LOS ANGELES – While everyone was inside Staples Center in Los Angeles for the 54th Annual Grammy Awards, there were people outside protesting the awards. And the fallout continues as Billboard and a precious few other outlets take note.
Perhaps you noticed why without fully realizing it. In an attempt to streamline the awards and make them seem more special, 31 categories were eliminated from the 53th Annual Grammy Awards (2010) when there were 109 awards given. For the 54th (2011) annual ceremony, there were only 78 awards handed out. Some new categories were created, but it was to the detriment of other categories.
Some of it does not not make sense. For the 2010 awards there were distinct categories for male and female vocal performances in pop and country. There are no longer any gender-distinct categories. These are some of the most popular and most-submitted categories which no doubt left a few nominees a bit hot under the collar.
Some of it sort of made sense for the numbers, but didn’t make sense from Recording Academy’s alleged mission to award excellence the recording arts. Here is their statement for www.Grammy.org:
A GRAMMY is awarded by The Recording Academy’s voting membership to honor excellence in the recording arts and sciences. It is truly a peer honor, awarded by and to artists and technical professionals for artistic or technical achievement, not sales or chart positions.
The Grammy Foundation, which is also a part of the Recording Academy, says similarly that it’s goal is “to preserve our nation’s recorded sound legacy.”
It seemed logical. The Recording Academy issued a statement last year after the 2010 awards ceremony. They had been accepting 25 submissions for a category and extracting 5 nominees. This is a breakdown of the new rules:
- 40 + submissions – 5 nominees
- 25-39 submissions – 3 nominees
- 0-24 submissions – no nominees
- 25 or fewer entries – the category will go on hiatus and the submissions will be placed in the next most relevat category. Cajun music and blues could wind up in the same category when they used to hve different categories.
- 25 of fewer entries for 3 years – the category will be eliminated.
This works out fine for categories with a great many nominations. And by eliminating gender-based categories the pressure and competition just became greater.
The more alternative categories are hit harder. The Recording Academy’s statement reads, “the greater purpose of promoting unity within the music community and ensuring that all Fields be treated with parity outweighed natural inclinations to resist change.”
Parity between the fields is impossible to achieve. Record companies have tens of thousands of pop groups, thousands of country artists, and hundreds of Christian and Gospel musicians. But once one is down to Hawaiian, Native American, and Classical music, recording contracts are fewer and father between. Record sales are smaller. Artists often go unnoticed by the greater public and even music industry insiders.
This is the crux of the protest. The changes smack of a racism or culturalism which is as bad as rap having been excluded from the Grammy Awards until 1988. With enough appeals, rap was finally recognized in 1989, though the award’s presentation was restricted to the Pre-Telecast in a time when there was no web streaming.
A handful of very popular rap artists protested the Grammy Awards in 1989 because rap music was not included in the televised ceremonies that first year of rap’s includion in the awards. Will Smith refused to attend the ceremony when “Parents Just Don’t Understand” was nominated. L.L. Cool J and Salt ‘n’ Pepa also refused to attend because the category was not televised.
Upon winning the award for Best Rap Performance in 1989, Smith told The Los Angeles Times he was “more than happy to accept (the Grammy).” But, he added, “I’m not as happy as I could have been. . . . (The presentation not being televised) detracts from the excitement of the award.”
Cutting back to the present day, even rap lost one category out of five to the cuts – Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group and Best Rap Solo Performance were melded into Best Rap Performance. Female emcees have long felt the sting as their gender-based category Best Female Rap Solo Performance lasted only from 2002-2003.
Country, Gospel and Christian music truly felt the sting. Country music lost three categories out of the 7 they once had. Last year Switchfoot won a Grammy award in a category that included rap and rock together, Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album. That has been folded together with Pop Contemporary Christian Album and Traditional Gospel Album for Best Gospel Album. Other categories have also been combined. With such vastly different music bearing a Gospel message, how can one decide which is ‘best’?
The same goes for the new category of Best Regional Roots Album. Zydeco, Polka, Blues, Native American and Hawaiian music have all been thrown together. Again, how is it possible to decide which one is ‘best’?
Some Latin music awards were eliminated because they were duplicated by the Latin Grammys. Having a seperate Grammy Awards show for Spanish-language acts televised in Spanish smacks of ghettoization. Latin supergroups Mana and Los Tigres Del Norte did not appear at the Grammys to receive their awards this year. They have been nominated and won multiple times in the “regular” Grammys and Latin Grammys, so their absence is conspicious.
The Tennessean creditsNeil Portnow, CEO of the Recording Academy, with defending the changes, saying:
For 50 years now, we’ve reviewed on a regular basis but with an eye towards individual situations and genres, adding a category here or there or eliminating another. What we never did was take an overview of the entire process and structure. When you look at what happened in the last 50 years, what started as 28 categories was 109 last year. Does that mean five years from now we’re at 150 and 10 years from now we’re at 200, and what does that look like?”
As noted by www.ColorLines.com, “The irony is that of Whitney Houston’s 6 Grammys, 4 were won in now-eliminated categories: Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (awards 1-3), and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (6).” And Houston’s mother won Grammys in two categories that are now eliminated. Three R&B vocal performance awards for males, females and groups were consolidated into a single R&B performance award. For more information click here.
www.GrammyWatch.org scheduled a protest for the afternoon of the Grammy Awards. Neil Portnow doesn’t like it. He told www.Billboard.com “The simple answer is talk to us. You can’t make everybody happy all of the time, but we want people to understand why it’s been done and the level of care and transparency” Speaking simply, it certainly doesn’t seem true.
Make enough noise and things could change-even if Mr. Portnow doesn’t like it. Perhaps at some point the Recording Academy will remember why it started The Grammy Foundation “to cultivate the understanding, appreciation and advancement of the contribution of recorded music to American culture — from the artistic and technical legends of the past to the still unimagined musical breakthroughs of future generations of music professionals.” These cuts fly in the face of that mission.
Do your own searches for past winners and categories at http://www.grammy.com/nominees/search and check out www.Grammy.org for more information about MusiCares, The Grammy Foundation, and The Recording Academy.