I started my blog in 2007 with the motto “Wear What You Want” and, accordingly, I’ve avoided naming “worst-dressed” people. I’ve decided to draw the line on someone’s look just a few times, and this is one of those moments: My worst-dressed at the 2022 Grammy Awards is the Recording Academy itself, which covered itself in SHAME when it handed the award for best comedy album to Louis C.K.
The comedy award wasn’t televised and Louis C.K. didn’t attend the ceremony, so I wasn’t aware of this when I wrote my “Best Dressed” post. Even so, I had the nagging feeling I was missing something. The Grammys usually flaunts its sexism, as well as the white supremacy I addressed in yesterday’s post. Could there be a Grammys without rampant support for the patriarchy? The answer is no. Nick Romano explained it for Entertainment Weekly:
Need proof that “cancel culture” isn’t real? See Louis C.K., a man who went back on the stand-up comedy circuit less than a year after admitting in 2017 to pulling out his penis and masturbating in front of female comics. And last night, less than five years after those stories came to light, the Recording Academy awarded Louis C.K. a Grammy.
While a lot of people can agree, generally, on what’s decent art and what’s terrible art, Album of the Year winner Jon Batiste hit on something important in his acceptance speech:
“I believe this to my core, there is no best musician, best artist, best dancer, best actor. The creative arts are subjective and they reach people at a point in their lives when they need it most. It’s like a song or an album is made and it’s almost like it has a radar to find the person when they need it the most.”
Let’s assume that everyone who is nominated for a Grammy, in any category, has displayed some level of ability, if not excellence, in their work that year. As Batiste pointed out, there’s no scientific formula to determine who is the “best” among those talented people. Was there a laughs-per-minute calculation to determine that Louis C.K. was superior to Lavell Crawford, Chelsea Handler, Lewis Black, Nate Bargatze, and Kevin Hart? No. And even if there was, laughter is subjective too. This feels like the members of the Academy just wanted to flaunt their biases and preference for the white, male status quo that I wrote about in 2018.
The Grammys’ pattern of favoring men — especially white men, and especially the blandest white men — is nothing new: See Christopher Cross winning over Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, and Pink Floyd in 1981. Women aren’t the only people missing from the Grammys; black people are too. As I mentioned last year, through 2017, just 10 black artists had won album of the year 12 times since the category was introduced in 1959. (Stevie Wonder won three times.) When black artists do win, we get Lionel Richie’s 1985 win for Can’t Slow Down, which beat out Prince’s edgier, sexier Purple Rain.
I’d actually had a tiny bit of hope for the Academy in 2019, when it declines to renew the contract of Neil Portnow, its former president, after a former employee accused him of using money intended for the Grammys’ charity, MusiCares, to cover a financial shortfall from the awards. Portnow, by the way, was the executive who shunned Janet Jackson while welcoming Justin Timberlake at the Grammys after the 2004 Superbowl performance during which Timberlake bared Jackson’s breast. Years later, he hadn’t learned anything. As I wrote in 2018:
With complaints about gender bias circulating while the 2018 Grammys show was still on the air, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said immediately after that women need to “step up” if they want to win. (He apologized four days later.) This is the same Neil Portnow, who, in response to complaints about the white-skewing 2017 show, said, “No, I don’t think there’s a race problem at all.”
Still, it took allegations of financial shenanigans to ease Portnow out and name Deborah Dugan as its first female president. Dugan promised transparency and “a major restructuring” that would confront not only gender bias in the industry, but underrepresentation in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability as well. But she only lasted five months before she was shoved out in an extremely public and vitriolic way — the polar opposite of Portnow’s civilized “contract’s up” departure — just 10 days before the 2020 Grammys. The Academy accusing her of bullying, misconduct, and unspecified “deficiencies and failures.” In response, Dugan filed a legal complaint that accused the Academy of corruption in the nominating process — the kind of corruption that would explain years of unlikely nominees and winners. (In 2021, Dugan and the Academy reached a settlement, the terms of which were kept private, of course.)
Harvey Mason Jr. is now the first Black president of the Academy, but based on the 2022 Grammys, he’s having as much of a positive impact as Dugan had. I recently saved this artwork by Stephanie McMillan that addresses the futility of trying to change systems from the inside.
The only thing that’s going to change the Recording Academy is, apparently, a wide boycott of “music’s biggest night.” Major Black artists including Drake, the Weeknd, and Frank Ocean have already stopped participating in the Grammys. It’s time for other artists to follow suit. Big winners like Billie Eilish and Lady Gaga could get the ball rolling. If the Golden Globes can be brought down for lack of diversity and transparency, so can the Grammys.