Last Oscar season, the Academy gave Best Picture to a film that did not win opening weekend.Despite some big name actors, the film did not highlight the People’s Choice Awards. It did not spark an enormous fan following. It was not a pop culture phenomenon. Spotlight was a small, somber film about big, important ideas like hypocrisy in religion, sexual assault, and preying on children. This is because the Oscars are not meant to reward popularity. They are meant to showcase quality filmmaking, and how the medium of film, when it is at its best, is about starting important conversations.
This year’s Grammy nominations, which were released this morning, highlight just how stark the contrast is between these two award programs. On the one hand, the Grammies are in no danger of drawing criticism similar to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. A majority of the Best Album nominations are by artists of color, as is the case in many of the categories. But what will unfortunately go unnoticed about the Grammies is the thing that ought to be even more controversial – the Grammies do not reward artistry. They reward chart placement and concert ticket sales.
Take the Best Album nominations, for instance. In Adele, Beyonce, Justin Bieber, and Drake, you have massive pop artists who regularly dominate the charts (Sturgill Simpson, a country-influenced singer-songwriter, is the obvious exception). Aside from Beyonce, who has made a much more personal record (although it has numerous problems from a Christian perspective), these artists are doing the same thing that they have always done. Justin Bieber, while improving, still sings shallow pop songs. Adele keeps singing about broken relationships (not to mention that 25 was released in 2015, not 2016 . Drake continues to be . . . well, Drake. All of these albums have songs that have ranked very high on the charts, while more meaningful conversation-starters have been left by the wayside.
Consider Young the Giant’s Home of the Strange, for instance. The California quintet, all children of first-generation immigrants, crafted a compelling piece of art that challenges many assumptions of American values, and paints a more realistic picture of what immigrants sometimes feel like as outsiders. It has all of the pieces of artistry you’d look for in a deserving Best Album nomination, but they are completely overlooked, because they do not dominate Billboard charts on pop radio stations.
In fact, the one-genre focus of the Grammies ought to be particularly irksome to music fans who have any measure of diversity in taste. Four of the five Album of the Year nominations are pop albums, as is every nominee for Record of the Year. Even nominations for Best Rock Performance seem a bit confused, placing David Bowie’s “Blackstar” alongside hard rock group Disturbed’s “The Sound of Silence.”
To put this in context, this is like nominating Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad for Oscars because they made a bunch of money, and some people like them. Now, I hope more people like Justin Bieber’s new album than actually liked Suicide Squad (I’m a Christian, I don’t wish that kind of harm on anyone, okay?), but the point still stands that flooding music awards with pop hits is an illegitimate way of rewarding talent and artistry in the music industry.
I think I speak for many Christian music fans when I say that we would like to see an awards program that is more focused on a balanced perspective representing the diversity of the industry, and awarding those who are using their art to say something meaningful. It’s for that reason that we want to do our own evaluations of 2016 in music. In the coming weeks at Christian Entertainment Reviews, we will be assembling our own nominees and eventually settling on winners for who we think is making a positive difference in the culture. Our platform may not be comparable to the Grammies, but as Christians who recognize the value and artistry of music, we want to extend that recognition of those who have impacted us positively, and share that with those in our circle.
In the meantime, we continue to hope and tweet in vain that the Grammies will change their approach after nearly six decades.