Blame Neil Portnow. Or to use the words of a man sorely ignored by the Grammy organization in his initial heyday, “He not busy being born is busy dying.”
Clayton Christensen said you have to disrupt yourself. Or you end up being disrupted. And the disrupting enterprise that steals your business starts off as outside, and cheap, and then it gets better and more dominant over time, and then it takes over. Can you say hip-hop?
Drake isn’t pulling his nominations because of what was done yesterday, but what was done over the past two decades. While the Grammy organization remained a boys club, while it was all perks and insider dealing, the recording landscape changed dramatically. What was a release? What was an album? Genres were no longer clearly delineated. And while the oldsters were debating Napster and its descendants, the youngsters were giving away mixtapes, knowing that we live in an attention economy, and that’s the number one criterion, getting noticed, and as the years have passed this has become nearly impossible to do. To the point where not only are people unaware of the nominees in the big categories, they’re completely clueless as to the nominees and the winners in the other eighty odd categories. It’s an inside job, a circle jerk to reward believers. Drake doesn’t need a victory on his resumé, the saxophonist in a jazz combo does. But if we’re giving that guy an award, and it always seems to be a guy, how about the person who plays klezmer music, or the doo-wop group. According to the Grammy organization the world revolves around it, when quite the opposite is the case, and the Grammys are struggling to even be in orbit.
There should have been a revolution FIFTEEN YEARS AGO! The organization should have foreseen the future and gotten the hip-hop world involved. It’s not like they weren’t warned, Steve Stoute took out that full page newspaper ad and what did we hear from the Grammys? Crickets.
Awards have been devalued. Every millennial got one for participating in soccer and there are so many the audience has stopped paying attention, never mind caring. Hear any buzz about the American Music Awards that just happened? That used to be a big story, how they were whacked, now there’s not a peep, because nobody is interested in music awards.
For the brief era they mattered, basically the late eighties and nineties, there was a monoculture and the goal was to reach said monoculture. You were either inside or outside, now nobody is inside! You can be #1, like Drake himself, and still tens of millions of people have never heard your music. But in the old days, the goal of winning an award was the name recognition, the exposure and the SALES! There are no sales anymore, it’s all streams, and the Grammy bounce has evaporated. So the truth is, if you’re a superstar in the music world, you’re doing the Grammys a favor by appearing on their telecast, there’s no upside, only potential downside, you risk committing a faux pas.
In addition, in an era where institutions are challenged 24/7, Drake actually gains credibility for not participating. He’s not beholden to the man, he’s beholden to no one but himself! Isn’t that what a rock star is supposed to be?
And speaking of credibility, the Grammys have sacrificed almost all of theirs over the years, with the secret committees, the firing of Deborah Dugan and now the expansion of the big categories to ten nominees at the last minute, including biggies like Kanye and Swift. I don’t care what their motivation was, even if their intentions were pure, it looks like they did it so big stars would show up and add some razzle dazzle to a rinky-dink show.
The Grammys will die of their own accord. Because they’re funded by CBS and all awards shows are losing viewers. The Grammys could take the financial hit and embrace the internet, there would be a painful transition period, but the end result would be a vast improvement. Look at Adobe, which changed its business model from sale to subscription. For a short while revenue faded, and then it burgeoned! And the solution was better, because software is no longer a fixed item, it’s fluid, it’s updated on a regular basis and users want these updates.
The Grammys are like the Democrats. Yes, for decades the Republicans have been chipping away at abortion rights, even in plain sight. What did the Democrats do? Not a whole hell of a lot. And now it’s too late. Change happens very slowly and then all at once. If you want to win in the future you’ve got to start changing when it’s risky, endure the blowback to ultimately emerge victorious.
And it’s not like the Grammys have not been shown the way. The VMAs said it was about humor and moments. What did we get with the Grammys? Endless painful duets. MTV knew it was about a television show, not the awards themselves, no one can even remember who won in years past.
And eyeballs are everything. The Grammys should have made a deal with Netflix years ago. That’s right, live performances streamed on demand. No one watches in real time anymore, you’ve got to give people what they want, and exactly what they want, when they want it. Appointment television? Can you tell me one person who is excited about the Grammys other than the wankers involved?
And I want to stop hearing about the good the organization does, the explanation that Dugan moved too fast. Radical change is needed, and if it’s not executed, there’s no money, no future within which to do those good deeds.
Drake demonstrated his power today. He knows the score, and he laid it down. As he said:
“You already won if you have people singing your songs word for word, if they’re singing in your hometown. You’re already winning, you don’t need this right here.”
Truth resonates. And truth doesn’t come from network television…young ‘uns, rap fans, may not even have a cable subscription, and that’s fine with them.
Music is an outsiders game. It’s all about being an individual, following your muse, doing it your way, not being corralled by the suits. Meaning anybody involved in the Grammy organization is just the opposite, they want to be members of a group, they want to be involved, they want to compromise, all anathema to artists. So the concept is flawed, and now the internet has blown it all to hell and the Grammys have circled the wagons, put their hands over their ears as they keep telling us how pure their organization and its message is.
And Trump won the election and covid is no worse than a seasonal flu.
Gimme some truth. Isn’t that what John Lennon asked for?
Today Drake laid some truth on the Grammys, he’s already won.