One seemingly innocuous comment from Harry Styles during his Grammy Awards acceptance speech didn’t sit well with some people, who expressed their outrage on social media.
“This is really really kind … this doesn’t happen to people like me very often, and this is so nice, thank you very much,” Styles said after receiving his album of the year’s Grammy Award.
His acceptance speech was targeted on Twitter with a lot of backlash right after the Grammys in February.
But why? What is the problem with this apparently thankful and emotional speech?
It had a lot to do with diversity and inclusion.
What was the criticism about?
Although it was not clear what Styles meant by “people like me,” spectators pointed out that other nominees for the album of the year (AOTY) category were racialized artists such as Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Lizzo, and Bad Bunny.
Several pop culture sources, including Billboard and Pitchfork, had predicted that Beyoncé’s Renaissance would win the prize. The album ranked No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
Some of the backlash was also the result of the frustration of some of her fans.
How are Grammy winners chosen?
Dr. Catherine Moore, an adjunct professor in the University of Toronto’s faculty of music, said record labels — companies that make and distribute recordings of affiliated artists — submit recordings to the Recording Academy, the society that hosts the Grammys. The recordings are divided in categories by a screening committee, and then submitted to members of the academy for voting. The first vote decides the nominees, while a second vote, including only these nominees, decides the winner.
Recording Academy applicants go through a long process before being admitted as members and are required to have references and a background in the industry. Members are also only allowed to vote in a limited number of categories.
“It’s supposed to not ever be based on what sold the most, or what had the most radio plays, or what streamed the most … it’s supposed to be voted on by merit,” Moore said. “Of course all of that becomes very subjective.”
On the other hand, some claim that numbers and charts actually play a role in deciding the winner, and that artistic quality is not the only requirement.
The AOTY award’s history with racialized artists
In 65 years of Grammy Awards, only 11 Black artists have ever won the AOTY category. As of 2021, the Billboards’ chart included 38 per cent of Black artists, while only 26.7 per cent were nominated to the Grammys top categories.
Beyoncé herself has been nominated for this same category four times, with four different albums, and has never won. This year, she has broken the record of most awarded artist at the Grammy, but sources like Rolling Stone magazine still criticize the fact that these awards mainly include smaller categories of the Grammy, while the Academy fails to recognize her in the most important ones.
Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti was also nominated for the category after being on the top five world charts for months. It would have been the first Spanish-language album to win the category in Grammys history. The Academy also received criticism for not considering any of his songs for a different Grammy category.
Have the Grammy Awards tried to become more inclusive?
Yes. The Academy has announced changes over the past five years.
In 2021, it announced the “Grammy Awards Inclusion Rider,” an addition to the contract described as a “robust tool to ensure equity and inclusion at every level during a production.”
The tool included a requirement that at least one-third of its staff, including hosts, performers, and off-stage workers should be part of an underrepresented group, as well as including gender-neutral facilities at the event’s location.
Moore said changes also included adding and renaming categories to be more inclusive for racialized artists. “Best Urban Contemporary Album,” for example, became “Best Progressive R&B Album.” The change came to bring more inclusiveness considering that the previous name dated back to the 70s, when that was viewed as a “Black music” category.
The Academy has also created the Black Music Collective (BMC), which they said would “serve as a space for members to speak openly about new and emerging opportunities in Black music across all genres and identify ways to drive more representation.”