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Why The Weeknd is Boycotting the 2021 Grammys: Snub Controversy Explained
In 2020, The Weeknd‘s album After Hours became the first record since Drake’s Scorpion (2018) to spend four consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard 200. That was only the beginning. The album’s singles continued to dominate the charts, specifically “Blinding Lights,” which became a viral sensation.
After a year like that, The Weeknd seemed primed to be a top contender at this year’s Grammys, where, in the past, he’s been nominated 10 times but only taken home three trophies (none of the wins have been in major categories). This, by all known logic, should have been The Weeknd’s year at the Grammys.
But logic doesn’t exist when it comes to the Grammys, where winners are chosen by a shadowy process of industry insiders. As we’ve come to expect, the Recording Academy released a largely baffling, disappointing, and downright infuriating list of Grammy nominees in November. And, by all accounts, the biggest snub was that The Weeknd’s name didn’t appear on that list once.
Shortly after the nominations were announced late last year, The Weeknd tweeted, “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…”
Then, days before 2021 ceremony, The Weeknd told the New York Times in a statement that he would no longer be participating in the annual ceremony: “Because of the secret committees, I will no longer allow my label to submit my music to the Grammys,” he said.
It’s a powerful condemnation of an organization that is supposed to award music’s highest honors. The Weeknd’s statement echoes the same complaints that Jay-Z, Rihanna, Frank Ocean, Drake, and many others have made for decades.
And despite the long history of music’s biggest names talking shit about the archaic and out of touch Recording Academy, nothing ever changes. Historically, the Grammys have been slow to spot trends in music, have seemingly awarded popularity over quality, and are laughably out of touch with modern tastes.
By ignoring The Weeknd, The Grammys got everything hilariously wrong—shutting out an album that was at once critically acclaimed and commercially dominant. So what happened?
Following The Weeknd’s tweet in November, Variety reported on a strange conflict that was brewing behind the scenes:
In a related development, a source close to the situation tells Variety that the Grammys and The Weeknd’s team were at odds over him playing both the January 31 Grammy ceremony and the Super Bowl halftime show, which occurs a week later. While the negotiations grew prolonged and contentious, eventually it was agreed that he would play both events — only for the situation to become moot once the nominations were announced and he was shockingly shut out.
It’s a really bad look. But interim Recording Academy president/CEO Harvey Mason, jr. said in November that the clash over the performances had nothing to do with The Weeknd’s snub. In an interview with Variety last year, Mason Jr. responded to The Weeknd calling the Recording Academy corrupt:
“I don’t think [the Weeknd’s omission calls the nominations] process into question, honestly,” he said. “The process is there so we can continue to monitor excellence. I was in the ‘core room’ this year [which decides the main categories] and I observed, and the people in it are music professionals, at the top of their craft in songwriting and producing and there are a lot of artists. And they were critically listening to every song that came across their desks — or virtual desks — so I don’t think it shows a flaw in the process. It’s a long, arduous process and people take pride in it. The people in that room care: there are no agendas in there, there’s no ‘let’s snub this person’ or that person. It’s about, ‘Let’s try and find excellence.’”
It’s worth pointing out here that Mason is interim president/CEO following accusations made by ousted Recording Academy chief executive Deb Dugan last year. In a lengthy complaint she described the biased nomination processes where secret committees and board members “push forward artists with whom they have relationships.”
As I noted before, The Weeknd’s After Hours was the biggest album since Drake’s Scorpion. Well, Scorpion was nominated for a number of Grammys at the 2019 ceremony where it only took home one—the award for Best Rap Song. Drake said this during his speech:
“This is a business where sometimes it’s up to a bunch of people who might not understand what a mixed race kid from Canada has to say or a fly Spanish girl from New York or anybody else, or a brother from Houston right there, my brother Travis [Scott]. But my point is you’ve already won if you have people singing your songs word for word, if you’re a hero in your hometown. Look, if there’s people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending their hard earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don’t need this right here. I promise you, you already won.”
The broadcast cut to commercial before he finished speaking.
The Weeknd’s tweet makes so eloquently clear that something is seriously wrong with The Grammys. And unless they make significant changes to their nomination and voting process—this institution will continue to rapidly fade into obscurity.
Matt is the Culture Editor at Esquire where he covers music, movies, books, and TV—with an emphasis on all things Star Wars, Marvel, and Game of Thrones.
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