Steve Stoute’s Open Letter To The Grammy’s Doesn’t Quite Get It Right

February 23, 2011  |  

I watched the Grammy’s for the first time in God-knows-how-long and once again, I was reminded of why I stopped watching in the first place.

The 53rd annual event that occurred last Sunday was not only the most watched Grammy’s in history, but it was also the most audacious display of wackness I’ve seen in a while. Sure, there were some notable moments like the Cee-Lo Green/Muppets/Gwyneth Paltrow performance, but everything else pretty much left me either confused or bored out of my mind—and slightly offended in some instances. Such as when a group called Lady Antebellum performed a tribute (which lasted about 30 seconds) to Teddy Pendergrass.  Surely, I wasn’t the only one who caught the irony of a group, who has a name honoring the pre-Civil War Confederate South, performing a tribute to a  dead black man?

For quite a while the Grammy’s have failed to represent the artistry and creativity of the music industry. But I’m not so sure if the Grammy’s or the music industry as a whole should be held responsible for not producing a quality product.

But Steve Stoute, a veteran music and advertising executive, is pissed at the Grammy’s for other reasons. Three days ago, he published a full-page $40,000 ad /open letter to the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) and its president, suggesting that the Grammy’s has “clearly lost touch with contemporary popular culture.”

In the open letter, Stoute blasted the Grammy’s voting process as being “opaque” for denying teeny-bopper sensation Justin Bieber, who he described as an artist that defines what it means to be a modern artist, the award for  Best New Artist and shortchanging Eminem on his 14 Grammy nods. Stoute also thinks that the production had a few too many fishy coincidences, including Arcade Fire, who performed “Month of May” right before winning the Album of the Year category.

In short, Stoute thinks the Grammy’s are a joke. Though he didn’t need to take out a $40,000 ad five days after the event to inform us of this, there is some kernel of truth to what he is saying.

The Grammy’s have always been known for their WTF awards moments, such as how Jay-Z has won 10 Grammy’s yet Nas, who is undoubtedly one of the most talented hip-hop artists ever, has never won a single award. There was also Diddy, though a stellar producer, who was able to pull an upset in the Best Rap Album of the Year over groups such as the Wu-Tang Clan. Even legendary artists such as Diana Ross, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and even The Grateful Dead have never taken home a Grammy award.

Unlike many award shows, the Grammy’s have always strayed in this grey area between the hamburger helper taste of casual pop-music and the finicky palette of the more highbrow, elitist music. But in actuality, it is up to the record companies and individual artist themselves to submit recordings to be nominated.This process was confirmed by Tim Silverman, executive with Tommy Boy Records, who said recently that while he understand Stoute’s frustration, The Grammy’s have never been about who is the most popular. Rather, the awards are a product of the voting system, based on judges within the industry, who are usually older and vote for what they can relate to.

The problem with Stoute’s analysis is that it completely disregards the notion that just because an artist is popular on the charts doesn’t mean that the artist puts out quality work. It just means that the chart-topping artist has better marketing.  In some cases, this may work for an artist during award season but in other instances, the Grammy’s do manage to get it right. Such as when Esperanza Spalding, a 26-year old jazz bassist, won Best New Artist, beating out heavyweights such as Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence & the Machine and Mumford & Sons. It’s easy to label her win a sham but when you factor in the sheer creativity and originality of her songs, along with her budding brilliance, it totally makes up for the dozens of other well-deserving artists like Ross, Marley and The Grateful Dead who have never won a Grammy.

Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.

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