Opinion: Where Are All The 2015 Grammy Nominees Of Color In The Main Categories?

Robbie Daw | December 5, 2014 2:52 pm
2015 Grammy Nominations
See the list of who all is nominated for this year's Grammy Awards.

Maybe it’s the current, tumultuous times we are living in. And maybe the Grammy Awards are a product, or symptom, of that. Whatever the case may be, one thing became glaringly obvious today: The Grammys this time around are going to be much like the Grammys practically every other year in recent memory, in that people of color are basically absent from most of the major categories.

Now first up, those “major categories” consist of the following: Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year and Best New Artist. We’re not including Album Of The Year here, because the nominations in that category aren’t being announced until a live telecast this evening. So let’s just toss Pop Vocal Album in its place for now.

Within the last 10 years, only one Record Of The Year winner featured any artists of color. That was Daft Punk‘s “Get Lucky,” which has Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers on it. The same goes for Song Of The Year — one winner in a decade — only it was Beyonce‘s “Single Ladies” in 2010. Two black musicians won Best New Artist awards in the past 10 years (John Legend and Esperanza Spalding). Now lump all of that together, and you get four wins out of a possible 30.

Update: So glad to see Beyonce’s self-titled LP and Pharrell’s G I R L got Album Of The Year nominations. Maybe one of them will actually win in February and up the numbers mentioned above.

Also, yes, we’re already factoring the upcoming, 57th annual Grammy Awards into the decade we’re surveying, because not a single artist of color was nominated today for Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year or Best New Artist (or, for that matter, Pop Vocal Album). So no need to hold your breath there.

And yet, there was Pharrell Williams on national television this morning, sitting with tired eyes next to an equally bleary Ed Sheeran, announcing the initial four categories that Grammy let out of the bag. Surely “Happy,” Pharrell’s Academy Award-nominated smash that has the distinction of bagging the longest run (10 weeks) at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 2014, deserved a Song or Record Of The Year nod, right? Apparently not. To find “Happy” on the list of Grammy nominees, you have to scroll down to Best Pop Solo Performance, and then, after that, Best Music Video.

Now, let’s talk about Beyonce, because the woman delivered The Music Moment Of 2013 (at the tail-end of the year, mind you) when she forever altered the way we all think of the record-release business model by unexpectedly torpedoing the planet with her self-titled album at midnight on December 12. The surprise of it all was compounded by the fact that each track on the record was accompanied by a music video, making Beyonce a truly visual album. “Drunk In Love,” the lead single, gave Bey her biggest hit in five years when it peaked at #2 on the Hot 100. And yet the song, a pair-up with Jay Z, has been relegated to Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song, rather than Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year. Likewise, none of the visuals from the album are up for Best Music Video.

The jury’s still out on whether Beyonce will land an Album Of The Year nomination (again, that category will be announced later tonight on live television), but for now it will have to settle for its Urban Contemporary Album nod. Alas, the 2013 album people are still talking about the most in 2014 wasn’t even recognized in the extremely whitewashed area of Pop Vocal Album.

And then there’s the sticky matter of Iggy Azalea, 2014’s It Girl who did make the cut for Record Of The Year. She’s also up for Best Rap Album, and let’s not forget that another white rapper, Macklemore, dominated in the rap categories (Best Rap Album, Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song) last time around…which wouldn’t normally be a big deal, but, well, see all of the above.

Iggy is also up for Best New Artist, another category devoid of color, despite the fact that some rather exciting artists like Tinashe, FKA twigs and Nico & Vinz made splashy debuts in the past year.

Finally, let’s look at those Song and Record Of The Year nominees. We like Meghan Trainor. Hell, we premiered the video for “All About That Bass.” But Record Of The Year? Song Of The Year? No way. The same goes for “Shake It Off.” Sorry, Taylor Swift — it’s not your best effort, and certainly not Song- or Record Of The Year-worthy. On the other hand, where is “Drunk In Love” for Song Of The Year? Or “Happy”? Or “Am I Wrong”? Those were all big hits you couldn’t avoid no matter where you set foot in 2014, just like “Shake It Off” and “All About That Bass” and “Fancy.”

As for Album Of The Year, it’s interesting to remember that LPs by many great musicians like Whitney Houston, Natalie Cole, Quincy Jones and Lauryn Hill won in the 1990s, and yet in the past 10 years, only one album by a black artist received the award. What exactly is the mindset at NARAS these days? Because if you add all of this up, it becomes easy to jump to certain conclusions.

Bottom line: At the end of the day, is any of this really a big deal? No one is being physically harmed when Taylor and Iggy, rather than Beyonce or Tinashe, are nominated for a Grammy. We can all still go about our lives freely. But if anything, as mentioned above, it’s perhaps a splintered effect of a larger social issue.

The relevance of The Grammys is something that’s been questioned for a long time now, by music fans, TV viewers, journalists and artists themselves. Unfortunately, none of that is likely to change as long as the Academy continues to, shall we say, shake off the notion of diversity and nominate the same, safely-packaged acts year after year.

What are your own thoughts on this years Grammy nominations? Let us know below.