Review: With internal corruption and favoritism, why watch the Grammys?

Even though a major artist made history, why should we care about a ceremony riddled with problematic and debased practices?

The 62nd annual Grammy Awards aired live on CBS on Jan. 26, and the show was met with a mix of excitement, congratulations, disappointment and frustration. 

Singer Alicia Keys hosted the event, and she began the show with a tribute to Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash along with eight others earlier the same morning.

Other tributes were given to Prince, who died nearly four years ago, and the late Nipsey Hussle.

Performers at the event included FKA Twigs, Usher, DJ Khaled, Kirk Franklin, John Legend, Lizzo, Tyler, the Creator, Boyz II Men, Lil Nas X, Billy Ray Cyrus, BTS, Diplo, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, Rosalía, and many more.

But amid the hectic happenings of Grammy season, an internal conflict was brewing that would eventually come to light right before music's biggest and most star-studded night. 

Former Recording Academy CEO, Deborah Dugan, filed a lengthy complaint through Wigdor LLP on Jan. 21 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging rampant sexism, sexual assault, racism, voter corruption and mismanagement of funds. 

Dugan was placed on administrative leave on Jan. 16, just 10 days before the ceremony. 

She claimed that 12,000 Grammy voters make preliminary decisions, upon which secret "nomination review committees" make definite decisions on nominees. The complaint also says that these voting members are "overwhelmingly White and male" and the committees have "historically not been comprised of diverse members."

This varies gravely from what I expected the voting process to be: an undefined body of voters handpicking nominees from an array of submissions. 

Dugan wrote that these committees consistently gave nominations to artists with whom they have positive and lucrative relationships with and that they have executive power to nominate artists who did not specifically qualify for an award. 

Thus, it would serve in the Academy's best interest to nominate extremely popular artists that they know will attend the Grammys in an effort to garner higher ratings for the ceremony. 

A suspicious instance of this is Ariana Grande, who in 2019 refused to attend the Grammys after a snub and an attempt at controlling her performance, but then performed this year when she was nominated in a major category.

Dugan alleged that former Board Chair Joel Katz, who currently works for the organization as a private attorney, had inappropriately courted and sexually harassed her during a private dinner. Dugan also revealed in her complaint that disgraced former Academy CEO Neil Portnow, who stepped down in 2018 after stating that female musicians need to "step up" if they want accolades and recognition, was actually fired over a rape accusation.

These allegations of misconduct against the Recording Academy throw the legitimacy of both the organization and the ceremony into limbo. For years, fans of artists who were "snubbed" have questioned the dynamic and overall process of the award show, but not until Dugan's dismissal has there been concrete allegations of multiple kinds of misconduct from an insider. 

An award intended to measure musical achievement should be taken with a grain of salt if Dugan's allegations, particularly those regarding artists being involved in the voting process for the awards, are anywhere near factual. 

If they are, that means viewers are watching a ceremony that is shrouded in mystery and unknowingness, which seems accurate considering the music industry itself is brimming with shady characters, contracts and business dealings.

Despite the chaos that ensued the week prior to the 62nd annual Grammy Awards, the big name of the night was 18-year-old singer-songwriter Billie Eilish. Finding a sweet spot in the modern music industry and leading a pack of adoring teenage fans, Eilish shot to stardom after the release of "Ocean Eyes" in 2016, closely followed by the release of her debut extended play "dont smile at me" in 2017. 

On Sunday, Eilish won the awards for all four major categories, becoming only the second — and youngest — person to do so. Eilish won Album of the Year, Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album. 

Though Eilish is talented and extremely popular, it seems oddly irreverent that an artist who just began submitting work to the Academy should have had as big of a night as she did, especially given that so many other talented artists were also nominated. 

This makes it even more plausible that the Recording Academy and the Grammys are essentially a marketability contest that, according to Dugan, is filled to the brim with sexual misconduct and other internal corruption. The subsequent sweep of the major categories by Billie Eilish suggests that the Academy wants to build their relationship with the 18-year-old, who is without a doubt one of the biggest artists in the world at the moment. 

This year's ceremony was also the lowest viewed ceremony in 12 years

It is highly unfortunate that an award show intended to honor and award merit in music is overshadowed by its problematic actions and reputation, which leads to great artists being snubbed for their work. 

A major snub this year left fans in a state of confusion; Lana Del Rey's nominations for the song and album "Norman F***ing Rockwell!," which were Del Rey's first major nominations, both lost to Eilish. 

Eilish, who said in a Los Angeles Times interview that she does not want to be compared to Del Rey because of her prowess as an artist, oddly said during her acceptance speech that Ariana Grande deserved the Album of the Year award over herself. 

Although the overarching outcome of the 62nd annual award ceremony was, in my opinion, a letdown, Tyler, the Creator won his second nomination for Best Rap Album. "Igor," an album with an adhering character of Tyler's design, was a commercial success, debuting at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart.

Despite the win, Tyler himself made a splash online when he criticized the Grammy nomination process, saying that he felt his genre-bending album was only placed into the rap category because of his race.

Racism has always been a major problem within the Recording Academy and the Grammys. Since its inception in 1957, only 10 black artists have won the Album of the Year award. 

Racism is so prevalent within the Grammys that it even has its own Wikipedia page. This is just another example of flawed practices by the Recording Academy, and one that reflects poorly on the ceremony overall. 

The music industry is chock-full of talent, and more artists are adding their catalogs to the mix on a daily basis. A major award show, the only one that truly caters to music, should be reflective of the artistry within the community that the Grammys and the Recording Academy represent. 

Instead, the ceremony has stuck to rewarding high-selling artists who forego talent and creative expression for notoriety and wealth. In layman terms, we call this "selling out." 

The Grammys need a major readjustment to their voting process, as well as an internal investigation into sexual assault and racial bias within the Recording Academy. 

If the organization does not fix its dated and mainstream image soon, it will fall into irrelevance as more individuals recognize the ceremony for what it truly is: a popularity contest.


Reach the reporter at stellefs@asu.edu and follow @samtellefson on Twitter. 

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