Trouble in the Grammys’ Boys Club

Hey, let’s talk about the Grammys. Despite being the type of person to always say, “Please explain it to me like I’m 5,” I felt compelled to write up a blog piece about the Grammys. But this is a K-pop blog, right? So am I just going to blabber on about how so totally unfair it is that BTS has to play second fiddle to Lil Nas X or say that the Jonas Brothers’ white privilege allows them to take years off only to come back to the Grammys and be offered a solo stage while those seven poor K-pop boys deserve better? 

No. Nah. None of that really matters at all considering the unfiltered mess that Recording Academy has found themselves in after the ousted president of the organization, Deborah Dugan, filed a massive claim against them that has now finally been released to the public earlier this month. I managed to read the whole 46 page claim and though it is long, it is relatively easy to read and worth it if you want a deeper understanding of just what Ms. Dugan is claiming against the Academy. If not, I will be summing up some of the major points in this think piece along with offering my own amateur opinion on the matter. I am no expert nor am I a journalist, I’m just a simple blogger wanting to just put out my humble, if not naive thoughts on the matter. While this deviates a bit from the usual posts I make on here, I will still somehow tie this back to K-pop in the end considering that BTS is indeed still performing at the Grammys like the dutiful boys that they are.

In order to formulate my thoughts more concisely and to explain things more thoroughly, I’ll split this post up into sections as I suspect that this will be a longer piece than most. And if I’m honest, I really liked the way the claim was formatted similarly so I’ll run with that. 

I. Quick Background

It’s history lesson time, boys and girls. The Academy was first established in 1957 as a public, not for profit literal academy of musicians, producers, recording engineers, and other musical professions. For those not sure what not-for-profit means, the basic definition for it is an organization where the members do not receive the profits earned but instead use those profits to further their organization’s goals and objectives. More famous examples of this are the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Doctors Without Borders, etc. Though the Academy was founded in 1957, the first Grammy Awards, which the organization is most known for, wouldn’t be organized and presented until 1959. 

Before Deborah Dugan got the job as president of The Academy, there were very few women in positions of leadership within the organization. The claim only mentions two unnamed women who both faced a stagnation in their careers after accepting their respective positions with one retiring after receiving no promotions while the other left after asking repeatedly for a promotion but was ignored. 

Of course, women weren’t the only ones to be snubbed by the Academy as minorities, particularly black artists, are largely ignored as well which has forever and always been a problem in the Academy. Only 10 black artists have won Album of the Year since the Grammys were conceived and that wasn’t until 2004 when OutKast won with his album, SpeakerBoxx/The Love Below. It was even noted within the claim that even within the Best Rap Album category, black artists are looked over in favor of white artists like Eminem and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. But what can you expect when the Board of Trustees or colloquially known as “The Board,” is nearly 70% white and 70% male for the last 8 years. 

II. Corruption Suits Their Souls–the Nomination Process
Academy boardroom–not colorized because we live in the past apparently

Not to mention that the whole nomination process is completely whack and heavily corrupt. To provide a little bit of background, how this process works is that submissions for awards are voted upon by the Academy’s 12,000 voting members. Afterwards, the top 20 are reviewed by secret committees chosen by one of the many white guys found in the organization–doesn’t matter exactly who he is. Of course, within these committees, there are members who represent of have relationships with nominated artists, so even if, say, their artist is even in the top 20, enough convincing and bribing can help said artist reach the top 20 or even be nominated into the final selection of 5-8 depending on the category they’re being nominated for. Hell, there are even some songs that are simply put into the nominations in order to be performed on Grammy night. I’m guessing for those ratings since the cable network that hosts the Grammys, CBS, pays $30 million to televise the award show. 

So, with this many problems, it’s sort of a wonder things were done to change sooner though again, old white men seem to be a stubborn bunch. History has proven that time and time again.  Oh, wait, it seems I’m mistaken in that the Academy actually see the error of their ways and tried their very bestest to change for the better even before Deborah Dugan, that idealist, decided to come and shake up the whole organization with her radical forward thinking goals and objectives for the Academy, But what went wrong? 

Well, it all started with their former president.

III. Boys will be Boys–Enter the Boys Club 
They’re on the same level as this guy here except replace anime figurines with pure sweet capital

The former president of the Recording Academy, Neil Paltrow, had held his position for about 18 years before he stepped down from his role in shame after putting his foot in his mouth over some misogynistic comments he made in response to being asked about the lack of female representation in the awards. He answered that women needed to step up if they wanted more representation which struck a nerve with a lot of female artists with a petition (which received over 30,000 signatures) being sent out calling for his immediate dismissal. As if that wasn’t enough, it has since been reported that he was accused of raping a foreign recording artist after her performance at Carnegie Hall. Yet, he was allowed to finish his contract and left July 31 of last year with Deborah Dugan taking his place the following day. 

