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Editorial: Are the Grammys still relevant?

by Brian Capitao

2017 has been a strange year. A celebrity president. Mass protests worldwide and the ever dire state of the media.

And yet we all continue as if nothing has changed. The status quo remains and the old guard remains as prosaic as ever. The disconnect is spectacularly felt with the withering importance of something like the Grammys.

The first indication that the old guard recording industry is out of touch? Is that they are claiming Chance the Rapper is a new artist. Sorry, what? Chance has been around for like 3 years at this point. I can understand if Chance were some unknown artist, but he’s been featured on big projects like Because the Internet and The Life of Pablo. He’s a mainstay and not some overnight sensation that made somebody’s freshmen list.

Basically, the entire hiphop community is giving the old guard recording industry side-eye. When artists like Drake can simply not go to “the biggest night in music” and boast its irrelevance, it’s a condemnation of an industry tone-deaf to the new cultural tastemakers.

Hence, it should come to no surprise that Beyonce’s album was overlooked. Hands-down, Beyonce should have won album of the year. Its cultural significance and artistic motifs gave music lovers something to believe in again.

We have seen music take a backseat in cultural importance over the last decade with the exception of a few albums – and Lemonade is certainly exceptional.

Now the grammy’s have gotten a lot better at recognizing moments in the zeitgeist. The fact that De La Soul’s And the anonymous Nobody was even nominated for best rap album gives me hope. The fact that there were collaborative performances by Daft Punk and The Weeknd and Metallica and Lady Gaga gives me hope. The fact that A Tribe called Quest performed their message of resistance gives me hope. But it’s not enough.

Frank Ocean has been vocal about his distaste for the Grammys. He made the not-so-controversial claim that few black artists have won album of the year since he has been born. And who could blame him for bashing a stuffy institution that treats black people like second-class citizens? Just recently, as a consolation prize, the Grammys created an urban contemporary album category to give black musicians. This is subtle racism left in the vestiges of the stodgy old guard.

Will Smith famously boycotted the 1989 Grammys when he and Dj Jazzy Jeff won for Best Rap Performance. Why? Because they refused to televise the event. Hmmm….What about when Macklemore won over Kendrick? Look, I liked The Heist a lot and thought Macklemore was a better overall performer when I seen both of them live at closer to the start of their careers. But to not give Kendrick best rap album for Good Kid Ma.a.d City – is criminal. Kendrick without a doubt had a better rap album.

The Grammys are not about artistic merit. They are about who sells more units – and that’s fine. Financial success matters. And yes, it matters even in the arts. But the Grammys perpetuate the insignificance of music as culture by only celebrating certain musical genres once they become inescapable. They are too slow to change.

We are losing faith in our institutions because our institutions are not following the pace of modern life. Instead, they cling to a detested hierarchy. Hierarchy has become parallel to corruption.

That’s why I welcome the post-modern age, where we eschew structural constructs, in favor of giving a voice to the underdog. Independent media. No more fiat currency. Populist politicians who are less politicians and more a new wave of performance artists.

It’s a new world. And frankly, we brought this on ourselves by being complicit with our inaction to change these institutions. And I am no better than anyone else with my complicity. We are all guilty. We let the radio erode into a unlistenable mishmash of cloying radio hits. Most of us never called in and demanded that local artists be played. Let alone gave programming directors a reason to care.

We are no longer just apathetic – we are cynical. It is our cynicism that has made modern culture devolve to the point where it is now. We just felt that utterances would fall on deaf hears, and in fact they might have, but the bleakness of what we see around us is a by-product of our own cynicism. We don’t vote. We don’t speak up.

And that’s because there are real social costs to speaking up. It is a lot easier said than done. And quite frankly, that’s where I am the most complicit. I have honestly been thinking over the last year or so what have I done? What steps have I taken to make the world a better place? And If I am honest with myself, not many.

It is one thing to pay lip-service to progressive values – and another to fight for them. I don’t know what I’m going to do to fix that. For me, it takes more than just marching or signing a petition (though these things help). It means being involved – really being involved – and if you don’t like something you see going on – speaking up.

So why am I drawing a line in the sand when it comes to the Grammys? Because music is culture and culture is political. I have no bearing on the Grammys as an individual. But as a hiphop fan who supported an artist like Drake or The Weeknd – I had some minute effect on their careers as part of a larger collective.

My hope is that people will reach out. Be it their local MP or their local radio station. Everything counts. And, we shouldn’t pray for the demolition our institutions but help in re-building them to deal with the current realities of modernity before it’s too late.

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