Why was Kanye's MBDTF snubbed at the Grammy Awards?
I don’t pretend to understand the Grammys. I have never been able to discern a consistent logic around who gets nominated or who gets statues. I comprehend the particular logic of the Oscars, but not the big awards for music. My normal state of confusion around what drives Grammy decisions was exponentialized this week when, to the shock of many, Kanye’s masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was not nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year. MBDTF was nominated for Rap Album of the Year and one of its singles, “All of the Lights,” was nominated for Song of the Year, but these are unwelcome booby prizes that remove the excuse many thought of first: that the album was forgotten by Grammy voters because it came out relatively long ago, by which I mean at the very beginning of the eligibility period. But if that were the case then where’s Kanye and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne, which came out a few months ago? So then why was MBDTF snubbed by Grammy?
MBDTF does nothing less than articulate a new sound. Sasha Frere Jones in the New Yorker referred to Kanye as occupying a genre all to himself which feels apropos because on the album he’s stretching beyond even the wide boundaries of hip hop by combining all sorts of sounds and samples and structures. And he’s excavating and exploring the depths of his soul where he’s still grieving the loss of his mother and angry at the world for its reaction to him following Taylor Swift-gate and hurt about being dissed by his live action video dancer girlfriend and struggling to figure out how to embrace being who he is as a massive icon, even if being himself means being an “a__hole.” MBDTF shows off an impressive sense of musicality and a towering sonic ambition. The album is not simply a display of personality as much of hip hop is but a true exploration of sound. These are not simply my personal kudos; MBDTF is by far the best reviewed album in many years: the critical community flipped out over it like nothing since Radiohead’s zenith. And it sold well, over 1.2 million so far. So what happened? How is it Grammy overlooked Kanye’s magnum opus and gave noms to four sonic widgets and Adele’s 21? The latter is an extraordinarily sensitive vision of classic American soul that has been a cure for heartbreak and romantic ennui as well as a sales monster. It is not nearly as complex as Kanye’s album but will surely win the Grammy — assuming logic prevails, which it so often does not.
Could it be that voters were split between MBDTF and Watch the Throne and thus neither got on the ballot? Possible but, I think, unlikely that neither could get enough votes. Could it be that Grammy dislikes Kanye’s occasional bratty and petulant public displays and wouldn’t risk having him lose to Adele and saying or doing something to tarnish the whole affair? That may be part of it; there may be a swath of voters who immensely dislike Kanye as a person and thus dismiss his music, but can that truly be the answer? I can’t help but notice the Album of the Year category this year is filled with people the music community would consider good citizens and all around likable people. But music has more than few tempestuous and irascible rapscallions who would also be penalized by their personality or lack thereof, so can this really be the main reason?
Kanye got seven nominations — more than anyone else — so clearly they’re not afraid to nominate him for the lesser awards including Song of the Year. (Strangely, Kanye’s seven nominations breaks down to three for MBDTF and four for Watch the Throne. His song “All of the Lights” is up for an award focused on vocal performance, rather than Record of the Year, an award for production achievement which seems a more fitting place for it.) Ultimately it’s inconceivable that Grammy thinks MBDTF is not one of the five best albums of the year when in actuality it’s one of the best albums of the past five years.
Think about it: How did you first hear Adele's “Rolling in the Deep”? Through a friend of a friend on Facebook? Through your favorite celebrity's Twitter account? During the season four finale of “Gossip Girl”? More than likely, it, or your new favorite song by Bon Iver, Usher or Skrillex, didn't come to you by way of an FM radio station or popular local DJ. Its arrival into your world seemed more organic. You discovered it.
And in many ways, this reality has rendered the notion of a shared conversation about music in America as obsolete as the compact disc, or, perhaps, the Grammy Awards.
The major nominations for the 54th annual awards clearly show that the recording academy has been working overtime to be all-inclusive, but more significantly, they also reveal a deep chasm between its goals and the listening habits of the general population.
It's hard not to wonder, especially after watching the less-than-spectacular Grammy nominations on Wednesday night, what is the point of these music awards? It's too cynical to imagine it's only to fill three hours of network television, prompting a quick rush to iTunes to download that one song by Mumford & Sons or Nicki Minaj.
Falling behind the times is nothing new for the Grammys, but once they've lost sight of the artistry that makes music soar, they'll not just be irrelevant, they'll be out of business.
Now that we've had some time to move away from the last Grammy Awards and detach ourselves from the in-the-moment feelings that came with the nominations/results, has your opinion on this decision changed? I'm more bothered than I was initially, not so much because I think Kanye was completely ignored or I'm just sick of Adele, but because this was truly a career-defining piece of work for Kanye.
The Grammy Awards are by no means a great representation of the general critical opinion, but when an artist is not only critically revered, but has done a lot for the Grammy Awards and the industry in general, they should take note. He's worked on some incredible material in the past and his musical palette has expanded so much since he came onto the radar that it seems such a shame to ignore what appears to be his magnum opus. The fact that this album, one of the most acclaimed in the history of popular music (however premature people may deem the acclaim to be in the future), is his first album to not be nominated for album of the year, most likely because of a mediocre sales colossus, offends me in a way.