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Monday, February 21, 2011

Former Record Exec Steve Stoute Trashes the Grammys in Full-Page NYT Ad -- And He's Got a Point

Posted By on Mon, Feb 21, 2011 at 1:21 PM

Gaga at the Grammys
  • Gaga at the Grammys

Steve Stoute, an industry executive famous in hip-hop circles for managing Nas and beefing with Diddy, isn't happy with the way the Grammys turned out last week. In fact, he's so mad that he took out a full page ad in the New York Times to air his grievances with the award show. And he's got a point.

In a lengthy diatribe, Stoute -- now an advertising and marketing guru -- takes the complaints many have had about the Grammys for years, and puts them front and center in one of the country's most visible publications. He claims the organization which puts on the show, the National Association of Recording Artists and Singers (NARAS), has lost touch with popular culture and is heading towards irrelevancy:

Where I think that the Grammys fail stems from two key sources: (1) over-zealousness to produce a popular show that is at odds with its own system of voting and (2) fundamental disrespect of cultural shifts as being viable and artistic.

  He also hints that hip-hop is disregarded by NARAS as an irrelevant genre:

Just so that I'm not showing partiality to hip-hop artists (although it would be an entirely different letter as to how hip-hop music has been totally diminished as an art form by this organization), how is it that Justin Bieber, an artist that defines what it means to be a modern artist, did not win Best New Artist?"

Stoute's argument splinters when he starts listing examples and attempts to equate record sales with artistic merit. He calls Eminem the "Bob Dylan of our time" (um -- no), claims Kanye's Graduation should have won Album of the Year in 2007 (that's a stretch), and points to his support of Justin Bieber as proof he's not irrecoverably biased toward hip-hop (despite the fact that many of Bieber's musical/visual/cultural signifiers are pulled from hip-hop and R&B).

But Stoute's basic points -- that the Grammys are often contradictory in their awards voting, and that they approach hip-hop with hostility -- aren't totally unfounded. The Album of the Year winners are generally Starbucks-friendly, and the only hip-hop group to win the award was The Roots (whom I love, but who are also the least threatening hip-hop act worthy of the award).

What the organizers of the Grammys need to do is decide whether they want to represent musical excellence or cultural relevance. Over the last couple of decades, the artists and albums receiving awards have been popular and relevant, but they hardly create interesting music (U2 after 1990, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Lady Antebellum). Or, they've been well-regarded in their respective genres, but only appeal to very distinct groups (Norah Jones, Natalie Cole, Herbie Hancock, Tony Bennett).

Occasionally, NARAS finds a happy middle between commercial and critical success, dishing out significant awards to worthy artists like Lauryn Hill, Amy Winehouse, and now, Arcade Fire. But most of the time they drop the ball. How is it that Radiohead (with a stable of great albums), and Kanye West (a man who pumps out great songs in his sleep), have yet to win the Album or Song of the Year awards?

Basically, the Grammys needs to realize they can't make everyone happy. Either support musical excellence, or just fully commit to echoing the sentiment of the masses. Because Stoute is right that the annual awards spectacle is awful right now.

[via Vulture]

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