After the terrible shame that Mr. Paltrow casted upon the Academy, they decided quite progressively that a change needed to be made but what needed to be changed and how? As if it wasn’t immediately obvious or perhaps white privilege truly does blind the self, the members created a Task Force with the head being a Tina Tchen, who is the CEO of an advocacy group called Time’s Up which aims to campaign for the safer and equitable working conditions for women in multiple industries. To be honest, seems like a solid choice. Too bad the Academy was superficial on the surface and after receiving the Tasks Force’s recommendations to hey, maybe be more inclusive and not be jerks to women and minorities, they went ahead and spiced up the diversity a bit with a sprinkle here and there in their membership committee, hired Deborah Dugan, and was done with it. 

What a joke. 

Dana Tomarken, former vice president of MusiCares, a not-for-profit run by the Academy themselves, had a quote found in the claim that I found interesting: “The so-called boys’ club was a group of men who were deeply loyal to Mr. Portnow, regularly socialized with him, and served as go-tos for anything he needed. Multiple women failed at breaking down the barriers to join this club”. 

Again, it’s quite ridiculous this whole practice really. From the nominations to the obvious not even bothering to hide it bravado these men have in flashing how much they don’t care about the musical artists’ interests and instead put their own first. It is pretty clear they care nothing for the music or the artists they are supposed to be supporting.

 Though speaking of the artists, common folk like me were curious about our own faves responses to the Grammy scandal. Who showed some integrity and called out the Grammys? Who pulled out from showing up or performing at the awards? Or who decided to not really care for any of this and show up anyway? I’ll answer that in the next section.

IV. Your Fave Probably Doesn’t Care
Deborah Dugan, the only one who genuinely actually gives a shit

 After Ms. Dugan brought to light the issues found within the boy’s club of the Academy, there were quite a few artists who decided not to show up or haven’t showed up for the past few shows like the power couple, Jay-Z and Beyonce, Drake, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift who was scheduled to perform this year but pulled out just a day or so before the Grammys. 

A quote from one of these individuals that I found of interest was from last year. Drake who received a Grammy that year was in the middle of his acceptance speech before he was cut off. The apparent sentence that displeased the Academy? 

“We play an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport. This is a business where sometimes it’s up to a bunch of people that might not understand what a mixed-race kid from Canada might have to say or a fly Spanish girl from New York…” 

I understand that due to the floodgates that Dugan opened when she and her legal team went public with her claim against the Academy that there is a lot of talk of boycotting the Grammys on Twitter and other social networks. There is also much disappoint when one’s favorite artist stays quiet or appears indifferent to the situation. For instance, I just typed in “Grammys boycott” into the Twitter search bar and most of the tweets I saw were of BTS fans complaining about boycotting the Grammys since their boys were reduced to back up dances for Lil Nas X, though amusingly I also saw others complaining about these same fans streaming the Grammys to see just how good Jimin looks in his suit or whatever. 

I came across a Medium article by an Elle Black that succinctly, more so than I could, explains just why some of these artists attending the ceremony is hypocritical, upsetting, or disappointing. Overall, I agree with the article for the most part though of course I have my own perspective on the matter which I will explain more in depth in the next section. I will admit that I do not follow the goings-on of Western artists outside of their music though the matters brought up in the article like Nicki Minaj’s support of a pedophile and Ariana Grande’s dramatic Grammy exit last year were things I already  knew about. In general, I’m quite neutral to most artists in the industry though that does not mean I do not care what I hear about them, it just means that I won’t be singing my praises of that particular artist and am more likely to be more wary of supporting them or their activities in the future.

V. My Personal Reaction
Simpler is not always better, guys. Be a bit more bolder–oh wait…I think they’re incapable, at least by themselves

Granted, I’m a big softie and I just can’t bring myself to hate on people and never really have. Perhaps, because I have spent too much time over the years hating on myself to bother with anyone else. Ultimately, I really would like to give people the benefit of the doubt but it seems to be harder and harder to do when you learn about shit like what’s been going on in the Recording Academy behind the scenes. Personally, I think one of the sections I felt hard was the racial discrimination section towards the bottom of the document. There, it is described how a black woman who worked for the Academy’s museum was immediately fired when she began to bring up concerns about diversity within the Academy. Another instance included a gay black temp who suffered a mental breakdown after a colleague hung a demeaning caricature of him with exaggerated black lips. Someone even brought the caricature with them to the Staples Center, the venue of the Grammys, during set-up. The person responsible for hanging up the picture was eventually fired but no one else was held accountable. 

