Credit: Pa Media via BBC

The Weeknd, The Grammys, and award show corruption: Oh My!

By Thomas Harris

As a result of The Weeknd’s unfair Grammy snub, we take a look at the corrupt nature of the music award ceremony, from the Grammys, to the VMA’s, to the Brits; if they can’t fairly dish out awards … is there any point in award shows?

On 24 November, the much-anticipated Grammy nominees were announced. A lot of familiar faces made multiple, very much expected, appearances, such as Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Dua Lipa, with Beyonce leading the charge with nine separate nominations. However, with the nominees revealed, certain, undeniably, deserving artists appear to have been left out. The Grammys are commonly thought of as an event celebrating the greats of the current music scene, recognising the absolute pinnacle of musical achievement. So, would it be fair to assume someone with a song that spent a record 40 weeks in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Top 100 and who’s latest album debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard 200 (simultaneously breaking the record for the most global pre-adds in the history of Apple Music) would receive at least a couple of nominations, right? Abel Tesfaye, otherwise known as the Weeknd, proves otherwise. 

Tesfaye had a monumental, record-breaking 2020 with his 80s-charged track Blinding Lights and album After Hours, breaking multiple records in the music industry. He joins an exclusive club of talent, including the likes of Prince, whose When Doves Cry record was similarly snubbed by the music industry, failing to receive a deserved nomination in 1984. Tesfaye even received support from a musical icon, who certainly knows what they are talking about when it comes to music, in the form of Elton John who dubbed Blinding Lights, his personal “song of the year”. 

Tesfaye opted to hit back at the Grammys, stating in a Twitter post, which garnered over 1 million likes in its first 2 days: “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans, and the industry transparency.” Even without the bluntness of the Tweet, it’s easy to understand where The Weeknd is coming from with his accusations of the Grammys being “corrupt”. Recording Academy Chair Harvey Mason Jr. revealed that having initially been entered into the “Best Progressive R&B Album” nomination category in the preliminary voting stages, The Weeknd’s After Hours ended up being moved into the arguably more competitive “Best Vocal Pop Album”. While still more than deserving of a nomination in this category, this change could well have made the difference in Tesfaye failing to receive a nomination. In addition, various accusations have since emerged linking the Weeknd’s lack of a Grammy nomination to the ongoing discussion regarding his performing at the next Super Bowl Halftime Show instead of the Grammy Award Show itself. Despite being denied by Harvey Mason Jr., these accusations would certainly support the notion of corruption if proved to have an element of truth about them. After all, the nominations should be based on the contribution to their craft each musician has made, not what other large-scale events they may or may not be involved in. 

In an award show which sees the likes of perhaps lesser known artists such as Code Orange and Bonny Light Horseman earn themselves nominations, how can it be that the likes of Halsey, Selena Gomes, Kehlani, The Weeknd, and many more artists of similar stature find themselves completely missing out? The 2021 Grammys certainly do not seem to have properly acknowledged some of the leading figures in music and, upon closer inspection, the industry seems to have some form of pattern with this kind of puzzling behaviour. Examples such as Kanye West missing out on “Best New Artist” in 2005, Esperanza Spalding winning the same award 6 years later, over the likes of Drake and Justin Bieber, and even Michael Jackson’s Thriller not winning “Music Video of the Year” at the 1984 VMAs prove that this is not the first time that music award shows have produced controversial choices in who gets each award. 

On top of a track record of unexpected exclusions, the industry also seems to have a historic lack of equal representation. Consider for instance, the 2016 Brit Awards which saw not a single nomination for a Black artist among any category. Or this year’s Brit Awards, in which only one woman was nominated out of 25 mixed-gender category spaces. The music industry is clearly struggling to provide fair, all-inclusive representations of each year in musical terms. 

The case of The Weeknd’s exclusion from the Grammys is just one example that suggests corruption and a lack of transparency within music industry award shows. The fact is though, that this is not the first time a deserving artist has been overlooked and each year of award shows brings with it some degree of controversy. If these award shows are unjustly failing to celebrate certain artists’ incredible achievements and baring a distinct lack of equal representation across all groups, then the question arises – Is it really worth continuing with them? Shows like the VMAs, the Billboard Music Awards and the Grammys have failed throughout their history in properly achieving their purpose – to celebrate the year’s greatest musical achievements. Failing to achieve this objective brings about the suggestion of whether or not musical award shows should still have a place in the industry today.


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