Lessons from the 2018 Grammy Awards

Music fans, music critics and independent musicians everywhere seem unimpressed with the 2018 Grammy Awards. Here’s what we can learn from them.

Lessons from the 2018 Grammy Awards include notes on blending genres and how seriously to take awards in general.

First, it’s important to consider that a great many people think the 2018 Grammys were a joke. Many others think they’ve been a joke for years. Artists who don’t seem to fit the general character of the Grammys probably don’t take the award very seriously, themselves, and depending on who you ask, this can mean millions of people.

Just look at USA Today’s recent article, in which they call the 2018 ceremonies an “out-of-touch embarrassment.” They stop just short of calling the awards racist, but correctly point out that hip hop has an awful history at the Grammys:

“Just a handful of rap records have won [a Grammy] award over their 60-year history. Outkast last did so last in 2004 with their dual-release of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, and Lauryn Hill took the same crown in 1998, for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”

The Grammy Awards also leave out every music act only available via streaming. As Chance the Rapper has noted, that’s a ton of disregarded music.

So Lesson One, for many artists, will be that the Grammy Awards — and maybe awards in general — don’t measure greatness in music at all. After all, if awards can fail to respect so many well-regarded creative people, does it make sense to respect such awards?

While accolades and trophies can help musicians achieve their dreams, sometimes, ultimately musicians and their fans benefit from judging music on its own merits, not by how many blue ribbons it has won.

Moving on, though, we can still learn by looking at which artists do win Grammys by asking what they did differently to get them.

In the case of Outkast and Lauryn Hill, these hip hop heroes blended their music with elements from other genres. From one perspective, this is watering down pure hip hop, which can seem wrong because hip hop deserves recognition on its own merit. While that’s true, from another perspective, adding elements from other genres gives the Grammy judges more to, well, judge.

USA Today notes, “Both, you could argue, could be classified as different genres. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below soared off its monumental pop hits, ‘Hey Ya’ and ‘Roses,’ and Hill blended rap, neo-soul and R&B to create an almost entirely new sound of its era.”

So Lesson Two is this: judges like it when you cross genres with a song or two.

There’s much more instrumentation in “Hey Ya” by Outkast than there is in, say, “Rap God” by Eminem, which serves judges poetry on a back beat with a single synth for a melody line. That doesn’t mean Outkast’s award-winning single is the better track, of course. It just means it’s more likely to win awards (see Lesson One).

But hip hop isn’t the only genre to have difficulty getting awards. The only EDM artist to win a Grammy has been Daft Punk, and they did it by following Lesson Two.

And guess what they blended their music with, mainly? Hip hop styles from Pharrell Williams.