CMU Beef Of The Week #54: Steve Stoute v The Grammys
By Andy Malt | Published on Friday 25 February 2011
So, in last week’s Beef Of The Week we saw Justin Bieber fans attacking Grammy Award winners for not being famous enough to win them. This week we have a high level music exec doing the same to the ceremony’s organisers. Apparently no one is aware what the word ‘best’ means any more.
Best known as the manager of rapper Nas, Steve Stoute also runs an urban-music focused marketing partnerships agency called Translation. And while Bieber fans were taking to Twitter asking who the hell “Arcadia Fyre” were, Stoute was penning a stern letter to the Grammy’s parent organisation the National Academy Of Recording Arts And Sciences, and its president Neil Portnow, which he then published in a $40,000 full-page New York Times advert. Presumably most Bieber fans don’t have access to that sort of cash.
Stoute said that the US industry’s big awards show had become “a series of hypocrisies and contradictions”, and called on the pop stars of America to make a stand against the awards machine.
The letter says: “I have come to the conclusion that the Grammy Awards have clearly lost touch with contemporary popular culture. My being a music fan has left me with an even greater and deeper sense of dismay … We must acknowledge the massive cultural impact of Eminem and Kanye West and how their music is shaping, influencing and defining the voice of a generation. How is it that Justin Bieber, an artist that defines what it means to be a modern artist, did not win Best New Artist? While these very artists that the public acknowledges as being worthy of their money and fandom are snubbed year after year at the Grammys, the awards show has absolutely no qualms in inviting these same artists to perform. Interesting that the Grammys understands cultural relevance when it comes to using Eminem’s, Kayne West’s or Justin Bieber’s name in the billing”.
Calling on artists to demand that Grammy bosses change the “system”, Stoute continued: “I imagine that next year there will be another televised super-close-up of an astonished front-runner as they come to the realisation before a national audience… that he or she was used. To all of the artists that attend the Grammys: Stop accepting the invitation to be the upset of the year and demand that this body upholds its mission for advocacy and support of artistry as culture evolves. Demand that they change this system and truly reflect and truly acknowledge your art”.
I’m not exactly sure how he thinks the voting system should be changed. Presumably he wants Grammy voters to write a list of which artists they think are most popular, rather than the ones they think are best. Actually, in that case you could get rid of the voting system altogether and just use existing sales or airplay data, which would save time at least.
Following the New York Times ad, The Hollywood Reporter pulled together a handful of responses to Stoute’s letter that had been posted online by US music industry players, including Tommy Boy founder Tom Silverman, industry commentator Bob Lefsetz, and former Grokster head Wayne Russo. None seemed to agree with him explicitly, though all had their own strong opinions on the matter.
Lefsetz came closest to being in full agreement, though took Stoute’s ideas further, saying: “I don’t think only the acts should revolt, but the entire NARAS membership. What we’ve got here is a self-interested dictator in bed with corporations. This helps music how? Don’t get caught up in Stoute’s anger about who won what award. Do get pissed off that popular acts are being utilised for ratings when it’s clear they are not going to win. Where was that segment where the two accountants come out on stage and say that the voting was confidential? Obviously NARAS knew Arcade Fire was gonna win. Otherwise, why would they close the show?”
Russo, meanwhile, thought it was all a fuss over nothing: “I would have been more upset if Justin Bieber had won Best New Artist. The little snot is irritating. I doubt that anybody will be humming along to ‘Eenie Meenie’ ten or 20 years from now. You’ll probably not be hearing Michael Buble, Bono or Eric Clapton singing Kanye’s immortal lyric: ‘Let’s have a toast for the douche bags’. I happen to really like Eminem but the Grammys are like the Oscars in many ways. In 1970, John Wayne won the Oscar for Best Actor in ‘True Grit’. It wasn’t a great performance. He was just being John Wayne. He won for his body of work. So consider Eminem to be a 21st century John Wayne. He’ll have his day… and by the way, none of these guys are on food stamps”.
Jeff Rabhan, chair of NYU’s Clive Davis Department Of Recorded Music, felt similarly: “There’s that age-old joke about the Grammys: that they’re a total sham and completely unrepresentative of the modern world, unless I win, in which case it’s the most important award there is”.
Meanwhile, producer Jermaine Dupris, who was a member of the Grammy voting board until he resigned from NARAS in protest in 2004 over the reaction to then girlfriend Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction, took the opposite view to Stoute. Well, he agreed urban music wasn’t always well represented on the winners list, but he didn’t agree that the way to overcome that problem was a boycott. He argued that what was needed was more representatives of urban music getting involved with NARAS.
He wrote: “[When I was on the voting panel] I was the youngest person in the room; not that being old has anything to do with it. Not only was I the youngest person in the room, but I was the only valid hip hop person in the room. We are not on the board as young executives. We have so many young, black executives that claim they’re executives, and say they do this. But they’re not out here doing the work. It should be more people like Steve Stoute on that board”.
Whether anything will come of any of this remains to be seen. But certainly everyone involved seems to have forgotten that awards ceremonies are really designed to make money, both for the organisers and their respective industries. In the case of The Grammys, it’s debatable how many more records Eminem would sell off the back of winning an award. However, the exposure a band like Arcade Fire will get from both winning and performing at the ceremony can’t be denied. Clearly, despite the fact that they’ve already had a number one album in the USA, there are still a lot of people out there who don’t know who they are. Or didn’t, at least. And surely the more good artists and quality music you can boost to higher levels of commercial success through awards programmes the better.
But I’ll give the final word to Arcade Fire’s manager Scott Rodger, who said in an email to the aforementioned Lefsetz: “Arcade Fire deserved the win this year. They made the best album. If the award was names ‘Album Sales Of The Year’ award, there would be no discussion. Stoute’s letter was a nice piece of self-publicity. Did he see Kanye’s tweets when we won and the praise he gave us? He needs to tune in. Eminem made a big selling album but it was far from being his best work. Katy Perry made a big pop record that simply didn’t have weight or credibility. Gaga’s repackage, great album but it was a repackage of the main release. I think everyone felt it was going to be Lady Antebellum’s moment having won five out of six awards to that point. We all felt that way, too”.
He continued: “I’m proud of this band and what they have achieved. We didn’t lobby any organisation for this, nor did the band play the game. We paid our own overhead to do the event, thus the lack of on stage gimmicks. No label picked up the tab. Arcade Fire are now one of the biggest live acts in the world. It’s not all about record sales. It’s about making great records and it’s about building a loyal fan base. The band make great albums, they’re not a radio-driven singles band. On top of that, they own their own masters and copyrights and are in complete control of their own destiny. Things couldn’t be better”.