Reposted with permission from Ventilator News.
‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber was probably the most inescapable, all-consuming song of 2017. And I’m not just saying it was a little popular and you heard it on the radio a few times. It was the most-streamed single of all time.
Just let that sink in a little bit. The most-streamed single of all time. In the entire history of streaming. It’s racked up 4.6 billion streams to be exact.
It also spent a record-breaking 16 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and spent 43 weeks on that chart in total. It was the soundtrack for people’s lives all over the world all year – topping charts everywhere from Argentina to Belgium, Iceland to Japan, and hitting number one on the UK Singles Chart (Official Charts Company), the US Hot Latin Songs (Billboard), US Adult Top 40 (Billboard), US Dance/Mix Show Airplay (Billboard) and US Mainstream Top 40 (Billboard).
And just to add to that, it couldn’t escape winning awards left, right and centre either, including the Collaboration of the Year and Favourite Pop/Rock Song at the AMA’s; and Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Urban Fusion/Performance and Best Short Form Music Video at the Latin GRAMMY Awards.
So you might be forgiven for thinking it was robbed of the top spot at the GRAMMYs, which just aired on January 29 in the US. But you’d be wrong. That’s not how the GRAMMYs are chosen.
Despite it’s obvious and inherent artistry and talent, the music industry is first and foremost centralised around finance – like every other industry in the known universe. In fact, the recorded music industry was worth over $15.7 billion in 2016 (which is roughly the same as Bosnia and Herzegovina’s GDP for 2017 – yet ironically less than Afghanistan’s which sits at around $20 billion. Food for thought. But I digress). Half of that $15 billion figure is from digital channels so it’s safe to say that the more popular a song is on platforms like streaming sites where ‘Despacito’ raked in the listens, the more money it’ll make, which in turn makes the music industry keep turning. But the beauty of the Recording Academy and their GRAMMY awards is the fact that they give out their awards based on musical quality over musical popularity. (Figures sourced from IFPI).
The real, amazing, groundbreaking bit of the GRAMMY awards is where indie darlings Arcade Fire (who won Album of the Year in 2011) can go up against hugely popular musicians with insurmountable sales and fan bases like Eminem, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and win.
On To The Voting
The GRAMMY Awards are the product of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (or Recording Academy as we know them colloquially). The Academy was founded in 1957 and all of its members are creative or technical professionals working (or having worked) in the music industry. This could include singers, songwriters, producers, art directions and engineers to name a few. As well, you’ll find there are two levels of Recording Academy membership – associate and voting. All voting members must have been producers, performers or engineers on at least six or more tracks of a commercially released album (or 12 or more digital tracks). The GRAMMYs, therefore, are the only award presented to music industry peers by peers to recognise recording industry excellence.
So, on to the important part: voting. Every year, nominations are gathered by the Academy – both associate and voting members can nominate artists online or by mail, as can major and independent record labels that have registered with the Awards department. To be eligible, recordings must have been released in general commercial distribution between October 1 of the previous year and September 30 of the current year in the United States.
Once the noms are in, expert reviewers start sorting. There is no judging at this point – all they’re doing is separating the nominations into one of the 30 categories such as country, jazz, classical and rock. One thing you might not know – the GRAMMYs also recognises comedy, music videos, art direction on album covers and spoken word recordings. Another good thing to know – as the music industry evolves and matures, the Awards and Nominations Committee can add or remove categories – you might have noticed (and missed…?) the award for best polka album.
Then the real voting starts. The first round narrows down all of the nominees to five for each award. All of the voting members may vote for the four general categories (record of the year, song of the year, album of the year and best new artist), and in a maximum of 15 categories, all within their areas of expertise. You might think that the only awards given out are those you’ll watch on the CBS live telecast – but there are actually 84 awards across the 30 fields, most of which are not televised.
Controversies & Amazing Moments
But, as with any awards show (remember La La Land “winning” the Oscar for best film last year…?) there are controversies. And ‘Despacito’ seemingly losing out to Bruno Mars’ spectacular ’24K Magic’ isn’t the first. And it most probably won’t be the last. In fact, one beautiful component of the GRAMMYs is how it does in fact support the underdog, the little guy. And they’ve been doing it since 1959 when Frank Sinatra was nominated for six awards, only won one (Best Art Director for the Only The Lonely album cover) while Domenico Modugno took home the Record of the Year and Song of the Year for ‘Volare’.
There’s also the Best New Artist category which, in 1973, was won by America – beating the Eagles in the process. And in the year prior, Led Zeppelin lost that same award to Crosby, Stills & Nash (but seriously, how hard would it have been to decide award-winners that year – 1972 was such a stellar year for music, but that’s a whole other article). When the ‘Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal’ category was formed in 1989 you’d be hard pressed to think of anyone else but Metallica cleaning up. But nope – that one went to Jethro Tull.
All of this aside, one thing the GRAMMYs can always be counted on is for giving credit where credit’s due. Such as in 1983 when Michael Jackson received a record eight separate GRAMMYs for his groundbreaking album Thriller including Record of the Year and Album of the Year. In 1993, Eric Clapton won three major awards for his song ‘Tears in Heaven’ written after his young son was tragically killed in an accident. The GRAMMYs have even inspired change in the most unlikely ally – Google. After Jennifer Lopez went to the 2000 GRAMMYs in that green dress, Google developed an image search function – since demand for photos of her online the next day had skyrocketed.
Most importantly – regardless of any of the voting – the GRAMMYS have brought so much good to the world in the form of music. The majority of 2001 saw Eminem being criticised for lyrics that many considered homophobic on his album The Marshall Mathers LP. The GRAMMYs helped him counter that with a surprise duet featuring the rapper alongside Elton John. Another beautiful moment? In 2014, the awards ceremony saw Macklemore and Ryan Lewis singing their hit song ‘Same Love’ while thirty three gay and straight couples were married on live television by Queen Latifah no less.
So yes, sometimes you may not understand why the GRAMMY goes to who the GRAMMY goes to. But there is a whole heap of method and reason behind the award winners to take into account, and hey, ‘Despacito’ is still a great song – GRAMMY or not!