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It's The Tone Deaf Grammys — Again

Will music’s biggest night ever hit the right note when it comes to diversity?

13/02/2017 13:34 SAST | Updated 13/02/2017 15:45 SAST
Norsk Telegrambyra AS / Reuters

Adele was right.

Frank Ocean was right.

Kanye West was right.

And even Justin Bieber was right.

The Grammys is supposed to be music's biggest night. It's a cultural touch stone, a marker of the pop culture year that was and a night that solidifies artistic expression into the halls of music history.

This year, the top nominated artists were: Beyoncé (nine nominations), West, Rihanna and Drake (with eight each). It was finally going to be the year that the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences kept in step with artists who have moved pop culture forward and dominated think pieces, streaming services and playlists.

That is, until it wasn't. Beyoncé and Drake walked away with two gongs each, while West and Rihanna were both shut out.

How did this happen?

The Grammys were supposed to play out very differently. Beyoncé was supposed to sweep the board for her album "Lemonade", a cultural Tour de Force. Rihanna took the longest break from music to create an album, "ANTi", that many agree was her best yet. Who would've predicted that the Grammys would be so tone deaf? Well, everyone. And especially Ocean.

Last year, Ocean made it known that he would not submit his critically acclaimed album "Blonde" for Grammy consideration, telling the New York Times at the time that the Grammys might hold "nostalgic importance", but that "it just doesn't seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down".

Following this, the Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich and writer David Wild claimed Ocean wouldn't submit or perform at the show because he was unhappy with his performance at the awards show in 2013. This weekend, Ocean took to his Tumblr and responded that if his decision was guided by a poor performance, he'd regard it as an incentive to return to the stage to redeem himself. "If you're up for a discussion about the cultural bias and general nerve damage the show you produce suffers from, then I'm all for it." Ocean pointed to Taylor Swift's "1989" beating Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp A Butterfly" for Album of the Year last year as an example of this tone deafness. The 29-year-old called it "hands down one of the most 'faulty' TV moments I've seen".

Ocean wasn't the only artist to boycott the awards. Both West and Bieber sat out the awards show. Sources reportedly said Bieber felt that he "just doesn't think the Grammys are relevant or representative, especially when it comes to young singers".

These artists aren't wrong. To date, a hip-hop song has never won Record of the Year or Song of the Year. Beyoncé has never won Album of the Year, while Swift and Adele hold two wins each. And the only pure hip-hop album to win Album of the Year was Outkast's "Speakerboxx/The Love Below" in 2003.

Interviewed backstage after her Album of the Year win, Adele reportedly said of Beyoncé: "I thought it was her year. What the f**k does she have to do to win album of the year?"