Music History

The Grammys Are Mostly a Waste of Time. Here’s Why.

The Grammys serve two purposes:

(a) They’re designed to pump life into post-Christmas sales for 2013 releases before the industry gets going on the new year.  Watch for the phrase “Grammy bump” to appear in stories about music sales over the next ten days.

(b) It’s a TV show crafted with a mainstream audience in mind–the kind of audience that still buys records.  (It’ll be interesting to see how the Grammys/Junos/Brits evolve as more and more of us adopt streaming music services.)

Occasionally, things get weird and a deserving artist actually wins a big award (cf. Arcade Fire’s left-field win for Album of the Year in 2011, the same year that Esmeralda Spalding won for Best New Artist.)  Mostly, though, the Grammys are a populist thing.  For example:

  • The Baha Men won a Grammy in 2001 for “Who Let the Dogs Out?”
  • Christopher Cross’ debut record beat out Pink Floyd’s The Wall in 1980.
  • The Beatles won five just Grammys while they were together, which is just two more than Weird Al Yankovic.  Going into tonight, Jay Z and Beyonce have 34 between them.
  • Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley never won Grammys (Lifetime Achievement Awards don’t count).
  • As much as Kanye carps about not getting respected, he has 21 Grammys and a total of 53 nominations going into tonight.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  So how can this happen?  This infographic explains the process.  (Go here for a better look.)

Grammy voting


With 12,000 people eligible to vote, you’d think that this would be a pretty democratic process, right?  Nope. First, a lot of voters have no clue, meaning that they tend to default towards the familiar (cf. nominations from Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin et al).  Then there’s a secret group with veto power that was convened to make sure that there are no voting “mistakes.”

That explains a lot of what happened last night, doesn’t it?


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37884 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

3 thoughts on “The Grammys Are Mostly a Waste of Time. Here’s Why.

  • Without looking it up, can anyone name Record Of The Year or Album Of The Year from two years ago? How about 5 years ago? Or 7…?

    The Grammys as an award of merit is a meaningless concept.

  • Christopher Cross ? – is the only artist to win the big four awards – Record, Album and Song of the year and best New Artist – in one night. – Take that Beatles, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Stones – you have to try harder to win.

  • I love how poorly the LA Times piece has aged (“cutting-edge artists: Alanis Morissette, Joan Osborne and Pearl Jam”, “Gangsta’s Paradise is the first hard-core rap song nominated as record of the year”, etc.).


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