Cultural Relevance And The Boycott Of Mainstream Awards
By Naomi Charles and Danielle Kwateng-Clark
"Neil please reach out as soon as possible so we can make the Grammys culturally relevant again," Kanye West tweeted last February.
It was the Chicago-bred rapper's public attempt to reach out to Neil Portnow, the current president of the National Academy of Recording Arts. The year prior (2015) Kanye jumped on stage to attest that Beyoncé should have won best album of the year over Beck. Although his move was distasteful, it was justifiable after the multi-talented singer dropped a secret visual album composed of 17 videos.
But Kanye's sentiment has been felt by so many, for so long. For decades the music award show that heavily awards white talent, has been criticized for their oversight. Shoot... the same can be said for the Oscars, Golden Globes, SAG Awards and countless others.
These institutions of recognition have no issue with inclusion— plenty of black artists have performed for ratings— but translated into acknowledgement? That's a no-go.
Before the Grammy's new category of best rap performance was awarded in 1989 to Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff, they and other black artists were boycotting because it wouldn't be televised. The most popular genre of music at the time was brushed aside like an afterthought.
And almost 30 years later Beyoncé gave a moving and powerful performance while pregnant with twins. She was surrounded by dozens of black women as they gave tribute to Oshun, a major figure in African Diaspora spirituality. She was glowing and looked absolutely amazing. Many of us was sure that this would be her year after releasing the prolific visual album, Lemonade. She would finally be properly honored for her work with the album of the year, after losing time and time again.
But the Grammy’s thought differently and awarded Adele best album, song and record of the year. In the week since, there's been plenty of rhetoric about the who fiasco.
Black artists like Queen Bey herself are asked to perform at the Grammy’s every year because they know it will bring in views. They know that’s what people want to see. They know that it will be a quality performance. Still, white artists get awarded. It’s a classic example of black people putting in work and white people getting awarded for it instead.
People lash out at Beyoncé all the time for the fact that she doesn’t perform at award ceremonies unless she gets awarded, but with what’s happening, I don’t blame her.
The new conversation is this: Are these awards culturally relevant? And if not, should we as black people divest by not giving them ratings and regarding them with prestige?
If this year's Grammy Awards taught us anything, it is that change needs to happen and it needs to happen soon. And until the Grammys —and these other award shows—properly recognize black artists who make the music and film industry what it is today, we'll be tuning out.