I think I wrote my first article about being disgusted with the Grammys in 2009. The broadcast had marketed itself around Lil Wayne and his massively popular Carter III album – he was nominated for eight awards and was the feature performer. It felt like he was going to win Album Of The Year. But that distinction went to the very white and very safe Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand album. The message was clear as it has always been: the Grammys are going to use young, black popular artists to bring in viewers and buzz but they aren’t going to get the recognition of having put out the best bodies of work. In other words, the black artists are there for the show and everyone else is going to get the acclaim.
I wrote that same article in 2010 when Beyonce was nominated for 10 awards, was the featured performer and lost out to Taylor Swift for Album of the Year. And again in 2014 when Macklemore beat out Kendrick Lamar for Rap Album. By 2015, I’d given up on the Grammys. So I was good and prepared when Beck beat Beyonce and Taylor Swift beat Kendrick and Adele beat Beyonce. And this year, I knew there was a Jeezy’s chance in Hell of Kendrick Lamar or Jay Z winning the Album Of The Year award.
We’ve been here before and waiting for white folks to acknowledge black artistry as anything more than vehicles for revenue and glorified dumb shows is a fool’s errand.
Despite me punting on being emotionally invested in the Grammys, I still have to cover them. So I watch. And I’m tired of seeing the same damn thing every year. I’ve never been one to say that black artists should stop attending, giving free publicity to an organization that doesn’t truly value their art beyond the money it brings. But I think it’s time.
Beyonce, Jay Z and Kendrick Lamar are black pioneers. They’ve transcended the role of “simply” musicians. They are black excellence personified in three distinct ways. And especially in the last few years, they’ve each challenged white establishments and presented unwaveringly black art that will last forever. They’re icons. And I’m sick of watching them stand in the front row and act with grace and humility while less-deserving white folks* celebrate. I hate seeing these stars have to grit their teeth, sit there and take it. I don’t know if they feel demoralized but I feel demoralized watching it.
The Grammys have long lost any relevance in terms of actual music discussions among black folks anyway. We don’t sit around in hair salons or barber shops arguing about which albums are the best based on Grammys. In fact, the only time we talk about the awards are when we discuss how upset we are when black artists get snubbed. I get it, though. The Grammys have a history of prestige but with each insanely idiotic award decision, the show and its trophies loses credence. I mean, who can take an award show seriously when Lemonade can’t even win Album of the Year (and Anti can’t even get nominated). By choosing to want to erase black excellence, the Grammy award has lost its luster. It doesn’t even reflect actual “best” in any discernible way.
And what happens even if Beyonce finally wins Album of the Year one day? It won’t mean those white folks who are deciding who gets awards give a damn about black folks or our art. And until that moment comes we just keep looking at legendary black people reduced to gracious bystanders. What’s the point? There’s value of forcing black art and revolutionary messages into white spaces who want to silence us, so I won’t disparage any artist who wants to continue performing.
But at the same time, if a white space only cares about the monetary bottom line, which that black art provides, then I’m not sure how much it’s worth it to raise our fists in performances only to continue getting ignored by the end of the night. I’d rather see our work end up elsewhere. Because without black folks, the Grammys are just the Country Music Awards. And who gives a s*** about that show?
It’s here that I should talk about the myth of black people don’t support our own award shows. Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar gave a tremendous performance at the 2016 BET Awards and the former didn’t attend last year because she just had twins. And the idea that the Viacom-owned BET Awards is an example of our awards show is a whole different problematic issue. Still, black folks show up for award shows that recognize blackness. We don’t need the Grammys. Really, if black folks stopped paying attention, then what would realistically happen? Well, the Grammys would lose relevance, viewers and the black fuel that keeps those broadcasts running.
Meanwhile, we can continue to celebrate our own excellence without the annual reminder that they don’t care about us. Let the Grammys wallow in its own self-created irrelevance. That’s a fair tradeoff if there ever was one.
*Bruno Mars is the exception. He absolutely deserved all the awards he got. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Grammys still branded its show on the backs of black folks and gave the awards to someone else. But yeah, nothing but love for Bruno.