The 58th Annual Grammy Awards will be held at the Staples Center on Monday, February 15, but if you’re anything like us, you won’t be watching. Although the Grammy’s are perhaps the preeminent award in American music and recording arts, throughout their six decades of existence, they have made unquestionably the consistently worst decisions of any major award show. From their very inception, the Grammys felt dated and out of touch, giving awards to Frank Sinatra in favor of the Beatles, who weren’t even recognized as Best “New” Artists until the year they released their sixth album.
Not every Grammy decision has been terrible. Artists still desperately strive for validation within the industry, and millions will watch the ceremony with wishful eyes, hoping the best for their favorite artists. We wouldn’t hold out breath, though, considering the past atrocious decisions made by the Grammys. Regardless of category, genre or era, the Grammys always managed to get obvious musical genius wrong, rewarding complacency over creativity with great consistency. If a young artist out there wins a Grammy on Monday and it just makes all their dreams come true, then we say, “Congrats, Taylor.” But to prevent any artist from having their dream shattered when they lose, check out these examples that prove just how clueless the Grammys have always been.
10. The First Rapper To Win A Grammy Was Will Smith
No one hates on Big Willie Style, but it seems downright inappropriate the first rapper to win a Grammy was The Fresh Prince. It’s not surprising it took the Grammys a few years to recognize rap, first doing so in 1989 with the award for Best Rap Performance. Celebrating a year that featured landmark hip-hop releases by artists such as N.W.A, Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J and KRS-One, of the bunch, only future Grammy host LL was even nominated. Unfortunately for Cool James, not even the fire of “Goin’ Back to Cali” could win the Grammys over, as they were distracted listening to the Fresh Prince rap about how “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”
No disrespect to the Prince or his DJ Jazzy Jeff. The song itself is lightweight fun, but to call it the best the rap world had to offer was an insult. When the Grammys would finally add an award for the Best Rap Album of the Year, they would show similar lack of insight into the hip-hop community, awarding Naughty By Nature in favor of 2pac. Frankly, though, not even that is bad as what happened to Best Rap Performance in 1990: “Bust A Move” won, defeating “Fight the Power.”
9. Celine Dion Keeps Falling Into Grammys
Celine Dion sucks and Titanic was a shitty movie. Fine, we get it, the movie was extremely successful, so it won a bunch of Academy Awards. But did it have to ruin the Grammys, too? Riding the waves of the terrible song from the boring movie, “My Heart Will Go On” swept the 1999 Grammys, winning the awards for Record and Song of the Year. Frankly, all of the competition sucked, too, so the Grammys just failed all around that year.
A few years earlier in 1996, Celine released another awful album called Falling Into You. The album was also extremely successful, so we understand why the Grammys had to nominate it, even for Best Album of the Year. However, this album came out the same year as Odelay and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, two crossover alt-rock hits by young artists bursting at the seams with creativity. Celine, on the other hand, was calling herself the greatest singer in the world while turning insincerity into a performance of its own. Why the Grammys would repeatedly reward that is inexplicable to this day.
8. Michael Jackson Loses, But Don’t Worry, Be Happy
The Grammys made an incredible number of horrific choices throughout the 1980s, and they opted to cap off their decade of bad decisions by awarding one of the most annoying songs of all time. Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was undoubtedly successful, becoming the first a cappella song to reach number one on the Billboard charts, but most listeners would still call it a saccharine denial of reality during the drugged out, politically tumultuous 1980s.
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” won both Song and Record of the Year in 1989, with at least two songs clearly more deserving facing off against it: “Fast Car” and “Man in the Mirror.” Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” was a landmark single for black female singer-songwriters, proving black women were just as adept at folk music as the white men who dominated the genre for decades. “Man on the Mirror” was everything “Don’t Worry” wasn’t, managing a political message acknowledging there were problems in the world in dire need of being fixed, a message presented through an outright gospel explosion by the most famous musician of all time.
That the Grammys would ignore even Michael Jackson, one album removed from rewarding him more than any other performer in history, proves they are downright afraid to reward any musician whose art portrays courage.
7. Elvis Costello Loses to Disco
The award for Best New Artist can often be tricky, especially in retrospect. It’s easy to overlook the first album of someone who turns into a megastar and kick yourselves afterwards, just as it’s easy to think an artist could be on the verge of making it huge, only for them to quickly fade away. However, some things are eminently clear, such as the fact disco was already dying in 1979, and a brash young man with the courage to steal the name Elvis used it to once again to revolutionize music.
For some reason, though, the Grammys instead chose to award Best New Artist to A Taste of Honey, whose only real hit was the disco single “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” which was extremely successful, if rapidly going out of style. The Cars were also nominated for the award, and though they wouldn’t become as important to musical history as Elvis Costello, their synth pop at least used the soul of disco to take pop into a new, wavy direction, while A Taste of Honey were both regressive and boring at the same time.
