Quite famously, Halsey presented the character “Ally” with a fictional Grammy award in A Star is Born, but in real life the singer the can’t even muster a “how great!” about the ceremony. After last week’s head-scratching nominations, Halsey is just the latest musician to voice her frustration about the awards—and hint at corruption. Superstars like Drake, The Weeknd, and even Elton John are up in arms about the selection, signaling that The Recording Academy’s annual main event has a real legitimacy problem. Then again, are we surprised people are upset by a ceremony that has given trophies to three albums fronted by the fictional muppet Elmo but none by the legendary Diana Ross?
“The Grammys are an elusive process,” Halsey, who has been nominated twice for collaborations but never for her solo work, wrote on Saturday in an Instagram story. “It can often be about behind-the-scenes private performances, knowing the right people, campaigning through the grapevine, with the right handshake and ‘bribes’ that can be just ambiguous enough to pass as ‘not bribes.'”
Drake’s missives last week were even more dire about the state of the awards ceremony’s legitimacy. “It’s like a relative you keep expecting to fix up but they just can’t change their ways,” he wrote. “The other day I said @theweeknd was a lock for either album or song of the year along with countless other reasonable assumptions and it just never goes that way. This is a great time for somebody to start something new that we can build up over time and pass on to the generations to come.”
Even Elton John called The Weeknd’s snub, in particular, an outright rebuff on Instagram. Eagle-eyed fans noticed that even The Weeknd’s on-and-off ex Bella Hadid threw the post a “like.”
The strange selection of nominees brought further attention to a strange Grammys practice that has been a point of quiet controversy for years. While members of the Recording Academy do send in ballots to help determine nominations, for the top four awards (along with awards in certain specialized genres) “review committees” actually meet to determine the final nominees (ostensibly, however, only from the top 20 vote-getters in the general vote).
According to Slate, the process was put into play back in the mid ’90s, ironically, with the hope that it would make the nominations seem more relevant to younger viewers (and hence bring in more eyeballs to the yearly telecast). Though, with Millennial and Gen-Z-beloved (not to mention generally critically approved) The Weeknd snubbed this year in favor of the not-particularly-well-known Jacob Collier, it doesn’t seem to have worked out that way.
Notably, the so-called “secret committees” were also a major feature in a drawn-out legal battle earlier this year between the Recording Academy and its former CEO Deborah Dugan. In a lawsuit, she claimed the committee operations were rife with corruption.
Reporting from TMZ didn’t help matters. The gossip site claimed that The Weeknd was in negotiations with the Recording Academy to perform at this year’s ceremony, but the body allegedly took issue with the musician’s plans to also headline the NFL’s Super Bowl halftime show. The insinuation of TMZ’s always gossipy scoops: something broke down during the talks and it may have led to his snubs. In his own short Twitter and Instagram statement, The Weeknd bluntly called the nominations “corrupt.” In a later update, he seemed to confirm the gist of TMZ’s reporting, writing, “Collaboratively planning a performance for weeks to not being invited? In my opinion zero nominations = you’re not invited!”
It remains to be seen whether Drake’s suggestion that modern musicians form their own alternative award ceremony will eventually lead to anything. Though, it wouldn’t be unheard of. About half of the Recording Academy’s founding board members featured actual musicians (including, notably, Doris Day), and while musicians continue to serve on the board, there are few younger names to be found (current trustees include gospel singer Yolanda Adams, Maroon 5 keyboardist PJ Morton, and the rapper Paul Wall).