Who Cares About the Grammys?


On Sunday, Steve Stoute, adman and hip hop Illuminati member, bought a full page in the NY Times to publish an open letter to the folks behind the Grammys that’s basic gist is, basically: You are out of touch. He listed a number of examples, in hip hop and not, though mostly to the larger point of music—specifically what charts commonly refer to as “pop” (short for popular) has evolved. And instead of evolving with it, the Academy has actively revolted against it. He points to Esperanza Spalding and Herbie Hancock winning awards over Kanye West or Justin Bieber (and Drake) to illustrate their dragging their feet into musical modernity. Never had a jazz artist won the Best Album prize before Hancock did. Steely Dan beat Eminem. The list of potential eye-rolling grievances is limitless if you care to dig, that much is indisputable. But why bother? Clearly the Grammys have an important legacy, but there’s no need for that to continue. Maybe they’ll always exist—and, yes, will always have to be the official recording industry prize—but maybe it’s time for a some group or someone (perhaps Stoute, who clearly has money to spend. How much is a full page Sunday Times ad?) to start the Golden Globes to the Grammys Oscars. Prizes are exciting, much because they are an inexact science. Rallying against the Grammys being outdated is like telling a Catholic school it’s behind times to continue ignoring evolution. There are other schools. And if there aren’t, go found one. You can read Stoute’s ad’s full text after the jump.

An Open Letter to Neil Portnow, NARAS and the Grammy Awards

In this Sunday’s New York Times, I have purchased a full-page ad as an open letter to Neil Portnow, NARAS and the Grammy Awards. Here’s why.

Over the course of my 20-year history as an executive in the music business and as the owner of a firm that specializes in in-culture advertising, I have come to the conclusion that the Grammy Awards have clearly lost touch with contemporary popular culture. My being a music fan has left me with an even greater and deeper sense of dismay — so much so that I feel compelled to write this letter. Where I think that the Grammys fail stems from two key sources: (1) over-zealousness to produce a popular show that is at odds with its own system of voting and (2) fundamental disrespect of cultural shifts as being viable and artistic.

As an institution that celebrates artistic works of musicians, singers, songwriters, producers and technical specialists, we have come to expect that the Grammys upholds all of the values that reflect the very best in music that is born from our culture. Unfortunately, the awards show has become a series of hypocrisies and contradictions, leaving me to question why any contemporary popular artist would even participate. How is it possible that in 2001 The Marshall Mathers LP — an album by Eminem that ushered in the Bob Dylan of our time — was beaten out by Steely Dan (no disrespect) for Album Of The Year? While we cannot solely utilize album sales as the barometer, this was certainly not the case. Not only is Eminem the best-selling artist of the last decade, but The Marshall Mathers LP was a critical and commercial success that sold over 10 million albums in the United States (19 million worldwide), while Steely Dan sold less than 10% of that amount and came and went as quietly as a church mouse. Or consider even that in 2008 at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards, after going into the night as the most-nominated artist, Kanye West’s Graduation was beaten out for Album Of The Year by Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters. (This was the first time in 43 years that a jazz album won this category.) While there is no doubt in my mind of the artistic talents of Steely Dan or Herbie Hancock, we must acknowledge the massive cultural impact of Eminem and Kanye West and how their music is shaping, influencing and defining the voice of a generation. It is this same cultural impact that acknowledged the commercial and critical success of Michael Jackson’s Thriller in 1984.

Just so that I’m not showing partiality to hip-hop artists (although it would be an entirely different letter as to how hip-hop music has been totally diminished as an art form by this organization), how is it that Justin Bieber, an artist that defines what it means to be a modern artist, did not win Best New Artist? Again, his cultural impact and success are even more quantifiable if you factor in his YouTube and Vevo viewership — the fact that he was a talent born entirely of the digital age whose story was crafted in the most humble method of being “discovered” purely for his singing ability (and it should be noted that Justin Bieber plays piano and guitar, as evidenced on his early viral videos).