6. Eric Clapton Out Rocks Nirvana By Unplugging the Guitar
Sometimes you have to sit back and just wonder if the Grammys even know what the word “Rock” means in the context of music. Sure, the majority of the winners of Best Rock Song played guitars, but the first few weren’t even plugged in! The inaugural winner was Sting in 1992, and in 1993, Eric Clapton’s acoustic rendition of “Layla” was named the most rocking track of the year. Sting beat out Jane’s Addiction, Queensrÿche and Metallica, while Clapton was picked over Nirvana. Clapton’s Unplugged was also awarded Album of the Year.
It’s hard to knock Eric Clapton, who is truly a rock legend, but that isn’t the point. Clapton’s stripped down acoustic renditions of blues classics was nice, while Nirvana were redefining popular music as it was known at the time. They rocked out all the way to the top of the pop charts, proving hard alternative rock could be successful in the mainstream. Pearl Jam were also nominated for “Jeremy,” which would have been an equally solid choice over “Layla.”
5. Sinatra’s Oldest Hits Beat The Beatles’ Newest Ones
In 1965, Frank Sinatra turned 50, and chose to celebrate by re-recording a double album’s worth of hits, released as A Man and His Music. A television special honoring his birth aired on NBC with the same title. The album was released the next year, and the Grammy Awards decided to reward Sinatra’s retrospective by calling it the Album of the Year in 1967.
We have nothing against Old Blue Eyes—he won the year previous for September of My Years, and we’re not complaining, since that was at least an original album, and a pretty good one, too. However, especially given the competition, it makes no sense for the Grammys to go with a retrospective instead of one of the mind-blowingly creative records that were released that year. Also nominated was the Beatles landmark Revolver, and though it wasn’t on the ballot, Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde was technically in contention that year. With two legendary acts redefining the future music, it’s baffling the Grammys would actively choose to reward those looking towards the past.
4. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Wins Every Award Except the Big One
Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was ranked number 1 on virtually every critic’s list of the greatest albums of 2010, and yet when it finally became eligible for the 54tt Grammy Award in 2012, it wasn’t even nominated for Best Album. Billboard, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Spin and even Time magazine all placed the album on the top of their lists, but the Grammys felt the album should be relegated only to their rap categories. Though it did win the Best Rap Album award, many critics felt this was an obvious snub, another in a long line of examples of how out of touch the Grammys have always been.
That year, the Album of the Year award went to Adele, whose powerful performance of “Rolling in the Deep” earlier in the ceremony proved she deserved it. However, by completely leaving Kanye out of the nominations when the rest of the musical world was in unanimous agreement he made a near perfect album shows intentional ignorance. Some felt Kanye was snubbed due to his past outbursts at award shows, while others point out the unfair snubbing is what causes those outbursts in the first place.
3. P.D.Q. Bach Is Only Funny To The Grammys
Maybe we just don’t get the joke. Four years in a row, the Grammys awarded Best Comedy Album to P.D.Q. Bach, a parody of classical music created by Peter Schickele. P.D.Q. had been around since the 1960s performing his offbeat classical numbers, and for some reason the Grammys choose to repeatedly award him 30 years into his career. Comedy is subjective, but we’re hard pressed to find people outside of the Grammy committee who find this shtick funny, especially over the span of four albums.
The Grammys have a long history of rewarding bad comedy, having awarded two comedy albums Best Album of the Year. We have nothing against the first winner, Bob Newhart, but the second winner, Vaughn Meader, remains the most dated choice in Grammy history. Though Meader’s parody of the Kennedy’s, The First Family, was funny at the time, like with P.D.Q. Bach, you needed to be in a certain mindset to understand the joke, and the world was forever torn away from that mindset after JFK’s assassination.
2. Jethro Tull: More Metal Than Metallica
The first Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance was awarded in 1989 to Jethro Tull. Competing for the award against Tull were acts including Metallica, Iggy Pop and AC/DC—you know, actual metal musicians. We have nothing against Jethro Tull, but co-presenter Lita Ford started laughing when Alice Cooper announced them as the winners, and that’s an understandable reaction. Metallica had just rocked the stage off, and Jethro Tull have a lead flautist.
The crowd actually booed when Tull were named the winners, leading to the Grammys separating Hard Rock and Metal in the coming years. They would award Metallica Best Metal Performance for “One” in 1990, attempting to make up for this faux pas, but it would take a few years before they worked out the kinks with the Rock awards.
1. Purple Rain Loses
1984 is one of the greatest years in music for a multitude of reasons, but if we had to sum it up in three words, we’d say Purple f-n Rain. The soundtrack album to the film of the same name was an extreme success for Prince & The Revolution, nominated for several Grammys, but only managing to win the awards for Best Rock Performance and Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture. The album remains one of the highest selling of all time, and although singles like “When Doves Cry” were amongst the most successful of the 80’s, no songs by Prince & The Revolution were even nominated (Prince did win an award for writing “I Feel For You” performed by Chaka Khan).
Purple Rain at least was nominated for Best Album of the Year, along with Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper and Tina Turner. We might not complain too much if the Boss won, but the fact all four lost to Lionel Richie and his poor Motown pastiche retread Can’t Slow Down once again proved the Grammys have always been lost when it comes to recognizing great music.