Steve Stoute's open letter attacking the Grammy Awards took five days for him to write but had music industry pundits debating within hours of its publication -- and even several days later. Here, a few reactions to his New York Times missive.
Tom Silverman, founder New Music Seminar, Tommy Boy Records:
"Steve Stoute's frustrations are not surprising, though it is interesting that he finally took an ad out this year, yet his complaints began with Steely Dan beating Eminem back in 2001. Weird winners have tickled the Grammys for decades. I remember when a late career album by Jethro Tull won best Heavy Metal/Hard Rock album beating Metallica's classic And Justice for All in 1989. The Grammys have never been about who is the most popular. The Grammys are a product of the voting members of NARAS… Due to the nature of the voting body, there are voting blocks such as country, jazz, rock, classical and urban. These voting blocks vote as you would expect them to, for what they can relate to. Country is one of the more organized genres and have one of the largest voting blocks. The urban voting block is probably one of the smaller ones.
Also the voting body likely skews older and thus the well-established names like Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock always do well. This also helps explain Jethro Tull and Steely Dan. People voting in categories they are not expert in tend to vote for names they know. Naughty by Nature, for example, won their first Grammy for their third album Poverty's Paradise in 1995, not for their breakthrough 1991 album, Naughty by Nature. This is the nature of the Grammys.
However, the Grammys is about artists being selected by their peers. The exposure of Esperanza Spalding on this world stage will catapult her and the jazz genre into greater notoriety. How wonderful that NARAS can use its stage to expose music that might otherwise never have the opportunity to reach that huge audience. The music business isn't dying because the superstars aren't getting Grammys. It is dying because not enough great new artists are breaking through. Anything that NARAS can do to help more new artists break through should be applauded and if occasionally "voting by peers," doesn't select the newest breakthrough acts, we will understand why and look to the charts, and other award shows based on popular vote or sales criteria to properly award those artists. Meanwhile, I hope that a huge sponsor offers Esperanza a high visibility sponsorship immediately. Hook her up, Steve!"
Shirley Halperin, THR Music Editor
"Stoute makes some valid points about the perceived disconnect between what's popular and what ultimately wins a Grammy, but where I take issue is with his brazen dismissal of a band like Arcade Fire. Yes, they're critics' darlings, as many successful indie rock bands tend to be, but anyone who took one listen to their 2010 album The Suburbs would have a hard time not falling in love with the band. The fact that Stoute writes them off as borderline undeserving makes me think he's never listened to their record, and perhaps the Grammy voters have.
As far as the broadcast is concerned, I can't fault producer Ken Ehrlich, NARAS or anyone involved with the Grammy Awards show for trying to put together the most entertaining lineup that money can buy -- even if that cash is coming out of someone else's pocket. And therein lies the rub for most performing artists and their labels: they're paying to be there, and post-show sales bump aside, they expect some return for the tremendous expense they've incurred. We're talking not just about the production costs, but travel, lodging, meals, security, etc. By the time all is said and done, an artist of Eminem's stature could rack up bills of well over $100,000. Factor in hair, makeup and wardrobe typical of a female performer like Christina Aguilera, and that price tag could easily double.
In the end, it comes down to the music community and whether its constituents feel that they're being properly represented. Rarely cited are the 100-plus categories that aren't televised, which award everything from production to music videos to cover art. Where do these professionals stand? And lest we forget, well more than half of Grammy winners are independent artists that don't come through the major label system. It's not just about the big boys anymore, and perhaps that's the best reason there is to reanalyze the Grammy process for a new musical era."
Bob Lefsetz, blogger
"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 utilized 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? And they got two numbers. If there was gonna be extra time couldn't there have been another performer, or one of those legendary Grammy love-ins featuring Stevie Wonder and a whole host of legends, maybe playing a classic with Arcade Fire?
Acts want exposure, that's why they do the show. If it was about awards, they'd perform the tracks that got them nominated, not their new singles. It's a promotional vehicle.
As long as you've got acts lining up for that big audience, you're gonna get no change. There's too much in it for them. Then again, if the superstars could band together and not appear. Then again, superstars are always afraid the end is near and so many "superstars" in the music industry were just minted yesterday and might be gone tomorrow.
No, what has to happen is Steve Stoute has to stage a coup. Not only take out an ad in the newspaper, but round up his brethren and steal the entire organization. It's not that hard. If you care.
Not that I really do."
Wayne Rosso, blogger
"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 10 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.
Let me remind you that many of the guys who made it possible for Justin Bieber, Kanye West and Eminem to be heard today never had the opportunity to win Grammys for their greatest recordings like Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino (though they were all later honored with honorary awards. Much later.). Likewise The Who, Bob Marley, Diana Ross, Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and Buddy Holly, none of whom ever won a Grammy.
As far as the telecast itself goes, Ken Ehrlich's job is to put on the best show he can that features a wide array of musical performances, all in an effort to showcase the best that music has to offer for the previous year. He picks the talent from the list of nominees and of course he wants the hottest acts. He's in the ratings business and if the Grammy telecast doesn't get ratings, the network geeks will drop the show and then you won't have anything to get pissed about. And that would be a shame. Don't forget that for the recording artists who perform, it's a two-way street. Mumford & Sons, who did not win an award, got a huge sales boost immediately after their show-stopping performance. The artists benefit from the exposure and more often than not get a sales boost from performing and/or winning an award."
Jeff Rabhan, chair of NYU's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music
"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."