Are Music Awards Really Measuring Popularity?

music awards

Music awards are meant to recognize a record or song’s quality and its impact on the industry. But some question whether those awards are actually measuring an artist, song or album’s popularity — or if they simply reflect the biases and prejudices of the people who vote on them.

One of the most controversial and contentious awards is the Grammy, which was created in 1959 to recognize a wide range of musical genres. As new genres have emerged, such as rock and rap, the number of categories has increased. In the early 1980s, the Grammys even added an award for best music video. But even as new genres have been introduced, the prevailing biases and biases remain in place, and some believe that the existing categories are not reflecting actual market share.

For example, a recent study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that across 900 popular songs studied over the last five years, only 21 percent were performed by women, and 12 percent were written or co-written by females. The study also found that only 12.6% of songwriters and 2.6% of producers are female. These numbers haven’t improved much over the past few years. But the problem isn’t just in the sex or gender of artists; it’s also in the nominations and winners of music awards shows.

The Grammys, which are presented annually by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, have long had problems with gendered categories — and those have only become more apparent as the number of non-binary, transgender and other non-cisgender performers has grown. This year, the Grammys removed all gendered categories and replaced them with a single category for solo performances (except in country). That means that female artists now have near parity in the category compared to male artists. The same is true in pop and R&B, with 36 out of 51 nominees in the best solo performance category being women, and six of the 10 winners in that category being women.

In the general field categories for Record of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year, each member of NARAS votes to nominate a maximum of five recordings in each category, which are then compiled into final nominee lists. In craft and specialized categories, review committees determine the final list of nominees.

The NARAS members who vote in these categories are instructed to consider only the quality of the work, not its commercial success. But this dictum is difficult to apply in practice. For example, the NARAS members who vote in the general fields may have a wide variety of different music preferences and tastes, which makes it difficult to come up with a list that is truly representative of all of their favorite recordings from a given year.

This year’s Grammys were hosted by Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton, who opened the show with a duet of their classic hit “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” But the easy banter between the two was overshadowed by an uncomfortable controversy surrounding the awards show’s lack of inclusion of non-binary artists.