Why The Grammys’ Voting System Is A Mess

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Blinding Lights by The Weeknd is one of, if not the biggest pop songs of 2020.

It’s broken records for spending the most weeks in the top ten of Billboard’s Top 100, and the album it came from went four times platinum.

But The Weeknd missed out on getting a single nomination for the 2021 Grammys and it’s not the first time a seemingly deserving artist has been snubbed from the awards.

So, what’s going on with the Grammy’s voting system?

The Grammys 2021

There’s been a lot of speculation about how and why The Weeknd was shut out of the nominations since they were announced.

After Hours, the album he released with Blinding Lights on it, has been broadly recognised by the international awards circuit already this year and it won Favourite Album in the Soul and R&B category at the American Music Awards.

There was some speculation that The Weeknd’s record label didn’t actually submit him for the Grammys but that seems unlikely.

After all, he shares the label with Taylor Swift and Drake and they’ve both been nominated across multiple categories.

There were also rumours that The Weeknd’s agreement to do the Super Bowl performance this year pissed off the Grammys, who wanted him on their stage the week before. But again, it’s unlikely because apparently the voting closed before the halftime show was even announced.

Either way, there’s been some pretty huge and understandable backlash against the awards because of this.

The Weeknd himself said on Twitter that the Grammys were corrupt and owed everyone transparency.

And Drake has called for the awards to be replaced because of the massive disconnect there seems to be between impactful music and the music that’s championed by these awards.

A History Of Controversy

Controversy around the Grammy’s decision making has been around for years.

Vulture published this great list of the biggest snubs and it’s pretty incredible to scroll through.

In 2005 Maroon 5 beat out Kanye West for best new artist; in 2013 Mumford & Sons beat out Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange for Album of the Year; in 2014 Mackelmore beat Kendrick Lamar for Best New Artist and Beck’s album Morning Phase beat Beyonce’s self-titled album in 2015.

Nicki Minaj also drew attention to her 2012 loss for Best New Artist on Twitter. She had 7 songs simultaneously charting on Billboard and she lost out to Bon Iver.

That history implies a pretty staggering bias against black artists and there have been suggestions for years that the Recording Academy (who run the Grammys) have broad failures of diversity and inclusion.

At least for the 2021 Awards, black artists do seem to have done pretty well.

Ten black women were nominated in the top four categories and there were 20 black nominees overall.

So, when it comes to The Weeknd’s total lack of nominations, what gives?

How Did This Happen?

Well, it probably happened because the way voting works for the Grammys is a massive mess.

The voting pools are huge and the way that album categories are nominated means that artists who sit between genres can easily fall through the cracks.

So say, if an artist produces an album that’s halfway between R&B and pop they can miss out on getting into either category and that may well have happened with The Weeknd.

The way that genre is defined by the voting system is also incredibly confusing and black artists are pretty frequently misplaced.

Drake’s Hotline Bling won best rap song in 2017 despite the fact he doesn’t actually rap in the song.

And the problem seems to persist even after the Grammys disbanded their ‘Urban Contemporary’ category earlier this year because it was slammed for being an antiquated way of saying ‘black music’.

The Takeaway 

The way the Grammys’ voting process works can strongly favour white popular artists who don’t really defy genre and that problem could well be behind what happened with The Weeknd this year.

It basically seems like the Recording Academy can really struggle with where to place black artists and the calls to overhaul the voting system, or even set up a new awards institution that recognises the most impactful musical talent, are probably justified for that reason.