So while these very artists that the public acknowledges as being worthy of their money and fandom are snubbed year after year at the Grammys, the awards show has absolutely no qualms in inviting these same artists to perform. At first I thought that you were not paying attention to the fact that the mental complexion of the world is becoming tanned, that multiculturalism and poly-ethnicity are driving new meaning as to what is culturally relevant. Interesting that the Grammys understands cultural relevance when it comes to using Eminem’s, Kanye West’s or Justin Bieber’s name in the billing to ensure viewership and to deliver the all-too-important ratings for its advertisers.

What truly inspired the writing of this letter was that this most recent show fed my suspicions. As the show was coming to a close and just prior to presenting the award for Album Of The Year, the band Arcade Fire performed “Month of May” — only to… surprise… win the category and, in a moment of sheer coincidence, happened to be prepared to perform “Ready to Start.”

Does the Grammys intentionally use artists for their celebrity, popularity and cultural appeal when they already know the winners and then program a show against this expectation? Meanwhile the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences hides behind the “peer” voting system to escape culpability for not even rethinking its approach.

And I imagine that next year there will be another televised super-close-up of an astonished front-runner as they come to the realization before a national audience… that he or she was used.

You are being called to task at this very moment, NARAS.

And to all of the artists that attend the Grammys: Stop accepting the invitation to be the upset of the year and demand that this body upholds its mission for advocacy and support of artistry as culture evolves.

Demand that they change this system and truly reflect and truly acknowledge your art.

Steve Stoute

POSTED February 21, 2011 4:30PM IN MUSIC NEWS Comments (5) TAGS: , ,




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  2. Prizehog says:

    Eminem is NOT this generation’s BOB DYLAN, and Justin Bieber is just another “David after the dentist” digital age sensation, only to be plowed over soon by another over-produced teen next year who doesn’t even write their own generic songs. Just check out this years Best new artist’s musical accomplishments. She isn’t what I would choose to listen to either, but I wholeheartedly think that she deserved an award over another teen bopping sensation BECAUSE of her actual personal accomplishments in music, art, and culture. don’t worry, Steve Stoute. there will be a new Justin Bieber next year, younger and even more produced for you to get hearts and dollar signs in your eyes about. Eminem is also obviously an idiot. I don’t think he has ever proven to have anything valid to say. The only way I have seen him “change our culture” is to make it okay to be openly homophobic, to grab your balls, and to hold no accountability for the negative aspects of his music making differences in culture today. Record sales prove a very small bit in the sense of musical accomplishment. I am glad that most viewers expected this to be true, when proven wrong by actual musical talent and accomplishment overthrowing this farce age of glossy ‘pop’ music. THRILLER was ground breaking MUSICALLY for its time, not just in record sales. Your voting ideas, Steve Stoute, seem to make sense only in a world of voting on yearly magazine covers, how much money managers like you can make off rehashed pop songs, or how many people can be told to listen to an artist without thinking twice about what they really are as an “artist”. Steve Stoute, your “art” is money, and your ideas will only bring popular culture to a gross and substance-free future.

  3. silas aka simon says:

    people who write there own songs and play instruments won. Fuck stout and his ideas that pre packaged shit should win. Hes the one thats out of touch you can spend five minutes online and get so many artist that are progressive and talented and this fuck boy wants bieber to win something ? then go to the mtv awards. The majors business model of have 1 or 2 artists make up a story about them sign a 360 deal and promote them until they infiltrate every orifice of modern culture will die. You knwo why ? no one buys albums because the shit they promote isnt worth buying. If they got the machine behind talent they would make millions down the road in royalties but nobody will listen to bieber in 2 years. But as long as the only thing that gets played on a radio is controlled by majors this dinosaur of a system will continue but def jam and other labels buys their own releases LMAO. Im not even going to start on the trend of artist to get signed and then act like there independent aka drake, wiz, mac miller. But you have to be an idiot to sign a major deal anyway. Bandcamp etc will take over sooner then later. Full disclosure the grammy is bullshit anyway.

  4. bg1 says:

    I thought it was hilarious that people flipped out over Esperanza Spaulding winning best new artist. If the awards brings attention to acts that deserve attention, then it has achieved it’s purpose. It is not the Grammy voters fault that people have their head stuck up their own ass.

  5. geoff says:

    Not exactly the response I expected from Fader.

    Stoute is in touch with a very narrow (albeit major) party of music today, and it sounds like Fader is endorsing his position, essentially the “Rolling Stone view.”