Steve Stoute, a media mogul with 20 years experience as an executive in the music business, put out a full page add in the New York Times, Sunday, February 20th, costing $40,000. In this add, which can be read in full here, he complained about the Grammys for (1) their “over-zealousness to produce a popular show that is at odds with its own system of voting” and (2) their “fundamental disrespect of cultural shifts as being viable and artistic”.

This is apparently a reaction to Arcade Fire winning album of the year over Eminem – who Stoute calls “the Bob Dylan of our time” – last week, even though Eminem’s album sold more copies, and he went into the show with ten nominations, more than any other artist. Stoute also pointed out how Eminem lost to Steely Dan in 2001, in the same category, even though Steely Dan had only 10% of the album sales, and how Kanye West, who went into the 2008 Grammys with the most nominations, lost to Herbie Hancock. Stoute went on to complain that Justin Beiber, who he says “defines what it means to be a modern artist” lost out to jazz singer Esperenza Spalding in the best new artist category. Furthermore, Stoute accuses the show of being rigged, with the winners being known in advance, based solely on Arcade Fire’s readiness to play their song “Ready to Start” at the end of the night.

Stoute asks “Does the Grammys intentionally use artists for their celebrity, popularity and cultural appeal when they already know the winners and then program a show against this expectation?” and accuses them of “using Eminem’s, Kanye West’s or Justin Bieber’s name in the billing to ensure viewership and to deliver the all-too-important ratings for its advertisers”. Although he might have a good point here, it seems hypocritical to me for Stoute to criticize the Grammys for trying to please their advertisers, considering his agency specializes in music oriented advertising for big companies like McDonald’s and Hewlett-Packard. It also strikes me as odd that someone in advertisement would pay $40,000 for an add, simply to try to convince artists to essentially boycott the Grammys. What’s in it for him? I wouldn’t be surprised to find out in the near future that Stoute is planning some kind of reality TV show, perhaps a hip-hop version of American Idol, and that this was simply a part of a plot to gain publicity before hand. Arcade Fire’s manager, Scott Roger responded to the letter, defending the decision and saying that the band did no lobbying to receive the award. He also called Stoute’s letter a “nice piece of  self publicity”.

Stoute with hip-hop artist Jay-Z

Having spent much of his career working with hip-hop artists such as Nas and Jay-Z, Stoute naturally seems to have a bias toward the genre. He feels that artists like Eminem and Kanye West were snubbed and that hip-hop in general is “totally diminished as an art form” by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. I would argue that receiving ten nominations and winning two awards, as Eminem did this year, is a long way from being snubbed, and I would also point out that the hip-hop duo Outkast won album of the year in 2004. Looking through the list of previous winners of the Grammys’ most prestigious award, one can see that many genres are under-represented, for instance: when was the last time the award went to a heavy metal group, a genre which arguably includes some of the most skilled musicians of our time? The answer is, of course, never.

Perhaps the Grammys are a little out of touch with the younger generation, but what seems more obvious to me is that Steve Stoute and the majority of music listeners, who make pop music popular, are out of touch with what good music is (hint: it’s more than record sales and popularity). The bottom line is, nobody is going to fully agree with the collective opinion of many members of an academy. Maybe you think Justin Beiber should have won best new artist, the academy however, which is not made up of fourteen year old girls, but of former Grammy winners, might have a different opinion. I don’t agree with the winners that the academy chooses from year to year anymore than Stoute does, but I respect their decisions and the process behind them.  If Steve Stoute, or anyone else, thinks that the decisions should be based more on record sales or popularity, then I have just one more question for them: do we really need another Billboard or Peoples Choice Awards?

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