Of course, one could say in the temp’s instance, he could have spoken out and brought the attention to HR, but put yourself in his shoes. Not only was he black in a white-dominated organization that has proven itself to be disguised as a boys club, but he was also gay and most likely one of the few black people within the organization. It’s an incredibly hard thing to speak up for yourself in such a stifling, especially when you are constantly being belittled and put down on the regular. I can clearly imagine this guy feeling that he has no right to complain, he was hired by the Academy, for heaven’s sake, what an honor alone to be working for such a prestigious and acclaimed organization especially for someone like him. It truly sounds demeaning but how much you want to bet this was similar to could and probably was said to him at some point during his contract? Even if it wasn’t said, it was implied. It’s institutional racism–the casual sort of racism that occurs so often in everyday life that it becomes the status quo.

And unfortunately, for black people like me, who are so used to being put down and subdued into thinking we’re not good enough for this or that, it gets so tiring to constantly be shut out for trying to express the struggles and issues we go through on the daily just for not having less melanin in our skin. I’m not a “strong independent” black woman unfortunately, unlike some others out there, I still struggle with accepting my identity in this society and situations like this debilitates my already decreasing hope in learning to love myself and my God given identity. Not to mention, I constantly feel like I’m being pressured and expected to behave “black.” What do you mean I don’t behave like every other black person you’ve met? I’m just me and they’re just them.

Just from last night. A good example of what I’m talking about.

As for attending the Grammys, it’s a bit more complicated on my end. In the Medium article before, I agree with the fact that for newer artists such as Billie Eilish, Lizzo, and Lil Nas X, it would be harder to forgo the ceremony because not only would it be damaging to their future chances of attaining a Grammy award (though that is a touchy discussion coming up) but it could also negatively affect their stance in the musical industry as they are still artists establishing themselves in a very biased and competitive industry where you need those certain connections to successfully make it.

As for other artists like Demi Lovato, Ariana Grande, and Camila Cabello, I’m more neutral on as I’d rather save my energy for other matters like my academics which is being neglected as I type this. I curse being a university student sometimes.

Though I will go on a spiel about BTS attending the Grammys because this is a K-pop blog, I know more about BTS than the other artists previously mentioned and I gotta steer a bit back into that direction. First of all, I don’t particularly care that they’ve been reduced to back up dancers. I just finished watching their performance with Lil Nas X, Billy Ray Cyrus, and that yodeling kid and while RM had more of an individual part, the other 6 were really just there dancing in the background. Ultimately, I found the performance was pretty typical, not boring but entertaining enough for my tastes. Lil Nas X really stole the show but that is to be expected because it’s his song. I understand some people have an issue with him given some islamophobic comments he made in the past which I don’t know too much about, but it’s your call if you want to be upset with that or not. I’m not going to sit here and invalidate your feelings unless you’re stupid and sincerely wish death on Lil Nas X or sling racial slurs which I’ve seen on Twitter. That shit ain’t cool.

Turning the discussion back to those K-pop boys, BTS being placed in the background for once is not going to hurt them. Hell, at one of the K-pop award shows in the last month, BTS was scheduled to perform like 5 solo stages, so what is there to complain about? BTS already gets oversaturated attention in a lot of aspects surrounding the K-pop industry, so let others take the spotlight for once. And plus, it’s the Grammys, it’s ran by a bunch of white old men, not teeny-bopper K-poppers who breathe and live for BTS and their music who would have nominated BTS for every single category including Best Historical Album (yes, that is a real category). 

As for the morality side of things, I do find it a bit amusing that some people still expect better from BTS in terms of them calling out the Academy or taking the “right” side. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still like the boys, and I have one of them as my blog’s mascot, but I’m not blinded by the fact that BTS hasn’t been the most outspoken on matters politically or sociologically as of late.

I mean, their morality and image died officially back in October when that infamous Hollywood Reporter article came out. Whether you believe his words or not, in response to being asked about performing back in America during a politically fraught period of history, RM, the leader of BTS, stated:

“BTS doesn’t talk about big issues like war or peace, or global poverty or starvation, or things like that,” he says, shooting down the question. “There are a lot of issues, both in the United States and in Korea. I think the message [is] loving yourself, as well as to look at the small things.”

