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There’s a reason Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, and Drake all bailed this year.
Despite seemingly never caring if the right nominees go home with trophies, the Grammys care deeply about winning their own race to the bottom of the awards show barrel. What started off as a promising week with the announcement that K-pop superstars BTS would present an award ended with Ariana Grande clapping back at Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich for “lying” about her reasons for not performing at Sunday’s show. Ehrlich alleged that Grande “felt it was too late for her to pull something together,” though Variety previously reported that producers wouldn’t let her perform her new single, “7 Rings”—despite it being the No. 1 song in the country for the past two weeks.
So now the biggest pop star in the world won’t be performing or attending Music’s Biggest Night, and if we are to believe Grande, the Grammys only have themselves to blame for her absence. The Grande spat followed a report from the New York Times that Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Childish Gambino all declined to perform at this year’s ceremony as well. All three rappers are nominated for several of the evening’s biggest awards, though it’s unclear whether they’ll even attend the show. Even Grammy darling Taylor Swift, whose Reputation is only nominated for best pop vocal album, likely will miss the ceremony because she’s in London filming Cats, the perfect icing on this big, dumb cake.
Drake, Lamar, and Gambino’s refusal to perform on Sunday is understandable given the Grammys’ historically tumultuous relationship with hip-hop. Lamar has been snubbed for album of the year in 2018, 2016, and 2014 by Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift, and Daft Punk, respectively (not to mention losing best rap album to Macklemore in 2014). Drake didn’t even submit 2017’s More Life for consideration. Last year, Jay-Z famously went 0-for-8, immortalizing his frustration in his and Beyoncé’s “Apeshit.” (“Tell the Grammys fuck that 0-for-8 shit/ Have you ever seen the crowd goin’ apeshit?”) Kanye West has won a staggering 21 Grammys, yet not a single one of them for album of the year.
Logic dictates that when you repeatedly shut out the most qualified artists in the biggest genre in the United States, eventually those artists will stop appearing on your show. Instead, Grammy viewers will be treated to a Post Malone/Red Hot Chili Peppers collaboration (during which Mountain Dew and Cheeto dust will ooze from your TV) and a Motown tribute from Jennifer Lopez, despite the fact that February is Black History Month, and despite the fact that genre pioneers Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and Smokey Robinson are still very much alive.
It’s dumbfounding decisions like these that delegitimize the Grammys’ apparent recent attempts at diversity. After last year’s testosterone-filled broadcast (and Recording Academy Chief Executive Niel Portnow’s asinine suggestion that women need to “step up” in order to win more awards), the Academy recruited 900 new voters, expanded its major categories from five nominees to eight, and created a task force to identify unconscious biases that may affect the Grammys’ voting process. That’s all wonderful. The problem is, the Grammys are still making bad decisions. It’s great that the Academy nominated Cardi B, Janelle Monáe, and Brandi Carlile—who is openly gay—for album of the year. But if Post Malone, a rap white guy who has publicly derided rap music as beneath him, wins the Grammys’ highest honor (and don’t think for a second that it’s not possible), then it’s all for nought.
Ironically, in their quest to preserve some fabled bastion of old, white credibility, the Grammys have alienated many of the artists who are redefining the future of popular music, critically and commercially. If the Grammys want to finally strike cultural relevance, they won’t do it just by forming committees and creating hashtags and occasionally hiring women of color to host the show. They’ll do it by critically examining their biases against hip-hop (and music not made by white men in general) and putting a stop to such willfully thoughtless programming as having Lopez represent the entire Motown genre. Until then, the Grammys will be stuck in a nasty feedback loop in which they snub the industry’s biggest artists, those artists then disavow the show, and all of Twitter sneers about how pitiful this show perennially is. Maybe Swift has the right idea; at this point, Cats seems more fun.
Bryan Rolli is a reporter who specializes in streaming entertainment. He writes about music and film for Forbes, Billboard, and the Austin American-Statesman. He met Flavor Flav in two separate Las Vegas bowling alleys and still can’t stop talking about it.