Billie Eilish made history at the Grammys this past Sunday as the first woman to win all four major categories at the event (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist). The sweep is impressive, especially since it's only happened one other time with Christopher Cross in 1981. Considering the fact that Billie Eilish was the first woman to accomplish this combined with how young she is, this should have been a huge event—but people seem to have stopped talking about it within a matter of days.
The Grammys serve as the musical counterpart to other arts-related award shows—the Oscars for film, the Emmys for television, and the Tonys for theater—however, the latter three seem to be more respected. When a good movie is released, people dub it 'Oscar-worthy,' but when was the last time you raved about how a song should win Record of the Year at the Grammys? There seems to be a shared sentiment that the Grammys don’t actually mean anything significant anymore, which begs the question: why don’t people care about the Grammys?
The awards show itself has a boring format, but the biggest point of contention with the Grammys is proposed voting irregularities. Admittedly, music is arguably more subjective than other art forms, so giving awards for it is difficult. People still seem to notice, though, that the nominations and winners are typically not representative of what tends to be widely considered the most deserving. The nominees and winners appear to reflect a mainstream popularity contest that generally awards white men, and in fact, only ten black artists have won Album of the Year since the Grammys began in 1957. There’s a reason for this.
The Grammy nomination process is simple: about 13,000 members of The Recording Academy vote on which recordings to nominate. The top 20 recordings are then debated by Craft Committees, who ultimately decide who ends up on the final ballot. In addition, Craft Committees are allowed to override by adding artists they feel may have been overlooked in the nomination process. The final winner is then chosen by the votes of Academy members. However, this is particularly problematic considering committee members are also a part of the music industry, and may present conflicts of interest.
In essence, this means that the most powerful members of an already exclusive industry have the ability to hand-pick who is nominated for awards. The nomination process is outdated, as well as highly susceptible to lobbying and bias, which ultimately influence the outcome and final ballots.
This year, Deborah Dugan was named CEO of The Recording Academy, marking the first woman to be put in charge of the event. But just 10 days before the ceremony, Dugan was put on administrative leave for allegations of misconduct, after which she quit and filed reports with the Los Angeles Equal Employment Opportunity Commission exposing potential voting misconduct, among other complaints.
In an interview on Good Morning America, Dugan said that the Academy is “an old boys’ club [that is] deeply entrenched and not diverse.” Her accusations are startling, but are even more worrisome when combined with the report on The Recording Academy’s lack of diversity and inclusion.
There are no publicly available statistics on the demographics of The Recording Academy nor the Craft Committees, but a 2018 report on the institution's diversity and inclusion policies outline the steps that must be taken in order to become more inclusive as a whole. It isn’t a stretch to assume that the committees are predominantly older, white, and male, and the nominations they vote on may reflect this demographic’s understanding of contemporary music.
As a result, voting irregularities are noticeable. On a large scale, people don't seem to trust the Academy's nominations or final awards, and as a result, the audience shrinks and respect is lost. In addition to the dissonance between the nominations and what is popularly believed to be most deserving, these voting practices also negatively impact women and people of color. These groups are historically nominated less frequently than white men, and when they are nominated, they win with even less frequency.
The downfall(s) of the Grammys are unfortunate, to say the least. Music—in comparison to film, television, and theater—is a fixture of everyday life. It's become increasingly rare to see someone walking to class, working out, or commuting to a job without their headphones in, listening to music. The demographic makeup of the deciding body at the Grammys along with possibly corrupt voting practices makes the awards feel self-serving and out of touch with popular sentiment. A change in the voting practices is necessary in order to actually represent the music that is most impressive and deserving in a given year—after all, the Grammys are meant to be "Music's Biggest Night," not the Music Industry Insider's Biggest Night.