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The Grammys aren’t racist, claiming so is just a cynical attempt to play the race card

Chris Sweeney
Chris Sweeney

Chris Sweeney is an author and columnist who has written for newspapers such as The Times, Daily Express, The Sun and the Daily Record, along with several international-selling magazines. Follow him on Twitter @Writes_Sweeney

Chris Sweeney is an author and columnist who has written for newspapers such as The Times, Daily Express, The Sun and the Daily Record, along with several international-selling magazines. Follow him on Twitter @Writes_Sweeney

The Grammys aren’t racist, claiming so is just a cynical attempt to play the race card
The nominations for the 63rd Grammys have been met by some loud and influential voices implying that artists of colour have been snubbed because of their ethnicity. But the facts don’t appear to back those claims up.

Another day, another race row, and this time the Grammys are in the eye of the storm, after announcing the nominations ahead of the ceremony in January.

Beyonce heads the field and is in six categories principally for her track Black Parade, commemorating the end of slavery in the US and released following George Floyd’s death. Other big names like Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber are there too. But the controversy centres around who isn’t there, and the colour of their skin.

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Rapper Drake has been the most vocal, taking to social media to campaign that his friend The Weeknd should have been recognised. He also mentioned Lil Baby, Pop Smoke, Partynextdoor and Popcaan before adding “too many missing names to even name.” Of those who he did namecheck, all are black males.

The implication is clear when Drake, who has a massive 72.6 million followers on Instagram, said of the Grammys…”what once was the highest form of recognition may no longer matter to the artists that exist now.” His comments suggest he feels there’s a racial angle, which the Guardian agreed with running the headline ‘Drake calls for Grammys to be replaced after snubbing Black artists’. This is the same guy who disagreed with actually winning a Grammy in 2017 because he felt his song wasn’t rap – he said it was put in that category “maybe because I’ve rapped in the past or because I’m black, I can’t figure out why.”

Another black artist even more explicit about her feelings was Nicki Minaj who tweeted: “Never forget the Grammys didn’t give me my best new artist award when I had 7 songs simultaneously charting on billboard & bigger first week than any female rapper in the last decade – went on to inspire a generation. They gave it to the white man Bon Iver.” 

Why are these racial accusations not being shot down by the mainstream media?

The shortlist for the most prestigious award, Record of the Year, is really varied. Beyonce is there, along with soul duo Black Pumas, who are black singer Eric Burton and latino musician Adrian Quesada. Others include; Dua Lipa (British with Kosovan heritage), Da Baby (black American), Doja Cat (Jewish American mother/South African Zulu father), Billie Eilish (white American), Megan Thee Stallion (black American from Texas) and Post Malone (white American with Italian roots).

The Grammys own Black Music Collective, formed to encourage equality, has praised the nominations by calling them “historic” and added: “This is progress.” The event is also being hosted by Trevor Noah, a South African with parents from different racial backgrounds. So the barefaced cheek to imply racial injustice is preposterous. Fans of the South Korean pop group BTS have also railed online at their lack of nominations. One tweeted “this feels very racist.”

2020 has been a seismic year in terms of diversity and inclusion. It has led to millions of people and long-standing institutions examining their behaviour with respect to race. But to see that momentum being used to legitimise missing out on being nominated for a music award is shameful. And it seems we can’t hit back at the race-card players, without the threat of being labelled ‘racist’ or accused of ‘not understanding’. There’s nothing to understand, this is completely the wrong arena to flag up racism – as there is none. There may have been in the past and there may be in the boardrooms of music corporations, but not in the Grammy’s 2021 nominations.

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Aside from the lack of biteback at those using race to promote their careers, there is also the idea being floated that popularity equates to deserving an award. The Weeknd’s complaint: “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…” was based on his music spending a long time in the top 10 and being well received by fans. If life followed that logic, whoever sold the most would be the best singer on the planet. Or the world’s richest person would be deemed the best human alive. Do the Oscars tally to box office sales? If so, every golden statue over the last decade would have been handed to the cast of the superhero blockbusters.

Drake’s words had a menacing edge when he referred to “the disconnect between impactful music and these awards.” Again that was code to divide by race. The Grammys honour the American music industry and the success of artists as part of it. So to imply that more weight should be given to songs that connect to the black community is outrageous.

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America’s population is crudely divided into; White (60 percent), Black (13 percent), Asian (6 percent), Hispanic (18 percent) and American Indian (1.3 percent). So if we go by the logic of connecting impact to race, then so-called white music and white artists would dominate. Sometimes your skin colour has nothing to do with critical acclaim.

The voting panel didn’t think you were good enough – deal with it.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.