Diverse Grammy nods? Good. Wins would be great
Look at the 2018 Grammy nominations, and the statistics are clear. All five tracks nominated for record of the year came from artists of color, as did four out of the five nominees for album and song of the year.
Look further down the list and you see names like Lil Uzi Vert, SZA, Khalid, Logic, Migos and Cardi B — part of the new generation of artists of color, boosted to the top of the charts by streaming.
For an awards show with a less-than-inclusive history, the 2018 Grammy nominations seem like a course correction for an institution badly in need of one. And considering the looming controversies of 2018's awards season, which forecasts the return of #OscarsSoWhite thanks to a lack of diversity among Academy Awards contenders this year, the Grammys may be one of the few awards shows this year to get diversity right.
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Beyond honoring big names like Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar and Bruno Mars, the Grammys proved that they've been paying attention to rising artists of color, and taking their viral hits seriously. As music streaming continues to transform the industry, boosting hip-hop to America's most popular music genre, 2017 saw artists like Migos and Cardi B earn No. 1 singles, driven by streaming and online buzz. Migos’ Bad and Boujee and Cardi B’s Bodak Yellow both earned Grammy nominations in the rap performance field, with Childish Gambino's Redbone, a song that birthed an Internet meme and later became a streaming hit, competing for record of the year.
And then, there's Despacito, the global bilingual hit from Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee that exemplified Latin stars' breakthrough year in mainstream pop, which the Grammys rightfully honored with song and record of the year nominations.
These changes follow a painful two years for the Grammys, where fans and critics trashed the awards after Beyoncé’s Lemonade lost the 2017 album of the year prize to Adele’s more traditional 25 last year, as they did in 2016 when Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly was snubbed in favor of Taylor Swift’s 1989. The albums from Adele and Swift may have sold well and impressed critics, but in the face of the Grammys’ history of passing over younger artists of color for the top prizes, seeing them celebrated over Beyoncé and Lamar’s respective masterworks felt personal.
As a result, when Kanye West and Drake declined to attend the 2017 Grammys despite leading the night’s nominees, it was seen by many as commentary on the awards show’s waning relevancy. Their no-shows followed Frank Ocean’s decision not to submit his albums Endless and Blonde for 2017 Grammys consideration to protest the show’s history of questionable racial politics, writing on Tumblr that To Pimp A Butterfly’s 2016 loss was “hands down one of the most faulty TV moments I’ve seen.”
“Believe the people,” he wrote. “Believe the ones who’d rather watch select performances from your program on YouTube the day after because your show puts them to sleep.”
The Grammys have been around since 1959, and change does not come easily to institutions such as these. Yet, this year’s nominees show the Grammys honoring the stars of this new streaming-led era, many of whom are young people of color. The Recording Academy may not have explicitly heeded Ocean's calls to "believe the people," but considering that many of the same viewers skipping the Grammys telecast to watch YouTube clips are the listeners who drove songs like Bad and Boujee and Bodak Yellow up the charts, it's clear that awards show is feeling the people's influences.
But simply including a more diverse pool of nominees isn't enough for the Grammys to prove its changing its culture. Now, these artists need to win.