This is an opinion piece with analysis, hot takes and predictions on what Grammy 2020 might hold for Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade.
What does the 2020 Grammys hold for Nigerian artists? [Opinion]
It’s Grammys season. The time to celebrate nominations and wins as well as get eternally cynical when denied nominations.
Over the past few days, Grammy talk has intensified on Twitter. The Academy has opened its doors for nominations. Over the past weekend, Nigerian superstar Yemi Alade announced that she had submitted her album for 'Best World Album Category.'
Until recently, the Grammys have been dogged by the liberal media for its 'lack of inclusion.' At one point, it was about the Academy supposedly promoting racial divides which prompted the, ‘Grammys so white’ movement. At another time, women complained that they were not getting sufficient recognition.
While those complaints might have had merit, these critics never had sufficient merit behind their arguments for lack of inclusivity. It always seemed a case of tantrum-throwing from entitled nominees. Nonetheless, the Academy has grown more ‘inclusive.’ Women have won major awards in recent years.
In equal measure, all races have gotten recognition. But then, with the afrobeats wave currently rising fast across the west and with the Academy’s recent knack for inclusivity and political correctness, many have asked whether we will finally see some recognition for African acts on the main stage of music.
Before now, except they are featured, African/Afrobeat(s) acts only got nominated in the world categories. In recent times, Seun Kuti and Femi Kuti have been nominated for Best World Music Albums, but they never won.
But with minimal urban radio and world Billboard Chart success for Afrobeats acts, people have been dreaming that Afrobeats acts will get major nominations under major categories and maybe even get an ‘Afrobeats’ category at the Grammys.
These questions – maybe wishes – are being fueled by the new award categories we saw at the 2019 Video Music Awards (VMAs).
When VMA nominations were announced, organizers included ‘K-Pop’ and Latin music categories.
However, you might have noticed that despite the fast-rise of Afrobeats, it did not get its own category at the VMAs.
Why is that?
The reason is simple; afrobeats has nowhere near enough traction, acceptance or following like Latinx music or K-pop in America. Equally, afrobeats has not been as financially rewarding for American capitalists as K-Pop and Latinx music.
In a way, those factors are tied. If afrobeats has enough traction, acceptance and following that transcends a niche following it currently enjoys, it will make money. As things stand, even with the heavy push that Burna Boy and his critically-acclaimed album, African Giant enjoyed, none of its singles have cracked the Billboard Hot 100.
America and what constitutes a ‘hit’ is much more than what is popping on New York, Los Angeles or Atlanta radio. Those places are multi-ethnic and that will make them more receptive to new things in music. As things stand, even British Grime is struggling to make an impact on American markets.
What does Grammy 2020 hold for afrobeats acts?
A few weeks ago, certain tweaks were made for the awards and they don't include new afrobeats, K-Pop or Latinx music categories. Here are the tweaks;
- As of the 62nd Grammy Awards, the Recording Academy will now accept links to streaming services as opposed to physical copies as submissions. The Academy stated: "For most categories, we would prefer streaming distribution links for online entry submissions, though CD submissions remain optional." As justification for this development, the Academy highlighted the changing music industry and added that submitting links was more convenient and cost effective, especially for smaller and independent labels.
- Additionally, there will be separate screening committees for Pop and Rock, whereas previously these categories were screened by a Core Committee. This leaves the Core Committee to focus on the more difficult decisions such as determining who is eligible for the Best New Artist category and trying to find the best home for borderline genre entries.
- The definition of the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album has been expanded to accept "contemporary pop songs performed in traditional pop style - the term "traditional" being a reference to the style of the composition, vocal styling and the instrumental arrangement without regard to the age of the material." The Academy stated that broadening the category was done in an attempt to allow it to "remain robust and inclusive" and enable it to be more competitive as, for example, Tony Bennett has won the award 13 times.
- Spoken word recordings targeted at children have been moved from the Best Children's Album category to the Best Spoken Word Album.
- As of the 62nd Grammy Award, Spanish-language Latin Gospel and Christian music will be officially welcomed in the Best Gospel Album, Best Contemporary Christian Music Album, Best Roots Gospel Album, Best Gospel Performance/Song and Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song categories.
Since there are no afrobeats, K-Pop or Latinx categories, this writer has hot takes and predictions that might or might not be wrong. He thinks afrobeats acts have a strong chance to get nods in Best New Artist, World Music and the newly tweaked Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album categories.
