Let the records show that I think we give the Grammy Awards Ceremony more credit than it deserves. As a consumer of media, I enjoy watching the Grammys from the perspective that it is an annual talent showcase of some of our favorite artists across genre barriers. I look forward to the performances more than the awards. If that was all it was though, there would be far fewer viewers than the approximate 25 million. Americans love competition. We crave success, which can be measured tangibly if we have won something. In order for there to be a winner, there must be losers. We cannot give Grammys to everyone, particularly in a society with a stigma that “participation trophies” are single-handedly destroying our youth.
I will adamantly affirm that music is not a competition and should not be treated as such. Music is one of the purest forms of self expression there is. It is tremendously objective. At its core, the concept of pitting songs, albums, and musicians against each other is ludicrous. The only way to quantify the success of a record is through sales, a method which is inherently flawed, especially due to streaming and piracy. Regardless, the Grammy Awards are not given out due to sales, but rather by covert group of people known as the Recording Academy. Think of the Recording Academy as the electoral college of music. It is enigmatic. The fundamental difference is that a Grammy award does not give its possessor any jurisdiction over anything.
A viable alternative to the Grammy Awards are the RIAA certifications. These certifications are awarded based on record sales in a predetermined geographic territory. In the United States, 500,000 album sales constitutes a Gold certification, 1,000,000 album sales constitutes a Platinum certification, and 2,000,000 album sales constitutes a Double Platinum certification. If an album meets this criteria, the musician is awarded the certification. There is no limit to how many artists can receive a particular certification in one calendar year. These awards are far more satisfying for the musicians than they are for the fans, perhaps due to the fact that the competitive element is eliminated.
The Grammy Awards do not measure quality or popularity, but rather a watered-down combination of both. Voting members of the Recording Academy are instructed to cast their votes only based on quality, but voting members are not required to justify their votes. Grammy Awards are prestigious, yet indeterminate. In fact, at the 1996 Grammys, in Pearl Jam’s acceptance speech for “Best Hard Rock Performance,” Eddie Vedder remarked “I don’t know what this means. I don’t think it means anything.” Some may say Vedder was unappreciative, but he was not wrong.
From a critical perspective, the category that is the most arbitrary is also the category that is the most coveted: the “General” category. This category is home to “Record of the Year,” “Album of the Year,” “Song of the Year,” and “Best New Artist.” For clarification, the difference between “Record of the Year” and “Song of the Year” is that “Record of the Year” recognizes the performers, producers, engineers, and mixers, whereas “Song of the Year” recognizes the songwriters. In 59 years of the Grammys, 29 of the winners of “Record of the Year” have also won “Song of the Year.” Comparing records, albums, and artists against each other without genre as a basis is simply infeasible. Yet the Grammys do this each and every year.
The “General” category is over-saturated with white pop artists, even though pop has its own category. The current debate in the music industry is that Beyoncé should have won “Album of the Year” over Adele. Adele was vocal about her disappointment in Beyoncé losing. She broke her gramophone in half, cursed, and declared that she could not “possibly accept this award.” I agree wholeheartedly that Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” should have won “Album of the Year,” but Beyoncé is not losing any sleep over it, and neither should we. The problem is not the “Album of the Year” award, Adele, or the 14,000 members of the Recording Academy. The problem lies within the structure of the Grammy Awards as an entity.
There are currently 84 categories and over 100 categories have been retired. Every year, the Recording Academy makes changes to the lineup. It is important to think of the music industry as a living organism. It is constantly growing, changing, and evolving. The concept of genre is abstract. Once you think you have a genre figured out, performers, songwriters, producers, and engineers flip it on its head. The Recording Academy will never be able to catch up. In 59 years, they haven’t been able to perfect it.
Is the solution to change the categories? The voting members? The Academy itself? I’m sorry to say that I do not have the answer. My suggestion is to keep making music and keep consuming music. Share your story and listen to the stories of others. It’s more meaningful to touch a heart than to hold a gramophone statue.