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Guest blog: Why can’t the Grammys be the Oscars?

Posted by on February 23, 2015

Last night, the 87th Annual Oscar Awards took place. Many were watching, among them IKILLYA singer and music industry veteran Jason Lekberg. Always opinionated, watching the films that he thought deserved to win pick up statues, it got him thinking about how the Grammys are tone-deaf when it comes to music, and the Oscars usually get it right.

Last night watching the tail end of the Oscars I found myself excitedly agreeing with the winners and being ever saddened for my own industry.  Birdman was undeniable excellence in directing.   I had to pause the movie 10 minutes in to situate myself because I was immediately aware that this movie would require ALL of my attention.  It was 54 minutes before I saw the first fade to black or hard cut.  The whole movie felt like it was shot with one camera, in real time.  Like the movie or not, it is groundbreaking and deserved to win exactly what it won.  Which brings me to my industries supposedly similar award, The Grammys.

I’m a music fan, but primarily a metalhead.  So I’m writing this piece from that perspective though I realize that the topic could be taken much deeper with other genres.  We could start with the fact that the Grammys didn’t even acknowledge Hip Hop as a genre until 1989 but I digress.  Let’s start with how the artists feel about these similar awards.

“I can’t tell ya how encouragin’ a thing like this is.” – Ruth Gordon in her acceptance speech for her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in “Rosemary’s Baby” 

“I’d rather have awards that educated metal fans voted for” – Kerry King, Slayer (5 time Grammy nominee, 2 time Grammy winner)

The difference in those two sentiments outlines my point exactly.  The stated goal of both the Oscars and the Grammys is to have the industry itself honor great achievement and art.  That way those who truly understand the medium can show respect to innovators and contributions that the commercial world might not have understood.  Though I’m sure there is plenty of discussion to be had about films that should have won or won that shouldn’t have, in general, The Oscars are respected above nearly every other award by the artist themselves as an honest representation of excellence.

The Grammys?  Not so much.  The metal category in particular is a constant source of embarrassment.  Starting with a seeming inability on the part of the committee to even discern what is metal and following through to a comical string of winning albums.  Rarely do they get it right, and when they do it often feels like “we owe this band a Grammy because we didn’t give it to them on the album they made that was truly groundbreaking – so this will have to do.”

For those less acquainted with the history of the award here are a few examples.

– Jethro Tull, a flute playing classic rock band, beat Metallica, probably the most recognized and important band in the history of metal.

– Halestorm, a radio rock band, beat Lamb of God, arguably one of the most influential American metal bands of the past 15 years.

– This past year Tenacious D, (though metal lovers and loved by metal fans) an acoustic comedy duo covering a 30+ year old song, beat Mastodon, one of the most progressive and genre defining bands of this generation.

– Slayer won on an album that by their own admission was “just ok” and decades past their genre defining work.

– Judas Priest won for a live recording of a 30+ year old song, again decades past their genre defining work.

So what has caused this failure?  Are musicians unable to judge art outside of their genre?  Is the system itself flawed?  Let’s break it down section by section.

The process for each award is very similar.  Committees of professionals in each genre choose which albums/films are nominated from those submitted for consideration.  The nominees are announced and then all registered voters are able to cast their vote.  Many of the awards are given away during a star-studded TV event with the rest distributed pre-show at a different location.

 

So is it the committee?

The nominated albums and artists are regularly lacking, overly obvious or downright wrong.  This past year saw the release of Behemoth’s The Satanist which was universally regarded as not only one of the best albums of the year, but also a milestone in metal music.  Metal Archives said “’The Satanist’ is a phenomenal step forward, with the wonderful attention to detail in the mixing/production and songwriting, and especially the lyrical significance as a reflection of Nergal’s journey, this album is truly a gem in the crown of Behemoth. Highly recommended for any self respecting fan of death metal, or music in general.”  Yet this album was not nominated.

