Welcome to this week’s Tales from the Turntable! If you’re not already aware, the list of 2024 Grammy nominations was released on Nov. 10. Reading through this list, only one single thought came across my mind: Everyone’s gonna hate this list. Year after year, the Grammys upset more and more people. This week we’ll be taking a look at why these awards are so decried, including some more egregious examples of winners and nominees.
Starting off with a more obvious reason, a lot of people despise the Grammys simply because it’s a party by elites, for elites. The Recording Academy is owned and operated by music executives and bigshot producers. Similar to the Oscars, many can’t help but see the award show as incredibly out of touch. Additionally, the award show has been historically white. As Tyler, the Creator diligently pointed out when he won best rap album for 2019’s “IGOR,” many colored artists are shoehorned into rap, or “urban” categories instead of pop.
In light of these new nominations, I’d like to look at some of the more questionable winners in the past, giving more insight into the distrust that most people have with the awards.
In general, the 2010s was one of the roughest decades for the Grammys. Viewership had been declining since the 1980s, falling to its worst in the 2010s. 2013 saw a massive upset with Mumford and Sons taking home the Grammy for Album of the Year with “Babel.” While the folk-rock band had received critical acclaim for their music, the choice still left many scratching their heads. “Babel” was up against Frank Ocean’s debut album “Channel Orange,” and Jack White’s debut solo album “Blunderbuss.” Both records had been critically lauded that year for their unfettered creativity, with the former being considered one of the greatest albums of the 2010s even at the time of its release. Ocean had even been nominated for Record of the Year and Best New Artist, receiving neither.
Going back to nominations in the 2000s, Radiohead’s “Kid A” was a landmark album by all accounts. The band had transformed their sound into something completely different, being heavily inspired by electronic music and the ambient works of musicians like Brian Eno. Also in 2000, Beck’s “Midnite Vultures” was released to critical acclaim, pulling from influences like Kraftwerk, Prince and David Bowie.
It was a pleasant surprise for many to see two rather experimental records be nominated for Album of the Year in 2001. What ended up winning? Steely Dan’s “Two Against Nature.” Normally, I try very hard to keep my personal musical opinions out of this column, but this one hurts my soul. As a massive Steely Dan fan, It’s great to finally see them get the critical recognition they deserve, but putting them over “Kid A” is a baffling decision.
Finally, perhaps the most infamous moment at the Grammys came in 1989 with the introduction of the Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Performance category. In 1988, Metallica had released what many considered one of their greatest albums, “…And Justice For All.” It was their first album since the passing of bassist Cliff Burton, showing they had no intentions of slowing down. It was nominated for the aforementioned category in 1989, however it lost to Jethro Tull’s “Crest of a Knave.” Many were enraged by the questionable win, prompting the president of the Recording Academy to issue an official apology to fans, and Metallica themselves.
While it’s no surprise that many are upset at this year’s nominations, it’s hard to please everyone. It’s nice to see artists like Olivia Rodrigo and boygenius receive nominations for the bigger awards, however, there’s no guarantee that either will win. Unfortunately, some of the biggest and most forward thinking albums and artists have no mention, like JPEGMAFIA, Sufjan Stevens, Mitski and the list goes on. These awards could easily please more people if they allowed for more input from the fans directly — but, it looks like we’re far away from that ever happening.