The Grammys Will Always Let You Down If You Let Them

Getty Image

Grammy nominations won’t be announced until Friday, but I already know what’s going to happen.

In the Album of the Year category, there will be several nominees nobody cares about, and two albums that suck up all of the attention. One of them is an Album That Should Win, as determined by the people in your Twitter feed who loudly care about such things. (For the sake of argument, let’s say it’s Ariana Grande’s Sweetener.) And the other is an Album That Probably Will Win. (Again, a semi-educated guess: The Greatest Showman soundtrack.)

For the next few months, there will be thinkpieces about what it will be mean for The Culture if the Album That Should Win actually manages to snake a Grammy, as well as the dire consequences (widespread stasis, backward ignorance, dogs and cats living together) if the Album That Probably Will Win gets that inevitable Grammy.

And then, at the award show, when the Album That Probably Will Win actually does win, there will be an instant and overwhelming backlash so powerful that the award recipients will feel compelled to apologize from the stage for this gross injustice. But that won’t be as bad as the following Monday, the post-Grammy Monday, the single worst day on the annual social media calendar, when the apocalyptic recaps, postmortems, and grand summations sternly recount for us What It All Means.

You don’t have to be some visionary sage to predict this. All you need is a casual knowledge of recent Grammy history. The narratives that have come to define the music-industry top award show in the 2010s always boil down to the Album That Should Win vs. the Album That Probably Will Win. Remember Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange vs. Mumford & Sons’ Babel? Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly vs. Taylor Swift’s 1989? Beyoncé’s Beyoncé vs. Beck’s Morning Phase? Beyoncé’s Lemonade vs. Adele’s 25? Kendrick’s DAMN. vs. Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic? (The Grammys clearly have even less competitive parity than the NBA.)

This pattern repeats itself with numbing regularity every year now — the names (slightly) change, but the core argument over what the Grammys should be and what they actually are stays the same. There are people who insist that the Grammys ought to both reflect the current state of pop music and act as a progressive force affirming the rise of exciting, diverse voices driving out the conservative old guard. And then there’s reality. Cold, hard, lame reality. The reality of an award show that since 1959 has always served to forward the extremely basic tastes of corporate insiders and their corny-ass ideas about “quality.”

It’s like a live-action version of Wile E. Coyote vs. the Road Runner. You would think Wile E. would learn his lesson by now. But here we are again, standing under an anvil while the Road Runner speeds off into the distance.

Never forget: The Grammys will always let you down if you let them.

Here’s a parable: A person walks into a darkened room. She reaches out to the nearest switch, expecting to turn on the light. Instead, she turns on the garbage disposal. She flips the switch off, and then turns it back on, hoping that this time it will turn on the light. But, again, it turns on the garbage disposal. She flips the switch again, hoping that after the third time, the light will come on. But flipping that switch always turns on that gross, grating, metallic sound.