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The Grammys have issues, but Bruno Mars isn’t one of them

POSTED February 8, 2018 4:19 a.m.
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The Grammys gave their most prestigious awards this year to a 5-foot-5-inch, Puerto Rican-Filipino-American named Peter Gene Hernandez — for an R&B album.

I don’t know how much you keep up with the Grammys, but nothing in that last sentence was normal.

Hernandez, known more commonly by his stage name, Bruno Mars, didn’t represent diversity at Sunday’s Grammy Awards, though. Instead, he somehow represented homogeneity — and, apparently, according to Twitter haters, everything that is wrong with music’s biggest awards show. This week, the internet flooded with think pieces shaming the Grammys for allegedly getting worse, with Mars’ dominance as Exhibit A.

This beef irks me, mainly because it puts on a false air of sophistication. In reality, it’s sloppy. The nature of its sloppiness shows how internet outrage is often as flawed as the institutions it wants to reform.

Collectively, Grammy voters loved Bruno Mars this year. In 2017, it was a female British soul singer (Adele) who, like Bruno Mars, doesn’t resemble your normal pop star. If you review the last 10 album of the year winners, it’s actually a diverse group: Americana (Robert Plant/Alison Krauss), jazz (Herbie Hancock), country (Dixie Chicks), indie rock (Arcade Fire), pop (Taylor Swift) — shoot, even disco (Daft Punk) has taken home the Grammys’ biggest prize recently.

Now, do these musicians represent the pinnacle of artistic achievement, the way an Oscar winner might represent that in cinema? No. Heck no! But saying the Grammys lack diversity, or that they’re becoming increasingly tone-deaf, is an unfocused, inaccurate, ultimately lazy criticism.

Critics cite this year’s nominations as evidence of sexism. Nominations in this year’s major categories — album of the year, record of the year and song of the year — were really male-centric, with women showing up in only three of the 15 spots. Winners and nominees from other recent years, though, aren’t nearly so lopsided. This year’s nominations deserve a raised eyebrow, but for now, little else.

When folks say the Grammys have become problematic or unfair or out of touch, they really mean the Grammys are populist. Here’s the thing about hating the Grammys for being populist, though: They’ve always been that way. Grammy voters vote, and whoever gets the most votes wins. That is how voting works. The Grammys haven’t changed; public perception has.

The Grammy nomination and voting processes are a mess, yes, but Bruno Mars doesn’t indicate that mess any more than Dixie Chicks or Daft Punk or Arcade Fire do. Mars is just an easy target because Top 40 radio loves him.

I won’t delve too deeply into the Grammy voting process here — that deserves its own separate column — but in a nutshell: The voting body is way too large (12,000 reported eligible voting members in 2014), and there aren’t enough safeguards against uninformed voting. Given how clunky the apparatus is, it’s a wonder the Grammy results aren’t worse.

If people want the Grammys to change, fine. Those detractors would be wise to study up a bit, though, and understand what the Grammys have always been. Peter Gene Hernandez isn’t the problem.

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