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Why the Grammys can’t win over the Internet

The Grammys have a long tradition of being trashed on.


Chris Osterndorf

Internet Culture

By all accounts, the Grammys got it right this year for the first time in a long time. Both critical darlings and populist favorites were nominated in equal measure. So why is the Internet still so upset?

The Grammys have a long tradition of being trashed on. Probably more than any other award show, the event is famous for receiving all manner of hate. And yet when nominations came out on Monday, the general consensus from music writers seemed to be that they actually made sense, and were perhaps even somewhat forward thinking.

“The closest thing to a serious snub is probably the exclusion of D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, the most acclaimed album of last year, which wasn’t eligible until this one,” wrote Slate’s Forrest Wickman. However, if you go on social media, you’re still likely to see as much frustration over artists who didn’t get nominated (or who did) as ever.

This is because the Grammys don’t understand the way the Internet consumes music. Which means that even when they do get it right, they’re not going to please everyone.

The Grammys don’t understand the way the Internet consumes music.  

Perhaps the biggest upset this year was that Carly Rae Jepsen’s well-received E-MO-TION was completely shut out from every category. Music journalists everywhere were surprised that the Canadian pop star didn’t receive any love from the academy at all. But that was hardly the only thing the Internet took issue with. As Pitchfork’s Katherine St. Asaph pointed out, “At the moment you read this, a million Directioners are furiously Tweeting vitriol about Justin Bieber’s moment as tween of the hour.”

Other persistent questions included, “Where is Adele?”, “Where is ‘Hotline Bling?’”, and “Why the heck wasn’t Fetty Wap nominated for Best New Artist?” While the latter query remains impossible to answer with any certainty, there are at least explanations for the former two. Adele’s 25 simply missed the cutoff for nominations this year, and “Hotline Bling” was not submitted thanks to a clerical error on the part of Drake’s label.

Nevertheless, it does feel strange that the two songs the Internet was probably most obsessed with in 2015 will not be part of the ceremony. “What do the Grammys have against you, the good people of the internet?”, asks NME’s Jordan Bassett. “The stuff that got us meme-ing, reblogging and hearting is ignored, cast aside into the online abyss, to the second page of Google, to the YouTube comments section.”

More specifically, Bassett notes that:  

“A record-breaking stream-athon, the Kanye West, Rihanna and Paul McCartney collaboration ‘FourFiveSeconds’ was reportedly the fastest-ever song to reach 100m Spotify streams (in 53 days) but do the Grammys have love for the folky pop song? Apparently not… ‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars… broke a billion YouTube views this year… but that means nothing to the suits at the Grammys… Justin Bieber’s… ‘What Do You Mean?’, is nowhere to be seen. It broke Spotify’s record for most-streams in a week, after it was streamed 21 million times in just five days.”

Unfortunately, these metrics still mean fairly little to most Grammy voters, who care more about reviews, radio play, and album sales than they do about streaming. This in turn automatically puts the consumer at odds with the nominating process, since streaming is how most people consume music these days.

There’s also a difference between the way the Internet perceives musicians, and the way the Grammys do. “In Internet Land, Carly Rae Jepsen is pop’s gurgling, blushing heart. In Grammy Land, Carly Rae Jepsen released “Call Me Maybe” and a succession of singles that floundered at radio,” posits St. Asaph.

Consider other artists who got snubbed this year, like Halsey, Sleater-Kinney, Future, and Lana Del Rey. In certain pockets of online culture, these artists are huge. But to the public at large, none of them are necessarily household names. Halsey may be a regular on BuzzFeed, but you’ve probably never heard her on the radio. Sleater-Kinney are gods among indie rock fans, but the general public is more familiar with guitarist Carrie Brownstein’s work on Portlandia (and in Old Navy ads!) at this point. You can’t read a hip-hop blog without hearing about Future these days, but he has yet to achieve the same inquiry as a Drake or a Kendrick Lamar. And as many devoted fans as Lana Del Rey has, she’s still the weirdo who bombed on SNL.

Is there any way to fix these perceptions? To broaden the Grammys’ horizon? Vulture’s Lauretta Charlton believes that part of the answer lies in more artists registering to become part of the Recording Academy. “In order for the process to work, music folks need to stop complaining, step up, and participate,” she writes.

But among the Internet generation, some believe it’s time to leave the Grammys behind entirely. Bustle’s Alexis Rhiannon suggests that for social media users, the VMAs have now become the music awards show of note, as the unpredictability of the ceremony makes it an event worth watching live (and the Internet tends to have a lot of feelings about VMA nominations too.)

In the end, the Grammys can’t please everyone because no awards show can. Even when they get it almost all right, they’re still going to be a little bit wrong. And that should be expected. It certainly is at the Oscars and the Emmys. The difference is, music is such a personal experience for everyone, it’s hard not to make your opinion heard. Every year, plenty of films get nominated for Oscars which no one but the utmost movie nerds have seen. It’s almost just as fun to watch the show for the fashion. And based on this year’s ratings, it’s debatable whether anyone cares to watch the Emmys at all anymore. But when the Grammys disappoint year after year, it becomes easy to take it personally.

Which is why this year, the Internet should try to be happy that the Grammys did better than usual. Sure, there were plenty of snubs, but it’s not like Adele won’t be nominated next year, making everything temporarily right with the world. 

Chris Osterndorf is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared on Mic, Salon, xoJane, the Week, and more. When he’s not writing, he enjoys making movies with friends. He lives in Los Angeles.

Image via Ted Jenson / Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

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