Tonight is the biggest night in music with the live telecast (across the nation for the first time!) of the 58th Grammy Awards. Boasting performances from the likes of Adele, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and Kendrick Lamar, a tribute to the 2016 MusiCares Person of the Year Lionel Richie and honorary tributes to Glenn Frey of The Eagles, B.B. King, and David Bowie, the night is sure to excite and get everyone talking.
While we’re positive that most of tomorrow’s discussion will be around the musical highlights of the night, there’s one thing we’re even more sure of, someone will undoubtedly feel their fave was snubbed.
In recent memory we have the infamous 2015 Album of the Year debacle when Kanye West bumrushed the stage to lament Beck’s win over Beyoncé. And then there was the 2011 Grammys where Beliebers went bizerk that Justin Bieber lost to jazz aficionado Esperanza Spalding for Best New Artist. We can go even further back to 1988 when Michael Jackson won 0 (ZERO!) awards for his Bad album or we can shake our heads that legendary artists like Queen and Diana Ross or hip hop legends like Nas and Tupac have never won a golden gramophone. These ‘snubs’ shock those who pay close attention to popular music and continue to garner dozens of think pieces, angry tweets, and YouTube rants by fans and music insiders alike.
Today, we’re going to give a brief overview of the Grammys and the Recording Academy in an attempt to explain how or why your fave did (or did not) win.
The Recording Academy was established in 1957 as a way to recognize musical excellence and to maintain the condition of the culture and the quality of the lives of musicians and their music. Members of the academy include singers, songwriters, engineers, producers, managers, and other music industry professionals. There are twelve regional chapters across the nation in Atlanta, Chicago, Florida, Los Angeles, Memphis, Nashville, New York, the Pacific Northwest, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Texas, and Washington, D.C. that each have their own board and Trustees.
Within the Recording Academy there are several “families”:
the Grammy Foundation
Advocacy & Government Relations
The Latin Recording Academy
...and the Grammy Museum.
As a response to the Oscars and Golden Globes, in 1959 small, but lavish dinners were held in hotel ballrooms in LA and NY (eventually spreading to Atlanta, Chicago, and Nashville to represent the different chapters of the Grammys membership) to gather and honor the best and brightest of the music industry. Though its first live telecast wouldn’t happen until the 13th annual Grammys on March 16, 1971, the honor of having a Grammy already became well respected and sought after for it was the only peer-recognized award in all of music. Essentially, having a Grammy meant that your fellow musicians and creators have deemed your work the best of the class – a cut above the rest.
But how does the process even start? In order to be eligible for a Grammy in a specific year, either a member of the Recording Academy or the record company has to submit an entry. Once submitted the work is screened to make sure that is:
one, released in a specific time span (i.e. for this year its between October 1, 2014 and September 30, 2015 meaning even though Adele is performing tonight, 25 is not eligible for a 2016 award because it was released on November 20, 2015)
and two, that it meets certain standards (i.e. in order to be considered an album it has to have at least 5 different tracks that equals out to a total of 15 minutes in length).
Once the entry has been found to meet its respective standards it is then put through two voting processes: (1) to be selected to be one of five nominees in a category and (2) to be selected as the overall winner in a category. To ensure the quality of voting, members are directed to vote only in their expertise, with a final allowance of a vote in 20 categories in the genre field and in the four general categories of the General Field (Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best New Artist). Once Deloitte tabulates the votes, nominees are announced and the final results are not revealed until Grammy night. In the end a total of 13,000 members have looked over and voted for who they believe deserves the highest honor.
As opposed to the People’s Choice Awards or the American Music Awards, fans are not in control of which artists gets what. The Grammys are highly dependent on those who are already in the music industry to vote for quality and innovation as opposed to chart toppers. It’s hard to imagine that industry favoritism doesn’t play a role in who votes for who, but by having so many chapters and over 13,000 different voters, the sheer number of those who are called on to vote hopefully counteracts natural tendencies to vote for friends, rather than good work.
This year’s Grammy Awards are one of the first in a long time to get most of the nominees right, moving away from what appeared to be favoritism and a reliance on sales and chart positions to create a list of nominees and now basing it on the actual value of the work itself. Let’s hope the winners continue this theme so that way less of us will have to ask,
WHY DIDN’T [INSERT NAME HERE] WIN?!?!