The quality of art cannot be defined due to how subjective it is, as my opinion on a work will absolutely conflict with another’s. Award shows attempt to define the quality of art as they declare which film, song, or show is the best one of the year. The winners and nominees from prestigious shows influence the popular opinion as the works are then seen as some of the greatest of the year. I take these ceremonies with a grain of salt, as the best film or song of the year should be based on my opinion rather than whether or not it was nominated in an award show. The Grammy Awards are the most prestigious ceremony for the achievements in music of the year.
Like many award shows, the Grammy Awards has been under great criticism. These criticisms involve social controversies, as the categories may appear to only include members of a particular gender or race. The Grammys has been criticized for being in favor of men and ignoring their female nominees. However, I’m focusing on a different prejudice that has been ignored in the Grammys: the commercial bias.
The Grammys nominate and award the most commercially viable artists of the year, as the nominees and winners often have their works rank in the top 5 in the Billboard charts. However, I believe that the Grammys primarily focus on which artists can be brand names rather than the artists that may release bona fide masterpieces. This year many news publications and reader’s polls ranked Kendrick Lamar’s album, Damn, as one of the best albums of 2017. Despite the praise Damn garnered, the album 24K Magic by Bruno Mars won the Grammy for Album of the Year. Both albums sold remarkably well. However, Lamar’s album has a “Parental Advisory” sticker on it, alienating conservative and younger audiences. Bruno Mars’s cleaner and friendlier album, 24K Magic, would be more popular amongst the masses and would receive more playtime in the radio. I believe that this is indicative that the Grammys would rather honor pop stars than those who are foreign to the current music industry,those musicians that critics and aficionados laud but deviate from the mainstream.
The Grammy’s bias towards more wholesome and less controversial artists is not a recent trend, however, as it has existed in the first ceremonies. In 1966, The Beatles’ album, Revolver, was lauded for its groundbreaking and experimental songs. However, the band was held under great contention at the time, as John Lennon infamously insinuated that The Beatles were growing more popular than Christianity. As a result, the Grammy Awards did nominate Revolver for Album of the Year in their 9th ceremony, but instead gave the award to Frank Sinatra’s A Man and His Music. Sinatra, like Mars, was a familiar and more conservative artist during the 60’s, making him a safe choice for the Grammys. Revolver’s praise continued well after the album’s released and is cited to be one of the most influential works of music of all time. A Man and His Music does not receive nearly the same amount of adoration as Revolver does in the 21st century.
While other award shows, such as the Academy Awards, may also have a bias against independent and smaller nominees, one cannot deny the fact that there were instances when the organization has honored smaller motion pictures in the past. Moonlight, for instance, won Best Picture last year, despite the fact that it was competing against much more recognizable and commercially successful films such as La La Land, Arrival, Manchester By the Sea, and Hacksaw Ridge. In addition, Moonlight dealt with controversial topics such as homosexuality, gangs, and violence,not typical general audience fare. La La Land, by comparison, was much more enchanting and friendler, allowing it to be viewed by most of the general population. In 2009, The Hurt Locker, which had a very modest theatrical performance, won best picture when box office hits such as Avatar, Up, Inglorious Basterds, and District 9 were also nominated. Even in 1970, the Oscars recognized potentially offensive films, as Midnight Cowboy, a film about homosexuality, which was seen as a taboo topic, won best picture. The Academy Awards can be held under criticism for giving awards to more popular films rather than masterpieces, but independent and more vulgar films should not be ruled out as potential winners.
I don’t hold any award ceremony in reverence, as I rarely find my opinions aligning with the opinions of the organizations that run the event. However, I find that the Grammys in particular have strong biases against bolder and challenging works and are in favor of household names. Looking at many of the winners of the Grammys, I’ve discovered that artists that had widespread sales won awards rather than pieces that are deemed to be some of the best of all time. Like many award shows, the Grammys should not be viewed as having the definitive statement on which composition was the best of the year.