Ad man, brand manager and occasional consigliere to many of hip-hop’s most powerful stars, marketing mogul Steve Stoute took out a full page ad in Sunday’s New York Times Style Section blasting the Grammy Awards, its parent organizational, The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), and its president, Neil Portnow, for what he feels is both increasing irrelevance and possible malfeasance.
“Over the course of my 20-year history as an executive in the music business and as the owner of a firm that specializes in in-culture advertising, I have come to the conclusion that the Grammy Awards have clearly lost touch with contemporary popular culture,” he wrote in the ad, which took the form of an open letter. “The awards show has become a series of hypocrisies and contradictions, leaving me to question why any contemporary popular artist would even participate.”
In particular, Stoute focused on the relatively recent snubs of Eminem, Kayne West , and Justin Bieber , all musicians he believes have been unfairly beaten for awards by inferior artistic and commercial acts.
“We must acknowledge the massive cultural impact of Eminem and Kanye West and how their music is shaping, influencing and defining the voice of a generation,” Stoute wrote of the two hip-hop superstars, adding of Bieber, “How is it that Justin Bieber, an artist that defines what it means to be a modern artist, did not win Best New Artist?”
While acknowledging in his letter that the most popular acts aren’t always deserving of awards simply on the basis of their commercial success, of particular focus for Stoute is the seeming dichotomy between musicians the award ceremony chooses to honor and musicians the ceremony asks to perform.
“While these very artists that the public acknowledges as being worthy of their money and fandom are snubbed year after year at the Grammys, the awards show has absolutely no qualms in inviting these same artists to perform,” he wrote. “Interesting that the Grammys understands cultural relevance when it comes to using Eminem’s, Kayne West’s or Justin Bieber’s name in the billing [but not when handing out trophies].”
Not content to simply attribute these gaps to the general irrelevance or ignorance of the NARAS voters, Stoute goes on to suggest that performances are scheduled much more cynically and crassly, citing this year’s Best Album winner Arcade Fire as an example of an act too serendipitous to be coincidental.
“What truly inspired the writing of this letter was that this most recent show fed my suspicions. As the show was coming to a close and just prior to presenting the award for Album of the Year, Arcade Fire performed ’Month of May’ only to, surprise, win the category and, in a moment of sheer coincidence, happened to be prepared to perform ’Ready to Start’,” he wrote. “Does the Grammys intentionally use artists for their celebrity, popularity and cultural appeal when they already know the winners and then program a show against this expectation?”
According to the official website of the Grammys, it would be impossible for anyone to know the winners of the various awards before the show, as they are delivered in sealed envelopes to the presenters by Deloitte Accounting.
The winners themselves are determined by several rounds of submission and voting, starting with a screening process where 150 “experts” ensure “that each entry is placed in its proper category.”
From there, nomination ballots are sent out. Voters are encouraged to vote only in their area of expertise in addition to the four general categories, incidentally the same categories Stoute has the most problems with: Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best New Artist.
The top five vote getters from this process are listed as the official nominees. Finally, ballots are sent out with the new, limited choices to determine a winner.
Not good enough, Stoute says, believing this system is possibly ripe for being corrupted.
“The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences hides behind the ’peer’ voting system to escape culpability for not even rethinking this approach,” he writes. “You are being called to task at this very moment, NARAS.”
Representatives from NARAS have not responded to MTV’s request for comment by press time.