“Why Do I Keep Doing This to Myself?” Thoughts about the Grammys

It’s winter, that magical time of the year where we sing carols, give gifts, and pick stupid fights on the TL about award shows while also shouting about how stupid award shows are. Maybe you’re a person who tunes into the Oscars every year, even though the academy is a racist institution that enables harassers. Or perhaps you like the Golden Globes because you’re a messy bitch that loves drama. My curse is that I care too damn much about the Grammys.

I don’t want this to just be a piece on why the Grammys are awful, but for those who are less tuned into the music industry, I’ll try to give a brief summary of the narrative that has dominated Grammy talk for the last few years. From my perspective, the Grammys backlash picked up steam with the 2014 Grammys when Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City lost the best rap album award to Macklemore’s The Heist. Good Kid is a harrowing album about growing up in Compton, California and the violence that Kendrick saw and participated in as a kid, and The Heist is a middling album by a middling white rapper. This snub of a black artist making black art in a black genre is of course one of countless instances of this happening throughout the Grammys history — Eminem has received more Grammys for Best Rap Album than any other artist, which is to say nothing of other categories — and fans and artists have been pushing back on the Grammys ever since. The backlash only intensified in 2016 when Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly, a boundary pushing album widely regarded as an instant classic, won Best Rap Album, but lost Album of the Year to Taylor Swift’s 1989. In the wake of this and many other things, many black artists have begun to boycott the Grammys.

Logically, I should boycott the Grammys. I shouldn’t turn on my TV, I shouldn’t watch clips on Youtube, and I sure as hell shouldn’t tweet about them so damn much. The institution thrives only because we pay attention to it. But where was I Tuesday morning? Reading through all the nominations and posting my reactions in discord and picking fights on the TL. Last year, I told myself I was done paying attention to the Grammys. I had of course also told myself the same thing the year before that and the year before that. But here I am, once again not being done with the Grammys.

It’s deeply hypocritical and so are many of my opinions about the Grammys. I was saying to a friend “4:44 is great, but I wish Jay hadn’t gotten nominated. I wish every single one of his nominations went to some kid who could use the career boost. On the other hand, I’m upset that A Tribe Called Quest, a group that has been around and celebrated in the culture since 1990, was snubbed. And at the same time, I watched that Tribe performance from last year’s show again yesterday, even though it was textbook exploitation of black artists that the Grammys have been doing since their inception.

Like it says at the top of this whole thing, the question I keep coming back to is “why do I keep doing this to myself?” Why do I keep paying attention to an award show that makes me mad and why do I have the same tiring conversations about it every year? Even if this year made some progress — this is the first year in history where no white man has been nominated for Album of the Year — I’m still mad about decades of mistakes prior. Every year I bang the drum of “award shows don’t matter” and yet I devote a lot of brain space to them anyway.

At the end of the day, it’s because they do matter. Like I said earlier, they’re a cultural force because a huge audience pays attention to them. In turn, that huge audience can make and break careers of musicians I care about. And it fucking sucks, but here we are. I talked with a friend about this, and they put it excellently: we are being held hostage. In 2017, I’m just feel extra stressed about a gigantic institution dictating what everyone should care about without our consent.

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