The hashtag #GrammysSoWhite gained a lot of momentum and popularity on social media following the 59th iteration of the Grammys. Many individuals believe that the Grammys have a race problem, specifically a problem with the exclusion of minority artists. I believe that the Grammys could do more to be more inclusive and many artists would agree. Prominent artists such as Frank Ocean, Solange Knowles and Kanye West have either spoken out publicly or shown silent acts of disagreement with the way the Grammys handles race. Not only did Ocean not submit his work for Grammy consideration, but he did not attend the show. In an interview with The New York Times, Ocean said the nomination and award systems, “just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from and hold down what I hold down.” Ocean also referred to the fact that in his lifetime, only a handful of black artists have won Album of the Year. In addition, Kanye West sat out of the show, causing individuals to speculate whether or not this is because of his dissatisfaction with the Grammys as well. Solange took to Twitter to voice her opinions, tweeting the following statement: “There have only been two black winners in the last 20 years for album of the year; there have been over 200 black artists who have performed.”
In contrast to the celebrity outrage, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow does not believe that the Grammys has a race problem and pointed out that a Grammy is a peer-voted award so it is not the decision of the specific institution, but thousands of individuals belonging to the Academy that cast their votes for the winners. In my opinion, this can be a valid argument if one assumes that the members of the Academy do not harbor a racial preference and it is hard to believe that the 14,000 members of the Academy are prejudiced.
I think that this is a particularly difficult time for racial and ethnic relations in American society, specifically with the new president stepping into office. This may be translating into our pop culture, specifically in this case with the Grammys. However, I do think that Solange Knowles’ tweet is rather eye-opening and I think that there may be something deeper, especially when so many black artists have performed at the Grammys and so few have actually taken home an award. I personally believe that Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” should have easily won album of the year, as it was both a visual and vocal masterpiece. Not only were the melodies and vocals fantastic, but she tackled several difficult topics, such as infidelity and the meaning of blackness in the United States. While Adele’s album was good, many individuals on social media and in the music industry, including Adele herself, believed that the award should have gone to Beyoncé. Whether or not Adele’s victory was racially motivated is something that has no exact answer and it is a controversy that is especially dividing.
The Grammys are but one example of an inclusion problem going on in American popular culture. We have seen this issue before with the lack of diversity with Oscar nominations and the protests that rose out of that controversy. I think that Frank Ocean’s explanation of the Grammys seeking a “nostalgic experience” in traditional white artists can explain why these award shows tend to slight minority artists and performers. Being more inclusive is a simple task when members that vote for these awards become more accepting and open to the new modern artists and modern concepts. By being open to new ideas and cultures in media and music, these award shows can stop the backlash that has surrounded them over the years. Overall, the industry should be more inclusive regarding people of color and this is equally important in music as it is in film. Excluding one particular group or several particular groups is simply archaic; it is time to move away from that pattern and enter into a new time of inclusion and acceptance.