Yesterday, a report emerged that Drake, Kanye West, and Justin Bieber might skip this year’s Grammy ceremony, for various reasons. Drake will be on tour in Europe; Kanye is leery of losing to another white artist; Bieber “just doesn’t think the Grammys are relevant or representative, especially when it comes to young singers,” as TMZ reports.
The tactic boycott would put them on the same side as Frank Ocean, who intentionally did not submit 2016’s Blonde for awards consideration, and presumably won’t attend. Though there’s a possibility the artists could be jockeying behind-the-scenes for more privileges—maybe Bieber wants to perform like he did last year, or maybe Kanye wants to talk about his sneakers—their absence is positioned to reiterate a long-repeated notion–that the Grammys laud the industry standard as elevated by the older, whiter voting contingent.
Kanye, for example, has been consistently snubbed by the Grammys over the last decade. Though there’s no argument against his importance as one of the industry’s most dynamic, accomplished, attention-galvanizing musicians—if not the most important musician, period—he rarely gets a win in the more general categories, like Album or Record of the Year. Each one of his trophies has come in the small “Best Rap TK” areas, a concession that he’s one of the best black artists alive.
Drake, too, has only gotten one Grammy—Best Rap Album for 2011’s Take Care—despite being the most popular rapper in the game for at least a few years. Views, whatever you want to say about it, sold a billion and a half copies and was properly nominated for Album of the Year, though it’s gonna get rolled over by Adele—Drake knows that, hence the ongoing European tour plans.
Bieber’s claim is a little more specious. While he’s been very popular since 2009’s “One Time,” he’s never really garnered any critical acclaim outside of singles like “Sorry,” “Where Are Ü Now,” and “What Do You Mean?” More importantly, he’s never really shed the image that he’s teen star-turned-bad boy, a skillful pop star and capable vocalist, but by no means a creative auteur. (Even the discussions around those singles involved collaborators like Diplo, Skrillex, and Jason “Pooh Bear” Boyd, and their skill in enabling Bieber’s best qualities.
This year, Bieber finally did get a bunch of nominations for last year’s Purpose, including nods in the coveted Song and Album of the Year categories. Like Drake, he’s probably getting bounced by Adele or Beyoncé or maybe even Sturgill Simpson. (Current betting odds have Sturgill as the least likely to win, but IMO he’s a dark horse candidate on account of being country-ish and respectable enough, just like Beck.)
But Bieber’s annoyance doesn’t scan the same. Kanye, Frank, and Drake can complain about rap and black artists getting perpetually downgraded—OutKast is the only rap act to win Album of the Year, while black artists have taken home the award just 12 times since 1959 (and Stevie Wonder makes up a quarter of that). Bieber is both pop and white, neither of which has been marginalized. Pop stars win (Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Lorde); white musicians win (they’ve taken Album of the Year 11 years in a row); even young musicians win, too (Taylor, Sheeran, Adele, Lorde, Sam Smith, Mumford and Sons, all of them young despite Mumfords sounding like they were pulled from a sepia-toned photograph of a dairy farm).
The Grammys get it wrong, consistently—you can set your watch by the flowering of “The Grammys got it wrong” articles and fan laments that pop up every year. But they frequently reward artists who look like and sound like Bieber, albeit ones who don’t get bad press for pissing into restaurant mop buckets. A boycott would be bratty, unless he’d just be upfront: Justin Bieber is mad because the Grammys don’t like Justin Bieber.