You win some, you lose some. Or in the case of The Weeknd, you don’t even get nominated. On November 24, the Recording Academy released the list of nominees for the 2021 Grammy Awards and notably missing from the list was Canadian artist, The Weeknd, which was a surprise to many. In a year marked by pain, loss and sadness, music has been one of the few things to get us through. And this was a pretty great year for music, with artists like Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Justin Bieber, Phoebe Bridgers and others releasing the songs that have gotten us through a majority of quarantine (although it’s an absolute *travesty* that we haven’t been able to bop around to “WAP” in a club).
Chief among those artists who have helped us through this hard time with their work is The Weeknd (a.k.a. Abel Tesfaye), whose March 2020 album After Hours was a major success. Not only does it have 1.8 billion streams to date, per Rolling Stone, but it also gave us the amp-up song that is “Blinding Lights,” which started it’s own dance trend on TikTok and became legitimately the only song worth listening to while trying to do a cramped home workout in my tiny apartment. (As a February 2016 Vox article on the Grammy voting process points out, you pretty much have to be famous and have a pretty buzzy album and/or commercially successful songs to win a Grammy, making The Weeknd’s snub for a seriously buzzy album…weird.)
Not to mention the fact that the singer has been putting in *work* when it comes to promoting the album. Not only is the Canadian performer set to headline the Super Bowl LIV halftime show in February 2021, but he’s been performing like a mad man lately, popping up at awards shows decked out in the beat-up aesthetic he’s embraced throughout this album. It takes *time* to look this haggard!
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Also kind of weird? According to sources, the singer was in talks to actually perform at the January 2021 Grammy Awards, making his snub beyond rude.
In response to being shut out of the nominations, The Weeknd was justifiably angry. In a November 24 Instagram post, he called out the awards show, writing: “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency.”
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And while the singer and his fans are seriously pissed off about this latest snub, we actually shouldn’t be all that surprised. Because, as The Weeknd so aptly pointed out in his post, the awards show has had a long history of sketchy behaviour, especially when it comes to its messy voting process. Just days before the 2020 Grammy Awards in January, music executive Deborah Dugan—who had been appointed as president of the Recording Academy only five months prior and was the first woman in the role—was fired. Dugan stepped into the role after the Recording Academy had faced years of bad press (brought on by themselves, thanks very much), culminating in the 2018 Grammy Awards during which only 11 out of the total 84 winners were women and which concluded with then-Recording Academy President Neil Portnow telling female performers that they had to “step up” in order to win. *Eye roll*. And the 2019 ceremony wasn’t much better.
So, the 2020 awards were meant to be different than the years that had preceded them. Only they really weren’t. After her firing, Dugan filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint, and alleged rampant corruption and secrecy in the organization. Dugan claimed that the Recording Academy fired her in order to cover up their “boys club” and corrupt voting process. In the filed documents, Dugan alleges that “secret committees” in the Academy that decide who’s chosen and win are incredibly biased. According to Esquire, she wrote of the process: “Board members, including those who represent or have relationships with nominated artists, sit on these secret committees.” Dugan continued: “the Board uses these committees as an opportunity to push forward artists with whom they have relationships.” So pretty much, Dugan is claiming that the board members push their own interests. And, according to a 2018 study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, that interest rarely involved female performers. The study showed that between 2013 and 2018, only 9.3% of the nominees for Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist and Producer of the Year were women.
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During the 2020 awards ceremony, rapper Tyler the Creator also spoke to the treatment of Black artists by the Academy, accusing them of having “pigeonholed” Black artists into “urban” categories as opposed to the mainstream categories. A 2020 study by journalism, communications and Africana studies professor John Vilanova found that while Black artists haven’t historically been entirely shut out from winning Grammy Awards, the top honours have eluded them. Per The Philadelphia Inquirer, Black artists like Tyler the Creator and The Weeknd regularly win categories that are considered “Black music” (i.e. rap and R&B), but are less likely to be victorious in the more general—and often more high-profile—categories such as album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist.
— Odd Future Fans (@itsOddFuture) January 27, 2020
It’s safe to say that the Recording Academy has a long way to go.
So, why does The Weeknd’s snub even matter? Isn’t the singer *still* a millionaire with a successful career and model girlfriends? 100%. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t justified in his anger. While, let’s be honest, awards ceremonies in general are kind of unnecessary at this point (I mean, even Drake said it!), shows like the Grammy Awards are still a big deal for artists as recognition of their hard work and place in the industry. While the debate around whether or not the awards show is an actual indicator of *good* music endures, there’s no denying that a win, or even a nomination, is significant.
Sure, The Weeknd doesn’t need a Grammy nomination to know he’s successful or popular. But to be blatantly left out during an awards season that was so clearly a banner year for his career is justifiably infuriating, and it’s fair for The Weeknd and other artists to be upset about the lack of recognition. (Except Justin Bieber. Seriously sir, just take your nominations and leave.)