Written By: Benedict Keng (22-U3), Brandon Ng (22-E4), Darius Chen (22-E4), Ignatius Lee (22-O5)
Design By: Eris Kek (22-I6)
The Grammy Awards are no stranger to controversy. “Music’s Biggest Night” has been giving out awards since 1959, but people are starting to question if the Recording Academy and its voting members (who decide the nominees and winners), are out of touch with current listeners or simply choose to award huge artists in order to boost the viewership of the ceremony, as recent award ceremonies have culminated in several snubs, where artists and their works have either not been awarded or not been nominated at all. Here are some of (what we think are) the Grammys’ Biggest Snubs:
1. The Weeknd, After Hours (63rd Annual Grammy Awards)
Abel Tesafye, better known as The Weeknd, was shut out of the 63rd Grammy Awards in 2021 after his fourth studio album, After Hours, failed to garner any nominations. After Hours is a R&B themed record that includes synthpop and electropop influences. Lyrically, After Hours explores themes of heartbreak, escapism, loneliness, promiscuity, overindulgence, self-loathing and regret. When asked about the reason behind the album’s title, The Weeknd explained to Variety: “The main reason is these are all emotions and thoughts and feelings that I had late at night, and I’m going through all the emotions, after the club, after the fight and after a long day, it’s like these are my thoughts from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m.”
After Hours was a huge success, with the album spawning three singles that topped the Billboard Hot 100, with the album itself debuting atop the Billboard 200, and staying there for four consecutive weeks. The album also had the biggest first week sales of any album in 2020 at that point in time, representing a huge commercial success. Critically, the album received a Metacritic score of 80, based on 20 reviews from different publications, indicating “generally favourable reviews”, with the album ranking near the top on major publications’ year-end album ranking lists. As such, one can argue that The Weeknd had owned 2020, yet, After Hours failed to garner a single nomination at the Grammy Awards, making for a huge disappointment for both The Weeknd, his fans and the music industry, especially since critics, rightfully so, had expected the artist to sweep major categories in the Grammy Awards. It is therefore questionable that 2020’s biggest album was not nominated at all, representing one of the Grammys’ biggest snubs and putting the Grammy’s nominating criteria in the spotlight.
2. Beyoncé, Lemonade-AOTY (59th Annual Grammy Awards)
Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, also known as Beyoncé, was denied of Album of The Year in the 59th Annual Grammy Awards, losing out to Adele’s 25 which came as a shock to the many millions of “Beys” (nickname for Beyoncé’s fanbase) and to the music world as well. Lemonade is predominantly an R&B album, whilst encompassing a myriad of genres like reggae, blues, rock, hip hop, soul, funk, Americana, country, gospel, electronic, and trap. Straying away from themes of empowering ladies, single or taken, Lemonade delves into newfangled motifs such as black feminism and infidelity, notably her relationship with Jay-Z which remains equivocal in the album. Through tapping into these atypical topics, listeners correlate with Beyoncé on deeper levels.
Many have argued that Beyoncé’s Lemonade should have won the prestigious AOTY award, mainly because of its cultural significance, as well as it being unparalleled in its impact. Beyoncé’s’ ‘Lemonade’ also provides a different angle that we can take when approaching and delving deeper into the impacts of slavery. The main focus of ‘Lemonade’ is infidelity, which is seen by researcher Alma Carten, as the outcome of this internalised, unresolved anger and conflict between men and women that has manifested its way into black culture today. The way that Beyoncé explores the nature of relationships in general and America’s unresolved issues of racism and police brutality, not only educates but also empowers, making ‘Lemonade’ an album that goes down in history as one of the greatest moments in musical history. Lemonade both explored the struggles of being a wife and/or mother, and while Adele’s album was just as swooping and cinematic as her fans hoped, it didn’t take the same risks with genre, or attempt an evocative narrative arc, like Lemonade did. Add on the fiery political edits of Formation, and the album’s accompanying short film, and you get a work that’s so much more substantial. Even Adele, the winner of that year’s AOTY, acknowledged the chatter and said later on of Beyoncé that: “I thought it was her year. What does she have to do to win Album Of The Year?”
3. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly – AOTY (58th Annual Grammy Awards)
Firstly, the actual winner of AOTY went to Taylor Swift’s album 1989. 1989 saw Taylor venturing further from her country roots and into pop stardom. The album was heavily inspired by 80s synth pop and was essentially a modern reinterpretation of that sound. The album was well received by critics and general audiences alike with 1989 becoming the first platinum album in 2014 (platinum albums are albums that have sold more than 1 million copies), despite being released in October, the later half of the year. With 1.287 million copies sold in its first week, as well as spawning five or more US top-10 singles in the 2010s decade, the album was a massive hit. In terms of artistic progression, Taylor’s following albums Reputation (2017) and Lover (2019) would see her venturing further into electronic pop production with 1989 serving as the building block for her artistic growth. Personally, I think 1989 is a great album, most of the singles are great, enjoyable pop pieces with songs like ‘Blank Space’, ‘Style’ and ‘Wildest Dreams’ retaining that classic Taylor Swift magic. The deep cuts are great too, with the closer ‘Clean’ being a great palette cleanser that offers a great thematic resolution to the topics explored in the album.
