OPINION: Controversial Grammys make strides toward inclusion, entertainment

Megan Thee Stallion performing her hits songs “Body” and “Savage (Remix)” at the 2021 Grammy Awards. She walked away with three awards at the end of the evening, winning the coveted Best New Artist title and scoring two joint Grammys with Beyonce for “Savage (Remix).” Photo courtesy of @theestallion on Instagram.

The past year has been traumatizing, lonely, emotional, and taxing — everything you don’t want a year to be. Music artists have pressed on through these trials, some producing beautiful bodies of work, and others just making some noise and calling it a song.

For the music that did not make our ears bleed, we were inspired and motivated to continue through the terrifying storm that was 2020 and come out on the other side with some unforgettable tracks that still get played one too many times a day.

If only we had a way to honor such music in a respectful, fun, and transparent way…

Never fear, the Grammys are here to save the day!


The Grammy Awards have been cemented in society as one of the highest honors given for musical prowess, the same way the Oscars honor film, the Emmys honor TV, and the Super Bowl honors that game Tom Brady plays with the ball. With a reputation so vast yet easily exploitable, it is expected that controversy will always arise when it comes to the integrity of the awards, the nomination process, and the ceremony itself.

And despite being a significant improvement compared to the shows of years prior, the 2021 Grammys have yet to pass the vibe check.

The Nominations

The Grammys announced their nominees on November 24, 2020, with the show initially being scheduled for January 31, 2021. Obviously, due to COVID, this date was pushed back to the 14th of March, and the entire ceremony continued to undergo changes in protocol and procedure.

Perhaps the biggest nomination snub of the year came from The Weeknd’s album After Hours, a delicious R&b-pop project that ditches the cringeworthy sexual innuendos of the artist’s past music. Featuring the overplayed “Blinding Lights” and under-appreciated “Save Your Tears,” it seemed as though The Weeknd would be a virtual lock for gramophone glory this year!

Unfortunately, the singer scored a grand total of 0 nominations this year.

The Weeknd commented on his snubs in multiple tweets and press statements, claiming that the Grammys are corrupt and that he deserved for his work to be acknowledged, while also citing their long history of snubbing black artists.

The Weeknd responds to his shocking ‘Grammys’ snub following the nomination announcement on November 24, 2020. He later added, “I personally don’t care anymore. I have three Grammys, which mean nothing to me now, obviously. I suck at giving speeches anyways. Forget awards shows.” Photo courtesy of @theweeknd on Twitter.

Other artists such as Halsey and Zayn Malik have also come out in recent months, bashing the Grammys for their seemingly political nomination process. Both were snubbed for their albums, as well (though at least for the latter, rightfully so.)

It is completely understandable why The Weeknd and other artists are frustrated, having put their all into their music for the past months and putting a lot of faith into an organization to pay them their dues. However, there are people who miss out on nominations every year, as there simply are not enough spots to honor every single good song or album that was released. So, sometimes you will get cut. Get over it, right?


The Weeknd without a doubt deserved some kind of attention at this year’s show. With chart-topping songs, broken records, and immense critical praise, he had the perfect formula to score some of the night’s biggest awards if nominated. Heck, he even headlined the Super Bowl Halftime Show this year … which might have actually been his downfall.

According to The Weeknd, he was in discussions with the Grammys about performing at the 2021 ceremony but was dropped after having his commitment to the Super Bowl. Speculation suggests that The Weeknd was forced to choose which show he was going to perform at, and when he picked the national football championship over the music awards show, he was apparently altogether dropped from contention at the latter.

Why a performance that was nearly a month before the Grammys and was in no way related to the show could potentially be the reason why The Weeknd was ignored is beyond comprehension and purely baffling.

The Weeknd on the red carpet at the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards. His bruised and bloody appearance has become his image for this musical era, as he matures as an artistic storyteller and finds deeper meaning in his music. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Recording Academy’s interim president Harvey Mason Jr. responded to The Weeknd’s complaints, empathizing with his frustration but asserting the fact that not every artist can be recognized each year, and that the nomination process is secure and unbiased.

Yeah … still sounds a bit fishy.

Anyone with any prior knowledge of the Grammys would know that the Academy has a running track record of ignoring black artists, while favoring undeserving ones. All the distrust the Grammys face from artists and fans alike has been self-inflicted, as the narrative that handshakes and paychecks win you Grammys more than producing high-quality work does continues to be proven as a reasonable assumption.

The Ceremony

With COVID-19 squashing any chance of a full capacity show, the Recording Academy opted to move the ceremony outside, setting up a series of tables and chairs spread out in the area around the Los Angeles Convention Center in California.

The presentation of awards was staggered in a way that no artist was actually in the audience for the entire duration of the show; when a category was being presented, the corresponding nominees were in the audience. During the appropriate commercial break, these artists were swapped for a new group, and so on. Eventually, the crowd remained with the likes of Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, Post Malone, and others who were nominated in multiple general field categories.

Hosted by Trevor Noah (for some odd reason) and presented by numerous small business owners in the Los Angeles area, the show had a much more intimate and relaxing feel to it. As the night progressed and the sun set, beautiful lights lit up the area, giving off a golden hue that made the setting comfortable and enjoyable. 

Despite this set up being only temporary, the Grammys should definitely consider moving to outdoor shows permanently, since the aesthetic is much more appealing and customizable compared to the monotonous indoor arena setting.

