Sinclair: A Grammy doesn’t always mean excellence

Isaac Sinclair

I remember in 2013 when Macklemore beat Kendrick Lamar for Best New Artist and Best Rap Album. I was infuriated. Kendrick’s album and artistry was objectively better, but because Macklemore had more mainstream success and radio hits, he won. I want it to be clear, I like Macklemore. He’s not as bad as many say he is, but he wasn’t better than Kendrick that year.

Macklemore agrees with me too. He later apologized to Kendrick about winning those Grammys. If Macklemore, someone who a Grammy, says there is a problem in how the Recording Academy determines who wins Grammys, then this a problem that has to be addressed.

No one can deny that winning a Grammy is a big deal. It indicates that you are a successful artist and your work has gained a large amount of attention. That is important and whoever wins a Grammy this year should be proud of their accomplishments.

But winning a Grammy doesn’t mean what it used to. The Grammys have become about popularity instead of skill.

Look at the times a Grammy has gone to a one-hit wonder. The Baha Men have a Grammy. If you don’t know who the Baha Men are, well, that’s the point. You might, however, recognize their hit “Who Let The Dogs Out.”

Was “Who Let The Dogs Out” the Best Dance Recording of 2000? It probably was, but does that mean the Baja Men are great artists and should be remembered with the legends of music? No, absolutely not.

A Grammy win is not reflective of talent or consistent greatness. Yes, it does take a level of talent to produce a popular song or album, but if the Recording Academy only looks at the popularity of music, it reduces the level of music that a Grammy demands an artist to create in order to earn one.

The Grammys have been snubbing talented artists over popular ones for years. There are too many to name, but the one that stands out to me the most is Nas.

Nas, one of the best hip-hop artists ever, has never won a Grammy. Now, that could be excusable if he had a short run or wasn’t as great as many believe him to be, but he has been nominated for 13 Grammys. He has won zero. Because Nas didn’t have mainstream hits, although he continues to produce high quality music that actually lasts, he didn’t win.

His first nomination was in 1996. His most recent nomination was in 2012. If that isn’t consistent greatness that is deserving of a Grammy, which the Recording Academy believes it is because they nominate him, then I don’t know what is. Nas deserves a Grammy, and he is just one example of the Grammys valuing popularity over talent.

This hurts the value of winning a Grammy. If the Recording Academy only gives out Grammys to artists that are popular now, than they are no longer “dedicated to improving the cultural condition and quality of life for music and its makers.” A Grammy is suddenly an indicator of fads and songs that are popular in the moment, not musical excellence.

What the Recording Academy should be doing is looking at artists that have consistently delivered quality music, tried to push their genre to new places, and made a body of work the Recording Academy believes will stand the test of time. Instead, the Recording Academy is being swayed by quick hits that no one will care about in a year from now, let along ten years from now.

So as you watch Grammys this year, be happy for whoever wins, but keep in mind that a Grammy is only a gold gramophone. Not the gold standard for musical excellence.