To be fair, the judges of pop culture awards have a pretty tough job. All forms of art and entertainment are incredibly subjective, and the plethora of genres and music styles makes choosing a fair winner for any type of award an impossible task. But this job is all the more difficult when it comes to music and the Grammys, as they have a seemingly endless pool to choose from. Each year, tens of thousands of prominent artists put out records and singles, and these judges have to whittle those choices down to a select few (or, rather, few dozen). Clearly, there will never be a choice in any category that will satisfy even a fraction of music aficionados.
But that said, the Grammys do have a history of royally screwing up on occasion. Whether it’s choosing an outdated dinosaur over a relevant newcomer, picking a crowd favorite over a timeless classic, or bestowing an award to a group that doesn’t even sing, there are plenty of moments that the Grammys epically failed when it came to selecting the best artist, album or song in any given year. Here are some of the worst Grammy snubs and screw-ups in modern history.
10 2015 Album of the Year
9 2014 Best Rap Awards
8 2015 Best Metal Performance
7 2011 Song of the Year/Record of the Year
6 1998 Best Rap Album
5 2001 Album of the Year
4 1991 Best Rap Performance Duo or Group
1992 appeared to be the year of the acclaimed rap group Public Enemy as far as the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group was concerned. The lauded hip-hop pioneers had been passed over the year earlier, getting nominated for their classic record “Fear of a Black Planet” in favor of the Quincy Jones single “Back on the Block” (does the name not ring a bell? Exactly.)
When 1992 came around, Public Enemy was the only group to be nominated for an entire album; the other performers were largely party-friendly singles - Naughty by Nature’s “O.P.P.,” Salt-N-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex” and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s “Summertime.”
3 1992 Best Rock Song
After seminal grunge band Nirvana stormed onto the rock scene in 1991, led by the iconic song “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” nothing in the rock world was quite the same. Within months, Nirvana and other grunge artists like Pearl Jam were selling albums by the truckload. Almost overnight they wiped out the glitzy, overly polished brand of pop-rock known as hair metal, while ushering in a wave of alt-rock bands that would change the music scene forever. But when the 1992 Grammys rolled around, judges decided to give the Best Rock Song award to Eric Clapton’s unplugged version of “Layla.”
2 1990 Best New Artist
1 1988 Best Metal Performance
The 1988 Grammy for Best Metal Performance seemed like a lock for Metallica. It was the first year that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences had recognized heavy metal, and the influential Bay Area thrashers had just released one of their finest records, 1988’s “…And Justice for All.” They had also led a new wave of speed-oriented metal called thrash metal. Instead the award went to the folky progressive rock group Jethro Tull, for their 1987 record Crest of a Knave. The choice baffled music critics, who argued that Tull did not qualify as heavy metal, and enraged Metallica fans. Among heavy metal aficionados, it’s still considered one of the worst snubs in Grammy history.
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