Apparently for the Grammys and its CEO, the artist is separate from the art.
Nominations were announced for the 64th annual Grammy Awards this week, and it brought about the usual pop culture craze as the general public breathlessly watched to see if their faves would get their flowers. Many of the big nominations went to young hit makers, injecting the often predictable and repetitive cycles with new life. Lil Nas X, Olivia Rodrigo, Doja Cat, H.E.R and Jon Batiste dominated, while artists like Arlo Parks, Saweetie, Fleet Foxes, Arooj Aftab, Japanese Breakfast, and Brandi Carlisle continued the trend of fan favorites, over industry favorites, getting nods. Of course titans like Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga (for her work with Tony Bennett), and Ed Sheeran didn’t get left out — how could they be? But some people unceremoniously snuck their unfavored mugs into the contest. Marilyn Manson, Dave Chappelle and Louis C.K. all received nominations, and now the whole thing just feels a little tainted — like politics getting brought up at the Thanksgiving table, if you will.
In a continued unfortunate turn of events, Grammy CEO, Harvey Mason Jr. — who just officially took the position, after serving as interim following the complicated ousting of Deborah Dugan — doubled down on the inclusion of the aforementioned problematic nominees. Mason told The Wrap, “We won’t restrict the people who can submit their material for consideration. 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.” The sentiment brings up an age-old question: can we separate the artist from the art? It would seem according to Mason, that when it comes to accolades, the answer is: yes, we can.
Mason continued, “What we will control is our stages, our shows, our events, our red carpets. We’ll take a look at anyone who is asking to be a part of that, asking to be in attendance, and we’ll make our decisions at that point. But we’re not going to be in the business of restricting people from submitting their work for our voters to decide on.” While the whole sticky situation does put Mason in between a rock and a hard place that he didn’t necessarily deserve, he has found a nuanced way to intersect moral concerns, security issues and the self righteous high ground of art making. His statement wreaks of the very acrobatics in logic that public figure heads of a cultural institutions are expected to do to assuage the public and press when problems arise. At the same time that he’s defending any artist’s right to create and submit, and thus potentially win and be honored, he is also creating a perceived barrier to certain people being present in-person that is meant to give the feeling of protection. It is at the same time both clever and a bit evasive.
For those who might not be aware, Marilyn Manson is currently embroiled in four lawsuits alleging sexual assault, sex trafficking and rape, among other crimes. He has forcefully denied all allegations, but the brave women coming forward are painting a picture of premeditated and often sadistic abuse by a very disturbed individual. Manson is nominated in a roundabout way from his inclusion on Kanye West’s DONDA. Louis C.K. on the other hand did admit to the abuses he was accused of in 2017, when five women came forward to detail his habitual sexual misconduct, which included trapping female comics and forcing them to watch him masturbate. C.K. is nominated for best comedy album. Dave Chappelle’s nomination in the Best Spoken Word category for 8:46, his searing special that coincided with the protests against racism that surfaced after the death of George Floyd, is probably the least controversial, since he wasn’t accused of assault or harassment in the way that Manson and C.K. were. But it does speak to the confusion many feel digesting an artist’s more profound work with their more problematic, coming off of Chappelle’s most recent transphobic special The Closer.
These nominations all come in a year that is being sold as a new dawn for music’s top award ceremony. This is the first year in which nominees were decided upon by the general voting populous of the Recording Academy, instead of by secret committees of industry insiders who’ve been widely accused of favoritism based on relationships. The Weeknd infamously drew attention to this issue, and boycotted the Grammys, after his massively commercially successful and critically acclaimed album Blinding Lights was completely snubbed in 2020. It’s being pointed out though that despite changes, the Grammys have a long way to go before any kind of alteration seems productive rather than performative.
With headlines like, “LOUIS C.K. & DAVE CHAPPELLE NOMINATED FOR GRAMMYS ...Is Cancel Culture Canceled???” hitting the web, it feels as if we are standing at a strange precipice when it comes to cancel culture. The phenomenon, which was birthed out of the reaction to the Trump years and the ramifications of the Me Too movement, is now a complex cultural institution that seems to be triggering no matter which side of the cancel wars you find yourself on. A meme that became so popular it’s now on mugs on Etsy, reads, “It’s not cancel culture if it doesn’t come from the Cancelle region of France. If not it’s just sparkling consequences”—and for many that cheeky joke sums it up. If people don’t want to get “canceled,” they shouldn’t say problematic shit, or do unspeakable things, when they have a public platform they’ve fought for. The reverse of the coin is that cancel culture has gone too far, and its hive minded judgements are now unrelenting and adversely altering the way creators can operate. But if these Grammy nominations for Manson, C.K. and Chappelle say anything — especially after Harvey Mason Jr.’s stance on “not looking at the past” buttresses them — it is that no matter how you feel about canceling people, it doesn’t really mean a whole lot outside of the court of public opinion.