He thinks those tweaks were made to Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album to accommodate music from afrobeats, K-Pop and Latinx music acts. However, he thinks that in most of the categories where he thinks afrobeats acts have a chance, latinx and K-Pop acts will also be in the mix. As such, it makes it unlikely that afrobeat acts will win.
First, let's examine why K-Pop and Latinx music have a better chance than afrobeats.
Issues of market share, traction, following and revenue
Ordinarily, the Academy rewards good music. But sometimes, its decision can sometimes be influenced by commercial success. Unlike with the VMAs that mostly rewards commercially success artists/music and virality, the Grammy awards fancies itself as a reward for good music.
That said, the Academy mostly rewards 'good music' with tangible commercial success. To have success, you need to have a market share, following, traction, acceptance and an ability to generate revenue. But as things stand, K-Pop and Latinx tick all those boxes way more than afrobeats does in the US.
That is why before 2019, VMA recognition mostly came for non-western-mainstream-acts in form of regional/continental nominations or ‘world’ categories. But over the past few years, Latinx music and K-pop sounds have gained a stranglehold on the American mainstream.
Since 1995 and in terms of American obsession, the current tide marks the third moon for K-pop and the second moon for Latinx music.
For America, K-Pop came by way of the Teriyaki Boys in 2005/2006 and by way of Psy in the early 2000s. For Latinx music, Carlos Santana headlined a 90’s generation while Shakira headlined the 2000s generation that came by way of reggaeton music.
To be honest, appreciation of Latinx music never really momentarily died like K-Pop or dancehall. Acts like Ying Yang Twins, Daddy Yankee, Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias found ways to keep things vibrant in the early 2010s. However, not until Luis Fonsi’s classic, ‘Despacito’ did Latinx music really become mainstream western obsession again.
Currently, almost all pop acts with mainstream American appeal have experimented or are willing to experiment with Latinx music. K-Pop band, BTS has a huge American following. In the same vein, acts like J Balvin, Bad Bunny, Ozuna, Rosalia and so forth have a huge following in America. That following also reasonably transcends the Latinx community.
However, afrobeats has a chance.
Why does afrobeats have a chance?
One word; politics. These things are about money, not entirely about awards for the acts.
American capitalists have been pushing the afrobeats culture aggressively alongside its acts. These include taking major ads out and pushing their music. A Grammy Award will be an incredible validation for afrobeats and it could give American capitalism the push it needs for afrobeats to become a part of mainstream consciousness.
So, if American capitalists were to influence things for any genre, it will be afrobeats. They are already making huge returns from K-pop and latinx acts.
Additionally, America-based Nigerian singer, Aramide recently got a membership on the governing board of the Academy. While it might be ordinarily to signify inclusion, it could also be that her knowledge is needed to decide certain things.
In the end, afrobeats might yet get certain nods.
Who is likely to get nods?
That is slightly unpredictable. But as things stand, Davido and Burna Boy are frontrunners. Burna Boy is the new African darling of American music capitalism. His album, African Giant got an incredible push.
On the other hand, ‘Blow My Mind,’ Davido’s collaboration with Chris Brown could get some nods.
Call it sentiment, but this writer thinks Burna Boy might get a Best New Artist nod. But if he gets it, he is unlikely to win.
He also thinks that if the Academy retains the ‘World Music’ category, Burna Boy's African Giant will get a nod. However, he thinks that Burna Boy will win Best World Music Album if he doesn't have K-pop and latinx acts for competition.
On the ‘Best New Artist’ hot take, he knows, that it has been subject of intense controversy in recent years. The major question is if Burna Boy qualifies as a new artist. African Giant is his 7th studio project.
The answer is not straight forward. But he thinks that Burna Boy might pass. According to Academy guidelines, Best New Artist is, ‘For a new artist who releases, during the Eligibility Year, the first recording which establishes the public identity of that artist." Note that this is not necessarily the first album released by an artist.’
It is arguable that while Burna Boy had previously released six projects, African Giant is his first album which ‘establishes his public identity’ with the American audience.
Finally, he thinks Burna Boy will also be seriously considered for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
If nods or awards don't happen, what then should we do?
We need to calm down. At the moment, afrobeats is nowhere near that top level. But eventually, the traction, acceptance, following and most importantly, revenue will happen. However, we need to calm down, it’s still early days.
Nonetheless, it’s not impossible that afrobeats gets recognition at the Grammy Awards.
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