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Tokenism at the Grammys: Where is the real support?

In recent years, there has heated debate over how to hold celebrities and artists accountable for their behaviour. For some, continuing to platform abusers is simply immoral, and risks normalising and perpetuating problematic attitudes and actions. Whilst for others, “cancel culture” is itself an evil, and should instead be looking to separate the artist from the work.  

This second approach seems to be the one taken by The Recording Academy, the organization that runs the Grammys. In 2018, the #MeToo movement was at its height and at the time, the Grammys made a massive effort to demonstrate its faith in the movement, with attendees, performers and reporters wearing white roses in support for victims of sexual harassment and assault. The movement was even explicitly mentioned by host, James Corden, as well as those introducing various guests, such as Janelle Monae. Most famously, Kesha, who was at the time revealing the psychological and sexual abuse she had suffered from her producer, Dr Luke, performed her song Praying with a crew of other women, including Cyndi Lauper and Camillo Cabello, in front of an all-female chorus dressed entirely in white.

This performance made many women feel like their experiences were finally being acknowledged by the music industry. But now, it feels more like a soulless effort to profit off the movement. Since 2018, women have remained underrepresented in both nominations and wins, with only superficial efforts to address this outcome in the biggest categories. In response to criticism, the former president and CEO of the Recording Academy, Neil Portnow, claimed women should ‘step up’ if they want nominations, proving to women everywhere that, despite their outward claims, the Recording Academy had no interest in supporting women in the music industry.

This has only been exacerbated by this year’s nominations. In what CEO Harvey Mason seems to imply is an attack on cancel culture, several sexual abusers have been nominated for big ticket awards. This includes Dr Luke, the subject of Kesha’s performance, and Marilyn Manson who, despite being accused of rape and sexual assault, has received an AOTY nomination for his work on Kanye West’s Donda. 

In response to outrage over Manson’s nomination, Mason said that the Recording Academy would not remove people from fine print nominations because of their past, arguing that we should be able to separate the artist from the art. “We won’t look back at people’s history, we won’t look at their criminal record, we won’t look at anything other than the legality within our rules of, is this recording for this work eligible based on date and other criteria. If it is, they can submit for consideration.” he explained. 

It wasn’t until outrage hit its peak on social media that Mason suggested that while the nomination would stand, Manson may not be invited to the ceremony. And yet again, the Recording Academy seems to make their decisions based on what is popular rather than any clear moral code, leaving us all confused as to what it is they actually believe in. 

Alas, the Recording Academy is not the only institution that celebrates those accused of sexual assault. In 2017, Casey Affleck was awarded Best Actor at the Oscars, a trophy ironically handed to him by #MeToo supporter Brie Larson. And as tradition dictated, Affleck was invited to to present the best Actress award at the 2018 ceremony, despite ongoing allegations from of sexual assault. This was particularly troubling as the 2018 award show had plans to directly address the #MeToo movement, but seemed to have no issue celebrating an alleged abuser.

Again, people claim that we should separate the artist from their work. They argue it’s not fair to ruin their careers because of a mistake. What these people are forgetting is that largely, the nominees have not apologised for their ‘mistakes’, but have instead chosen to play the victim of a society that has become too sensitive, too unforgiving. But should Manson and Dr Luke win, the Grammys would be telling the world that it is okay to abuse women because you will ultimately face no repercussions. You will, in fact, be celebrated. This is a mistake I hope the Grammys know better than to make. But maybe that’s too optimistic.

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