It looked like Christmas in March. Kinda soothing.

The Winners

The highlight of this year’s show was the actual winners in each category. After the infamous “Billie Sweep” last year, a different artist took home awards in each major category, a decision that should be a top priority for the Grammys moving forward. Honoring more artists means honoring diversity, not only in race and gender but also in genre. 

Harry Styles took home the award for Best Pop Solo Performance, beating out Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, and some random guy named Justin Bieber. Decked out in a purple boa, the “Watermelon Sugar” singer can now proudly say that he is a Grammy winner.

I bet he sure adores the Recording Academy now.

Dua Lipa has had a phenomenal year with her disco-pop album Future Nostalgia, a fact reflected with her Best Pop Vocal Album win. She missed out on the big win of night, however, with Taylor Swift snagging her record-breaking third win for Album of the Year with Folklore. Several fans questioned how Swift could lose a genre specific field award but take home the general award. Similar to the Oscars, the Grammys vote in branches so that experts in each category can have supreme say in who takes home the gramophone.  When it comes to the general fields, a larger pool votes, meaning that a different outcome is more than likely.

Education is important, folks!

All the distrust the Grammys face from artists and fans alike has been self-inflicted, as the narrative that handshakes and paychecks win you Grammys more than producing high-quality work does continues to be proven as a reasonable assumption.

Either way, Swift undeniably deserves her Album of the Year win, as Folklore marked another massive transition in her career. Leaning more towards an acoustic indie sound, her eighth studio album features peak songwriting, elaborate narrative storytelling, and breathtaking vocals. Even though it was her only win this year, she will surely be back next year when sister album Evermore is in contention. 

You hear that, Academy? Don’t screw it up. We’re giving you guys a whole year’s notice to get it together.

Billie Eilish took home the award for Record of the Year for the second time in a row. In typical Billie fashion, she insisted she was not worthy of the award, and dedicated it to close friend Megan Thee Stallion.

For someone who has achieved unimaginable success in such a short time span of a career, it still appears that Eilish needs to work on her self-confidence and realize that her work is just as deserving of recognition as anyone else’s. With time, hopefully she matures and begins to own her talent in ways that reflect the swagger and bravado sprinkled into her music.

For Song of the Year, which specifically honors the songwriters of a track, H.E.R. and fellow collaborator Tiara Thomas pulled a surprise upset over artists like Swift, Lipa, and Roddy Ricch. Her song “I Can’t Breathe” was released on Juneteenth in 2020, serving as an ode to George Floyd and other lives lost to police brutality and a call to action to put an end to systemic racism in America. Though perhaps a bit performative of the Academy, the song is without a doubt beautifully written and deserves more attention than it has received thus far.

Notably, Beyonce broke the record for most wins by any female artist and any singer male or female, bringing her total golden gramophone count to 28 with wins in categories including Best R&B Performance, Best Rap Song, and Best Music Video, though she still hasn’t won a General Field category in her nearly two-decade long career. 

Nonetheless, she isn’t called Queen Bey for nothing.

And if you already don’t feel good about yourself, Beyonce’s 9-year-old daughter Blue Ivy is now a Grammy Winner. And you … well, you’re reading this right now.

The Performances

In a typical year, the Grammys are jam-packed with dazzling, over-the-top live performances from the year’s biggest artists performing their hits. But just as every other aspect of the show, this important entertainment factor and key attraction for viewers had to be adjusted to fit with the complicated health guidelines.

Performances were in isolated settings, and only featured a small amount of background singers and dancers with the performers. Free from the confines of the standard Staples Center, singers adopted intricate and unique sets to fully showcase their own art. 

Harry Styles opened the show with a sultry performance of “Watermelon Sugar,” flaunting all the charm and seduction his ten-year-old fans know and love. Billie Eilish performed on top of a sinking car, similar to the music video for “everything I wanted.” For a girl dubbed as a “whisperer” by harsh Twitter trolls, she shined with delicate yet impactful vocals, boasting a control and range that is found far and few between in the music industry.

Performance of the night undoubtedly goes to Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B, who performed a joint rendition of “WAP,” and hits “Body,” “Savage Remix” and “Up,” respectively. Megan opened with a Vegas-showgirl theme, while Cardi B favored a more futuristic, animated set. Nevertheless, they brought energy, sass, choreography, and visual appeal for days. Anything but appropriate for children, Trevor Noah (who was anything but remarkable as host) gave a typical corny joke prior to the performance: “If you have small children in the room, just tell them it’s a song about giving a cat a bath.”


The Future

Behind the visuals, performances, and countless celebrity appearances, the Grammys remain in an extremely precarious position. Fans, critics, and audiences are divided over the integrity and overall necessity of the show. Viewership dropped 53% from last year, with only 8.8 million people tuning in, almost an all-time low.

If the ceremony is really just a publicity stunt for mediocre talent (not to name anyone *Justin Bieber* in particular) and the best of the best are never really given the respect they deserve, then what’s the point of investing three and a half hours of your time to the show every year?

No matter how much you disagree with the Recording Academy and their decisions, it is not just something that can be cancelled and moved to the garbage pile of society, like many influencers today. The Grammys are an institution with power, influence, and monetary strength attached to its name. It has a long future ahead of itself, whether you like it or not. It seems to be making changes to become more socially acceptable, but it still has miles to go before the boycotters and haters are drowned out, and even then, they will never truly be gone.

So save your tears for another day.

Alex Prince is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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