As promised, here is my second Macklemore Grammy post of the day.
By now, everyone is familiar with the growing discontent (putting it mildly) over Macklemore & Ryan Lewis sweeping the 2014 Grammys and effectively shutting out fellow nominee Kendrick Lamar, who many felt recorded the superior album with good kid, m.A.A.d city. I also joined the choir of upset, especially upon hearing Kendrick lost all of the Rap categories prior to the ceremony. As you will see with the rest of this post, my opinions on the whole controversy have evolved.
Said controversy has gained so much traction that Macklemore felt the need to apologize to Kendrick Lamar via iMessage for “robbing” him of the awards.
And there, my lovely readers, is the problem.
I’ll keep this simple, because this post could easily ramble on about all of the agents, over and underlying, at work that made this situation happen. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis should not be blamed for their Grammys success. Frankly, the only thing they did “wrong” was submit their album for consideration. At the end of the day, it was the Grammy committee that decided they were deserving of nominations and subsequent wins. Hating Macklemore because the Grammys chose them as the best of the year is really petty.
The issue is that the Grammys has a very flawed nomination and voting process. Voters, even if they lack the knowledge of a particular genre, can cast a vote for however they choose. So, if I was a heavy metal producer, I could decide Katy Perry had the Best Pop Vocal Album, even if I had never heard of PRISM in my life (thankfully it didn’t turn out that way, but you get the point). In a perfect world, voters would have to demonstrate or apply for the ability to vote in a particular genre, but I doubt that’s ever going to happen. It’s a Grammy flaw we are stuck with.
Also, the Grammys is notorious for being primarily about the politics of the voting body and the critical and commercial performance of the work. By politics, I mean everything from the mood of the country to the artists themselves. Remember Steely Dan’s infamous 2000 Album of the Year upset over Eminem? Purely a political maneuver.
As for critical and commercial performance, say what you will about Macklemore and Ryan, but they had two of the year’s biggest hits, hands down, on Top 40 radio. Top 40 radio is the most visible of formats, much more so than urban, which was Kendrick’s domain. If the voters consider Macklemore & Ryan Lewis a rap act, and they are incredibly visible, is it really so beyond the realm of possibility that they would garner enough attention to land more than enough votes? If you are so terribly bothered by Macklemore’s Grammy success, you are partially to blame by bolstering his commercial success (this comment is directed more to Top 40 fans than hip-hop fans).
And let’s not discredit the talent, either. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis delivered a solid effort. While it can be fervently argued (and I will leave that debate to more qualified people) that the album wasn’t rap in the traditional sense, it wasn’t a terrible album to say the least. And as many of my friends have pointed out, Macklemore tackles a number of topics that are practically unheard of in mainstream rap, most notably LGBT rights. They are also an independent act, eschewing the label machine and self-releasing their music. This is where the more political aspects of the voting come into play. I’m merely speculating, but it probably looked “good” for the Grammys to honor an act so very progressive in their musical output.
It is really sad that Kendrick Lamar was snubbed, because I do believe he deserved recognition, but laying the blame at Macklemore’s feet is not right. At the end of the day, in its most simplistic terms (waving aside white privilege and cultural appropriation and all of the demons at work behind the scenes) it was the Grammys and the general public that failed Kendrick, not Macklemore. The Grammys are a fairly decent barometer of the past year in music, but it is nowhere near perfect, neither is the music taste of the general public (quick reminder that “Timber” by Pitbull was the first #1 hit of 2014).
It is quite touching (and a bit self-serving) that Macklemore felt the need to apologize for his Grammy triumph, but it was unnecessary and unfair to all of the good work they did.