The Weeknd's Grammys Boycott, Explained

The Weeknd announced last week that he is boycotting The Grammys — not just this year, but for the rest of his career. The move was made even more ominous by The Weeknd's heavy implications that Grammy nominations are influenced by bribes and favors behind the scenes. For those still catching up on the drama, here is a quick breakdown.

The Weeknd — whose real name is Abel Makkonen Tesfaye — had a huge year in 2020 with the release of his fourth album After Hours. He broke chart records, performed at the Super Bowl, and yet somehow his work over the last year did not even merit a Grammy nomination. Tesfaye explained his theory on why in a public statement to The New York Times.

The Grammys' winners are decided by the Recording Academy, a nonprofit group bringing together the best in the industry. According to the Times, there are "anonymous expert committees" within the Academy's memberships that get the final say on nominations in most categories. These committees are ostensibly there to check and balance the will of the voters, but a growing number of artists — including Tesfaye — say they only serve to let corruption into the award show.

"Because of the secret committees, I will no longer allow my label to submit my music to the Grammys," Tesfaye told the paper. His proposed lifelong boycott of the award show is a bit on the extreme side, but he is far from alone in condemning the Recording Academy and the Grammys. In particular, non-white performers feel they are under-represented in recent years compared to how much they contribute to the music industry.

The academy's interim chief executive Harvey Mason Jr. responded to Tesfaye in a statement of his own. He said: "We're all disappointed when anyone is upset. But I will say that we are constantly evolving. And this year, as in past years, we are going to take a hard look at how to improve our awards process, including the nomination review committees."

The academy has undergone several changes and launched initiatives to overhaul its processes in recent years, but it is still leaving hit-makers like Tesfaye behind. In late 2019, it accepted several recommendations from Tina Tchen, a former chief of staff for Michelle Obama. It has invited thousands of new members and hired diversity officers to bring more women and people of color into the academy, into committees and into leadership positions.

Still, to this day many people — even those inside the industry — don't fully understand how Grammy nominees are chosen. This leads to rumors of bribery, and cases like Tesfaye's do not help. As music executive Chris Anokute told the Times, "If his peers didn't vote for him, that's a shame — if that's the truth. We don't really believe that's the truth, there's just no way. But we really don't know."

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Tesfaye did not appear at the Grammys on Sunday night, but many other artists did, including some who have spoken out against the award show before.