The Grammys are headed to Las Vegas this year—and appropriately enough, music’s biggest night has already stirred up plenty of controversy ahead of its Sin City debut.
This weekend’s ceremony will no longer take place at the Crypto.com Arena (née Staples Center) in Los Angeles, but instead at Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena. The Daily Show host Trevor Noah will emcee the festivities, which will include performances from Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, and West Side Story star Rachel Zegler, among others.
But even before anyone’s had a chance to, say, smack a presenter on air, this year’s music awards have already faced a number of setbacks. Whether any of them might come to a head during the show in similar viral fashion as Will Smith’s Oscar slap obviously remains to be seen.
The most recent awkward moment for the Grammys came a couple weeks ago, when the Academy chose to yank Kanye West from the lineup of performers in light of his “concerning online behavior.” (The rapper has spent the past several weeks launching online attacks against his ex Kim Kardashian and her new boyfriend, Pete Davidson, and lashing out at commentators like Noah himself, whom the rapper addressed with a racial slur.)
Ye is up for five awards and will still be allowed to attend Sunday’s ceremony. Spectators online are already wondering whether he might give his own version of Smith’s “performance” at the Oscars—especially given that whole incident at the 2009 VMAs when West infamously hopped onstage and interrupted Taylor Swift’s speech. Let’s hope that’s not the case.
The rapper’s complicated Grammy situation only becomes more baffling when one considers the explanation CEO Harvey Mason Jr. gave TheWrap regarding the Recording Academy’s decision to nominate Marilyn Manson and Louis C.K.—another controversy that’s plagued this year’s awards since nominees were announced last fall.
Manson’s contribution to West’s Donda last year netted him two nominations, one of which the Academy withdrew for technical reasons. The shock rocker remains on the nominee list for Album of the Year but is no longer in contention as a writer for Best Rap Song. Sincerely Louis C.K., meanwhile, is up for Best Comedy Album.
When asked to explain the choice to nominate two accused abusers, Mason told TheWrap, “We won’t restrict the people who can submit their material for consideration. We won’t look back at people’s history, we won’t look at their criminal record, we won’t look at anything other than the legality within our rules of, is this recording for this work eligible based on date and other criteria.
“What we will control is our stages, our shows, our events, our red carpets,” Mason added. “We’ll take a look at anyone who is asking to be a part of that, asking to be in attendance, and we’ll make our decisions at that point.”
Given West’s recent interactions with the Grammys’ host—which got the rapper temporarily suspended from Instagram—one would think his attendance might constitute concern.
One artist who will not be in attendance? The Weeknd, who has chosen to continue boycotting the ceremony after the Academy declined to nominate his 2020 blockbuster album After Hours for a single award at last year’s ceremony. He joins fellow Black artists like West and Frank Ocean, who have been calling out racism at the Grammys for years.
Speaking last year with The New York Times, The Weeknd said he’d chosen to remove himself from contention because of the anonymous “expert” committees who have final say over nominations. Because of them, he said, “I will no longer allow my label to submit my music to the Grammys.”
Then, in December, Drake withdrew his two 2022 Grammy nominations for Best Rap Album for Certified Lover Boy and Best Rap Performance for “Way 2 Sexy.” Although neither Drake nor his team provided a reason for the decision at the time, the singer has voiced his own grievances with the Grammys in the past. In 2017, he expressed frustration that his single “Hotline Bling” won Best Rap Song despite not actually being a rap song. “The only category they can manage to fit me in is in a rap category,” he said, “maybe because I’ve rapped in the past or because I’m Black I can’t figure out why.” That same year, he declined to submit his album More Life for Grammys consideration.
Drake has also supported The Weeknd’s fight against the Recording Academy; he responded to the artist’s snub last year by suggesting that the Grammys be replaced with a new awards system. On Instagram, Drake wrote, “something new that we can build up over time and pass on to the generations to come.”
He added: “I think we should stop allowing ourselves to be shocked every year by the disconnect between impactful music and these awards and just accept that what once was the highest form of recognition may no longer matter to the artist that exist now and the ones that come after.”
Regardless what, if any, celebrity drama crops up at this year’s ceremony, the Grammys face an uphill battle. Already viewed as perhaps one of the creakier awards shows, the telecast’s ratings have been dismal for years; last year saw a 53 percent drop in viewership to 8.8 million, per Nielsen. If that trend continues, whatever happens in Vegas on Sunday night might really stay there—because no one will have seen it.