This was said in spite of the fact that part of BTS’s appeal to many is their social commentary in songs such as “NO,” a song about the pressures of achieving one’s dream, “Spring Day,” which alluded to the Sewol Ferry Disaster, and one of the most notable of all, “Am I Wrong,” which contains such lyrics as:

“If what you see on the news is nothing to you
If that comment is nothing to you
If that hatred is nothing to you
You’re not normal, you’re abnormal” 

These days, I don’t expect much from BTS. At the end of the day, they are just seven Korean guys who wanted to create and perform music dreaming about making an impact in K-pop. Since a K-pop group’s image is carefully controlled by their company, and BigHit, BTS’s company, is no exception despite many ARMYs rebuking the fact, BTS may or may not have wanted to go the social commentary route to extent that they become ambassadors of UNICEF or expected to be morally in the right every time they are thrown into a seemingly black and white societal issue.

They probably never realized how famous they would become but regardless, they, not their company, is at the forefront of their image and how they are perceived. A lot of ARMYs and some other K-pop fans in general say BTS has more control over what they do like schedules, V lives, where they go and say, but the fact of the manner is that they most likely don’t. Their company actually probably puts them more on a leash than ever in order to uphold that good boy Bangtan image. And this is why they perform in controversial Saudi Arabia, stay silent during dating scandals, and still come to the Grammys despite the mess the Academy is in. 

To put it into perspective, I went onto Naver and Daum, the two biggest Korean portals/search engines (think Google and Yahoo) and searched up the Grammys. A lot of the articles, probably about 90%, were just talking about BTS’s participation in the Grammys and how they are the first Korean act to perform on the show. Only a few talked about the Grammy controversy and Deborah Dugan and the ones that did were blogs of these portals than actual news articles. To put it simply, the Korean side doesn’t really give a flying feck about the Grammy discrimination and corruption, though I suppose that’s understandable when there isn’t much integrity and fairness in Korean music award shows either. And while a lot of BTS fans have this image of BTS being “woke kings,” they’re simply not though they definitely can market that image well. Please remember, that they are still flawed human beings as well and one must take into account their cultural and social background as Korean men in a society that still has plenty of societal problems from self-image, intensive and sometimes unhealthy focus on education, misogyny, etc. etc. 

Again, I will reiterate that I still like the boys but I respect the fact that they are still reflective of the society they came from as we all are to an extent. And though lately I’m more and more frustrated with BTS for being so cuffed to their company and good boy image and acting like they can’t speak out when I know if they cared enough they would, I still have a hope that they will still better themselves as people in some way though given the pedestal they’ve been put on and the privileges granted to them by their fandom along with their company owning them for 7 more years to gaslight and stuff more stupid ideas/plans in their heads, I’m not sure how much longer I can hold my breath.

VI. Closing Remarks

Look, I could go on and on, but I will save dragging BTS for another blog post that will inevitably prove to be controversial. For now, I would advise that it is up to the reader to decide how they feel about the Grammy situation and the persons who are within said organization. The artists are another topic to consider in this discussion and once again I can only leave it up to you to decide how you perceive not only the artists I have discussed in this post but the ones not mentioned. 

I will say, that I do not want to discredit receiving a Grammy award. While it is proven that the nomination process is manipulated and corrupt, since I’m a softie I can’t help but feel happy for these artist. For instance, though I’m not necessarily a big fan, seeing how stoked Billie Eilish with her brother, Finneas, was when receiving the Best New Artist award, I couldn’t help feel quite happy for her. She also swept up the other two big awards of the evening, Album of the Year and Record of the Year. I’m sure for newer artists like her, to receive a Grammy, let alone multiple in one evening, and having their musical talents and ambitions realized after struggling for that recognition is a feeling that is indescribable for a plain jane like me but tangible whenever I see the faces of those artists light up as they ramble off an emotional acceptance speech. For me, it’s quite touching. Perhaps because I too wish I could strive to have a dream like theirs and see it come true but alas, I’m a nobody with a damaged self-image and no hope for myself so I can forget that. Still, I can see the appeal of receiving such a prestigious award would be despite the tainted background it comes from.

Lastly, and this may sound oxymoronic, but receiving a Grammy isn’t everything. Sure, the feeling is nice. But for many, even receiving the biggest and brightest award can make one feel empty at the end of the day for varying reasons. Yet, I think one of the problems especially in a society like ours is that we place so much emphasis on materialistic gains. It’s like, we must have something physical to show to acknowledge that yes, I have been recognize and I can prove it. But that shouldn’t be one’s sole drive or focus in life. I believe better than an award, living a life where you positively impact others and continuing being true to your morals and beliefs so you have a stable sense of self is more fulfilling than the dozens of awards collecting dust in your $50,000 glass cabinet.

I admit, I’m naive, but I’d like to think that building up that moral portfolio and not losing yourself to the pitfalls that come with fame and popularity is better than slowly forgetting how to be human in a society that tries to take that away in so many ways. 

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