The 2019 Grammys are already embroiled in controversy and celebrity spats
In recent years, the Grammys have continuously proved to be a rapidly fading institution—one that's struggling to not only connect with audiences, but also with the very artists it recognises.
Last year, despite all-star performances from Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, and Elton John, the show lost six million viewers from the previous year. At that show, Bruno Mars swept the major categories, beating out more worthy nominees like Lamar, Childish, Jay-Z, and Lorde. In fact, Lorde even refused to play after disagreements with the show's producers.
Now, just days away from the 2019 Grammys, it's already looking to be another complete disaster. It doesn't help that the Recording Academy picked some of the most baffling nominees in recent years, now many of the top artists in music are boycotting this year's event. After snubs last year, Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino both refused to play the 61st Grammys on Sunday. Drake, who is nominated in major categories and has been historically snubbed by the Grammys, also refused to play. Show producer Ken Ehrlich told The New York Times that these artists “declined to comment on whether they would attend the show.”
That three of the most powerful artists in music—and three nominees in major categories—are refusing to play and possibly not even attend the show is a crippling blow to the Grammys.
Meanwhile, Ariana Grande has broken her silence about her own feud with Grammys producers. In the Times interview, Ehrlich said Grande “felt it was too late for her to pull something together” for the show. Grande took to Twitter to dispute his comments. “I’ve kept my mouth shut but now you’re lying about me," she said. "I can pull together a performance over night and you know that, Ken. It was when my creativity & self-expression was stifled by you, that I decided not to attend.”
i’ve kept my mouth shut but now you’re lying about me. i can pull together a performance over night and you know that, Ken. it was when my creativity & self expression was stifled by you, that i decided not to attend. i hope the show is exactly what you want it to be and more. — Ariana Grande (@ArianaGrande) February 7, 2019
These influential artists publicly denouncing the Grammys speaks to the declining legitimacy of the institution. What they're left with is a thin list of performers that includes the ongoing use of insulting collaborations like Post Malone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. What's worse is that the lack of attendance means no one will be there to accept the major awards should Drake, Childish, or Kendrick win. Even more concerning is that the three most worthy contenders are likely to not win—and after years of snubs—all three know this.
Refusing to attend the show is a backlash to years of being ignored by the Grammys, both individually and of hip-hop as a whole. Historically, the Grammys will invite hip-hop and R&B artists to the ceremony to perform and draw in viewers but not award them with actual trophies.
In 2017, Drake won Best Rap Song and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for “Hotline Bling" (only his third Grammy out of 42 nominations). After not attending the show that year, he blasted the Grammys in an interview, saying, "Even though ‘Hotline Bling’ is not a rap song... the only category they can manage to fit me in is a rap category.”
Three years before that, Drake was also critical of Macklemore beating out Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly for Best Rap Album, explaining how the Grammys don't go to the people who actually made the best album.
“This is how the world works: [Macklemore] made a brand of music that appealed to more people than me, Hov, Kanye and Kendrick," Drake said. "Whether people wanna say it’s racial, or whether it’s just the fact that he tapped into something we can’t tap into. That’s just how the cards fall. Own your shit.”
That same year, Lamar spoke eloquently about the Grammys' treatment of hip-hop. As he told XXL:
I definitely feel like they should always have more of the culture up in there, for sure, because we definitely stand out just like any other genre.. We part of the world. We part of the movement. So I think any awards, including the Grammys, should always push for more hip-hop because it’s music as a whole, it’s not just splitting different regions. Everything moves as far as sound and vibrations, and that’s how it goes. And we are a part of that.
It's far too long overdue for the Grammys to make up for years of marginalising what's now become the most popular genre in music. And this year they're paying the price.