In case you hadn’t heard (which, at this point, is nearly impossible) the 60th annual Grammy Awards took place on Sunday night at New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden. While the antiquated Recording Academy and their big night out would usually stop making headlines at this point the following week, they’ve caused so much outrage this year that we (and everyone else) can’t stop yapping on about the award show’s institutionalized injustices. From the blatant tokenization of minority artists, using them to further a superficially political agenda without legs to stand on, to getting viewers hyped on inclusive nominees and then actually awarding the same ol’ shit—we’re pissed!
One element that did not get its fair share of attention (and we’re all about righting wrongs here) is, well, the fact that the Grammys apparently do not care about Latinx people. “Despacito” was robbed, and it’s emblematic of a much larger problem.
On its official website, the Grammy Awards (and therefore the Recording Academy, which votes on those awards) view itself as “the premier outlet for honoring achievements in the recording arts and supporting the music community,” describing the annual event as “the only peer-presented award to honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales or chart position.” The latter clause, we can assume, is included so that the Academy can award whoever they please, and not the talent that is most popular or reflective of the music listening community at large.
That’s key—the mainstream music climate has begun to shift to reflect interests outside of the Grammy Awards, so the language of their mission protects them, though it raises the question: If the Grammys refuse to reflect what people love and appreciate, who are they for? Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s smash hit “Despacito” was performed completely in Spanish at this year’s award show—something that has never been done before—but it wasn’t awarded anything. The song was nominated for both Record and Song of the Year, as well as Best Pop Duo/Group Performance (which ended up going to Portugal. The Man for some goddamn reason). But “Despacito” lost in all three categories, despite its total, international ubiquity last year and how it became the most streamed song of all time—and the most watched YouTube video of all time. We should also mention, as Remezcla points out, the the song drove up U.S. tourism to Puerto Rico by 45%. Both performers are from the island and it’s also where the music video was shot. That’s the power of music. This song is incredible:
So why would the Grammys snub “Despacito”? You’d think it would be a good look, to celebrate one of the most popular songs of all time while potentially bringing attention to the Puerto Rico, which post-Hurricane Maria could really use some positivity.
It most likely boils down to the separation between the Latin Grammys and the Grammys proper—a division that extends to the music industry at large. It’s super fucked up and problematic and terrible—it’s the idea is that if “Despacito” wins big at the Latin Grammys (which it did, taking home four awards), then it can be ignored at the 60th annual Grammy Awards.
That is not to say the Latin Grammys should be eradicated and we should only have one huge show—there is space for all kinds of wondrous music on this planet. But the Latin awards shouldn’t be treated as part-of-but-less-than the Grammy Awards. “Despacito” is not a huge song made by Latinx artists. It’s just a huge song. Period. Not recognizing it for what it is sends the message to Latinx musicians and music fans everywhere to stay in your lane, the white people are talking now.
But hey, no one even watched the Grammys this year, so maybe there’s justice in that.