Was it not submitted?  If so, should there be consideration put in place to ensure that albums don’t slip through the cracks?  This is after all supposed to be the definitive yearly awards correct?  Without knowing the identity of the committee itself, we have to wonder if the wrong people are on it, or if they’re simply limited by their options.

 

So is it the structure?

This is where we see the biggest disparity between the Oscar and Grammy process.  The Oscars do not divide on the basis of genre.  They give awards for the best XXX across all genres with the exception of awards for Documentaries and Foreign Language films.  The Grammys however have both overall awards and awards for subgenres as they choose.  In the case of Metal, the options have been shrinking each year.  For many years now metal has been part of the “Rock” category and in fact in 2015 only 4 awards were part of this category.  Best Rock Album, Best Rock Song, Best Rock Performance, and Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance.

Why would this be?  If they’ve chosen to divide into each genre specifically, why do they feel that Metal isn’t deserving of it’s own category or even it’s own award within rock?  Is it that the Grammys don’t actually care about music but rather what will get good ratings on TV and drive more commercial sponsors?  At this point, the Rock genre is awarded at an offsite location before the Grammys the public watches on TV even happens so what difference would it make to do it right?  If their objective is to keep all genres interested just in case one of them becomes popular in mainstream culture wouldn’t just have one set of overall awards like the Oscars do be more effective?

I’m sure if that path was taken metal would drop out of the Grammys altogether but I think that would be better than constantly being insulted.  I’ve never met anyone who bought a Slayer album because they won a Grammy, so clearly the credibility of it is nonexistent anyway.  Would that force voters to think more critically about the music that has been nominated?  If so, why are they not doing that already?

 

So is it the voters? 

In both cases you have to be a professional in your trade to vote.  For the Grammys, at a minimum you have to have commercially released at least one album within the past 5 years and then you must pay a yearly fee of $100.  For the Oscars the requirements vary based on your field in film, but again, you must prove you are a professional.

It would seem then that all voting members of the Grammys should be qualified to make a professional assessment.  You could argue that the majority of Grammy voters are unfamiliar with metal but could you not say the same about horror films?  Yet Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, Pans Labyrinth, and many more have all won Oscars.  At the very least it would seem that those with actual knowledge of metal would outweigh those without, but history shows it’s still not working.

No true artist creates for accolades, but the recognition of your peers is as Ruth Gordon said “encouraging.”  All artists could use some encouragement now and then.  We all face fear and doubt when putting a piece of our soul on record.  The Grammys have a platform to encourage and help perpetuate art but currently, they just add to the fear that those who can’t be bothered to pay attention will ignore your life’s work.  You can expect that from the public, but from your peers it’s damaging.

Last but not least, when 2 time Grammy winner/5 time Nominee Slayer Guitarist Jeff Hanneman died, he was omitted from their yearly montage of “artists we’ve lost”.

It’s time for real change.  If the Grammys is a purely monetary organization, then it’s time for the music community to walk away.  We should give them exactly the credit they deserve as a sham, pop culture jerk off.  If the Grammys want to truly honor the art that gives them the ability to build a business in the first place, they could be a beacon of artistic integrity.  Currently, the Grammy legacy is egomaniacal pop stars chance to sell their souls for 5 more seconds of fame.  For shame.

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  • cpt howdy

    IMNs (myself included) first need to accept that the best metal performance is usually a competition of songs, not bands. It wasn’t really Halestorm vs. Lamb of God as much as it was Halestorm’s Love Bites (And So Do I) vs. Lamb of God’s Ghost Walking. Unless you’re trying to be contrary, utterly jaded or elitest, most people would have to admit that Halestorm wrote the better of the two songs. And let’s be honest, metal fans still wouldn’t be happy no matter who they chose.
    That being said, the year Judas Priest won for the live version of Dissident Aggressor was bizarre.

  • Sia

    Agreed ! The Grammy’s are a joke and nobody takes them seriously anymore. When you have Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off and All About The Bass nominated it’s pathetic.