Grammys 2022: The artists who don’t show up may say more about the show than those who do

OPINION: With big stars like Drake withdrawing nominations and the Weeknd boycotting because of how Black artists are treated—never mind Kanye getting banned from performing for his recent antics—can music's biggest night deliver a show that's compelling and more fair?

Various Grammy Awards are displayed at the Grammy Museum Experience at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. in October 2017. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

The Grammys will finally take place on Sunday—the show was pushed back from January because of COVID—but the loudest voices in the room may be some people who aren’t there. 

Drake withdrew his nominations, and the Weeknd announced last year that he would never again submit music to be considered by the Grammys. These are powerful moves of defiance from two elite artists who are protesting the rules that govern the Grammys and the way that the awards are decided, which, to them, rewards Black artists far too infrequently. 

“I think we should stop allowing ourselves to be shocked every year by the disconnect between impactful music and these awards and just accept that what once was the highest form of recognition may no longer matter to the artists that exist now,” Drake said in an Instagram post.

The Weeknd told Variety in May 2021, “I remain uninterested in being a part of the Grammys, especially with their own admission of corruption for all these decades.” 

Part of what they’re talking about is a system that’s imminently riggable—big labels control who wins by having their employees vote. Companies hand out cards telling people who to vote for. The Grammys have tried to make changes, eliminating secretive committees and raising the number of nominees, but this is a facelift after a heart blockage. None of the reforms have addressed the real vulnerabilities in the voting system. 

Drake and the Weeknd are extremely successful, but they’re right about the Grammys’ problems and fully within their right to demand better. The music industry’s central awards show deserves to be conducted with more fairness, and they’re big enough to make a stand to demand it.

That said, there’s a broad array of great Black artists who’ve been recognized in the nominations. Jon Batiste, the soul and bluesman from New Orleans, is up for Album of the Year. There’s also Doja Cat, who suddenly retired a week ago and seems to be sticking by that decision. There’s also Lil Nas X, the rap provocateur who’s a marketing genius. There’s H.E.R., the secretive R&B singer. And there’s someone named Kanye—hope I’m spelling that right—who once supported Donald Trump. He’s in the midst of a divorce, and after all he’s already said about his ex-wife and her new boyfriend, the Grammys felt it was too dangerous to give him a platform, so he was banned from performing this year. 

But the widespread expectation is that the Album of the Year trophy will belong to Olivia Rodrigo, and it will be her night. Last summer, she became a massive sensation when she released the gorgeous, haunting, emotional power ballad “Driver’s License,” which became the biggest selling single of the year. She’s everything the Grammys love to support—both brand new and hyper-popular, heralding the arrival of a superstar who can help keep the industry going for years to come. Is she a new Taylor Swift? Perhaps. Is she deserving? Absolutely. She’s a great singer. She’s also part of a major label, Interscope, thus proving the point of the refuseniks Drake and the Weeknd. Rodrigo’s victories would give both sides a chance to say they’re right.

I’ll also be curious to see what happens in the Best Rap Album category, a battle between modern heavyweights J. Cole; Tyler, the Creator; and the legend Nas. Kanye is nominated, but I suspect he’s turned off Grammy voters too much to have a chance. Drake was nominated in this category—this is one of the nominations he turned down. Given the size of his presence in modern music, Drake’s absence from music’s biggest night will be unmistakable. We deserve better from the Grammys, and hopefully, Drake and other artists will help push them to be the best they can be.

Touré is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books.

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