and harsh rap verses in a way set apart from much of the rap music produced today.

Tyler isn’t solely a rapper, but he’s not quite a singer. The melodies can be quite dissonant, unlike the choruses of many rap tracks. Tyler said on stage when accepting the award he “never fully felt accepted in rap.”

…Well, some of it anyway

The Grammys only televise a select few categories, often ignoring rock and alternative. This year Cage the Elephant won Best Rock Album for “Social Cues” and Vampire Weekend won Best Alternative Music Album for “Father of the Bride,” but the average viewer wouldn’t know that.

Rock and alternative may not have the same modern-day reach as rap or pop, but there is still important work being created by these artists.

Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams called out the Academy asking for “just one” category to be represented next year, calling the genres “vital and relevant.” The emo kids and angsty teens watching at home need to know that their favorite album is being represented on the same stage as pop chart-toppers.

The Grammys are flawed, as are most of these award shows, but that doesn’t stop me from getting sucked into the magic of “music’s biggest night” every year.

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