Frankly, if it was any other year, I would have been fine with 1989 winning AOTY. Unfortunately it was competing for the award in the same year as To Pimp A Butterfly (TPAB), Kendrick Lamar’s magnum opus. TPAB is an immersive, conceptual masterpiece that serves as a significant milestone in musical history. It is heralded by many as one of the best albums of the 2010s and to me, definitely deserved AOTY.
TPAB, released in 2015, is one of the most culturally important albums in the last decade, a peerless expression of the trials and tribulations of the modern black experience. TPAB is an intense amalgamation of funk, jazz, and poetry; a concept album whose concept was tied around black excellence, culture, success and more. TPAB also proved to be a massive hit with critics and general audiences alike, with first-week sales reaching 324,000 copies. The album was also streamed 9.6 million times on its first day on Spotify, setting the service’s global first-day streaming record. Though not having quite as many initial and final sales as 1989, by March 2016, it would sell 850,000 copies in the US also becoming a certified platinum album.
Conceptually, TPAB dwarfs 1989 both in scale and messaging. 1989 seems to dabble with themes omnipresent in Taylor’s albums with ballads about love, heartbreak and more. Of course, this is a generalisation but the concepts Taylor Swift tackled at least up till this point would be a rehash of the same old ideas. To be fair, one of the strong points of Taylor Swift is her rather unique songwriting style that keeps tracks interesting even when they dip into familiar territory, however, this point seems rather insignificant when compared to TPAB. TPAB is an album unlike anything Kendrick had ever put out before. Overall, TPAB is structured with each song acting as its own unique vignette on certain black struggles with all the songs coming together to form a cohesive message about the black experience. The narrative of TPAB sees Kendrick reciting a poem at the end of almost every track. Starting the poem at the end of track 3 ‘King Kunta’, Kendrick gets a little further into the poem at the end or beginning of subsequent tracks, each time adding a few stanzas while repeating the bits of the poem he has already mentioned in previous tracks. Amazingly, whatever words he ends the poem off on would go on to dictate the theme of the song that would be about to play such as the misuse of influence on ‘These Walls’ or going back to one’s roots on ‘Momma’. At the end of the final track ‘Mortal Man’, the poem is recited in full by Kendrick to shockingly enough- legendary, deceased rapper Tupac. Kendrick would proceed to make use of excerpts from a previous Tupac interview to create a “mock conversation” with him about the state of Black people in America. Even the album name TPAB was originally meant to be called ‘to pimp a caterpillar’ which cleverly spells out “To p.a.c (tupac)”.
Musically, I would also argue that TPAB is a much more bold, adventurous album than 1989 with TPAB taking sonic risks and deviating far from anything playing at the time. With 1989, though its synth pop sound may be fresh and new in Taylor’s catalogue, when compared to the rest of the music landscape, it is hardly anything unique. There were plenty of Taylor’s pop contemporaries attempting this sound, in fact Beauty Behind The Madness by The Weeknd (also up for AOTY that year) was also a fantastic 80s synth pop inspired album. By contrast, TPAB was heavily inspired by the sound of old school hip hop. It encompasses jazz, funk and neo soul inspired sounds in its production, a far cry from the radio friendly ‘Trap beats’ dominating the radio at the time. TPAB also has a greater degree of experimentation even incorporating elements of spoken word such as in the interlude “For free” which is essentially a poem recited quickly over the backdrop of a jazz cacophony.
In terms of its impact as a whole, TPAB also takes the cake. Songs like ‘Alright’ became adopted as one of the mantras in the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest while TPAB would also go on to be studied in schools. Famously, the album was analysed in High Tech High School in North Bergen, N.J., where teacher Brian Mooney used TPAB to draw correlations to Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye, a novel about a young African-American girl growing up post the Great Depression. With the aid of TPAB, Mooney asked his students to “reflect on the dichotomy of black culture in America — the celebration of itself and its struggle with historic oppression”. Lamar himself was “intrigued that somebody other than [himself] can articulate and break down the concepts of To Pimp a Butterfly almost better than [he] can”.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate once again that I think 1989 is a fantastic album, unfortunately TPAB is an album that outclasses it in many aspects and is a much more deserving candidate for AOTY. As RnB legend Frank Ocean himself would say in a personal Tumblr post following the 58th Grammys: “1989 getting album of the year over To Pimp A Butterfly. Hands down one of the most ‘faulty’ TV moments I’ve seen. ”