Biggest Controversies Plaguing Grammy Awards Over the Years

Over time, the reputation of the prestigious award ceremony has been tarnished by a number of scandals that sometimes arose with the rise of social awareness in this modern society.

AceShowbiz – First presented in 1959, the Grammys are the first and widely considered as the biggest of the major music awards held annually. For this reason, talented musicians from all over the world often set their eyes on the awards as their highest goal. From U2 and Quincy Jones to Beyonce Knowles and Billie Eilish, the gilded gramophone trophies have been awarded to artists for their accomplishments for the year.

That, however, doesn’t mean that the Grammys escape critical minds of industry experts and workers as well as music fans. Over time, the reputation of what is supposed to be a prestigious award ceremony has been tarnished by a number of scandals that sometimes arose with the rise of social awareness in this modern society.

While the Grammys still survive the tribulations and public’s persecutions to this day, ahead of the 63rd ceremony to be held on Sunday, March 14, let’s take a look at the biggest controversies that have been plaguing Grammy Awards over the years.

1. Commercialization of the Awards

Commercialization of the Awards

With her highly-popular new arrangement of Prince‘s song “Nothing Compares 2 U” and her critically-acclaimed album “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got”, Sinead O’Connor more than deserved the Grammy. However, after she received several nominations for the song as well as the album for the 1991 show, she wanted no part of it because she felt the Grammys promoted ” ‘false and destructive materialistic values’ of the music industry.”

As she described in a statement to the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, the Irish singer-songwriter said, “I believe that our purpose [as artists] is to inspire and, in some way, guide and heal the human race, of which we are all equal members. They acknowledge mostly the commercial side of art. They respect mostly material gain since that is the main reason for their existence. And they have created a great respect among artists for material gain–by honoring us and exalting us when we achieve it, ignoring, for the most part, those of us who have not.” Despite her refusal to attend the ceremony, O’Connor still won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance.

2. Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff’s Boycott

Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff's Boycott
WENN/Nicky Nelson/C.Smith

Sinead O’Connor set her name in history as the only artist who turned down the Grammy, but she’s certainly not the first who refused to attend the ceremony. Back in 1989, Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff boycotted the show despite being nominated for Best Rap Performance, a category that was newly added for that year’s ceremony, after learning that presentation of the award for the said category wouldn’t be televised.

“We don’t have the problem with the Grammy as an award or the Grammys as an institution, we just had a problem with the 1989 design of the awards show,” Smith told Entertainment Tonight. “We chose to boycott. We feel that it’s a slap in the face.” Jeff added, “They televised 16 categories and, from record sales, from the Billboard charts, from the overall public’s view, there’s no way you can tell me that out of 16 categories, that rap isn’t in the top 16.” Supporting the duo, Salt-N-Pepa, Russell Simmons and LL Cool J joined to boycott the show, with Salt-N-Pepa saying, “If they don’t want us, we don’t want them.”

3. The ‘Boys’ Club’ Nature of the Academy

The 'Boys' Club' Nature of the Academy

Women have fought for their equal rights to men since decades ago, but sexism is still found to this day in society and workplace, one of which was the Recording Academy, so former chief executive of the organization Deborah Dugan claimed. After being placed on administrative leave 10 days before the 2020 ceremony, she spoke against the academy, describing it as an “old boys’ club” where misogyny runs rampant.

She filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing the organization of unlawful gender discrimination and unequal pay among other claims. “I was so shocked when I got there of the level of sexism and corruption that I found at the Recording Academy,” she told NBC News in January 2020. “There’s a layer of corruption, self-dealing and sexism that must go.”

4. Racial Bias

Racial Bias

Any award show must have had its part in presenting controversial win and the Grammys are not innocent in this case. In 2015, the show shocked viewers by handing out Album of the Year to Beck instead of Beyonce and later in 2017, the “Formation” singer suffered another loss in the category to Adele. But the biggest upset was perhaps when Kendrick Lamar lost to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis for the Best Rap Album in 2013. While Macklemore admitted that Lamar “got robbed” and the latter accepted the loss with a big heart, saying that “not everyone gets that shot,” many attributed such controversial wins to racial bias.

Analyzing this issue, Anne Powers of NPR accused the 2017 Grammys of systematic racism because Chance the Rapper and Beyonce were the only black artists who won televised awards. Tyler, the Creator raised the issue again after picking up the Best Rap Album trophy for “IGOR” in 2019. “It sucks that whenever we – and I mean guys that look like me – do anything that’s genre-bending or that’s anything they always put it in a rap or urban category,” he spoke frankly backstage when asked about the voting process for the awards. “I don’t like that ‘urban’ word – it’s just a politically correct way to say the n-word to me.”

5. Rape Cover-Up Claims

Rape Cover-Up Claims

When Deborah Dugan filed a complaint against the Academy, she also accused the organization of sexual harassment and covering up rape allegations against her predecessor Neil Portnow. She additionally claimed she was sexually harassed by general counsel Joel Katz, a powerful lawyer in the music industry who served as the academy’s general counsel, during a one-on-one dinner at a Ritz Carlton hotel in the city of Laguna Niguel, which Katz later denied.

Dugan, who was the first female president of the organization, likened the Academy to people who defend disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein, who have been accused of sexual abuse by multiple women. This led to several artists supporting Dugan, with Taylor Swift canceling her supposed surprise performance at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards. Public Enemy‘s Chuck D also blasted the Academy, claiming that Dugan was punished for attempting to bring change to the organization.

6. Rigged Voting and Nominations

Rigged Voting and Nominations

The upcoming 63rd Annual Grammy Awards isn’t free of controversy either. As soon as the nominations were announced in November 2020, many spoke of their disappointment over the major snub of several artists whom they believed deserved the recognition. Not hiding his feeling, The Weeknd, who got zero nomination despite the success of his critically-acclaimed hit “Blinding Lights”, tweeted after the nominations announcement, “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans, and the industry transparency….”

Also upset at the Academy was Zayn Malik, who suggested that the awards were rigged. “My tweet was not personal or about eligibility but was about the need for inclusion and the lack of transparency of the nomination process and the space that creates and allows favoritism, racism and [networking] politics to influence the voting process,” he explained his displease. Drake and Halsey were among other artists who have also made similar complaints to the Academy.