Grammys Congratulate Progressive Sound for Some but not Others

At the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, Billie Eilish won Album, Record and Song of the Year on top of winning Best New Artist, and she’s just 18 years old. This historic accomplishment is the first in nearly four decades, and she is the first ever woman to do so. This is a huge win for the teenage star, as well as her label, Interscope Records. Eilish’s sales jumped 109% since the night of the ceremonies, making these award ceremonies a momentous occasion.

Jan. 26th in 2020 was the first time the Academy’s voting body judged Eilish’s debut hit, “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?” This album, created under Interscope Records, was among other projects by Eminem, DaBaby and Selena Gomez signed with the same label. 

These are all seasoned and accomplished musicians, making Eilish’s placement among them seem suspicious. Many have called her an “industry plant” since she was signed to a major label at such a young age with little standing in the popular music scene before her breakout hit. 

Her prominent features, ranging from Justin Bieber to Vince Staples, have also turned faces in confusion. Considering she comes from a middle-class household and writes her own music with her older brother; these conspiracies have little standing. If anything, these characteristics demonstrate the opposite.

Eilish has shown that she can compete with the largest artists as of now and did so with a grimy and experimental sound. Taking influences from hip-hop, electronica and contemporary pop, all while stretching and expressing the multiple facets of her voice. Her breakout hit showed that she is versatile, and her style thrives in these gray areas between genres. 

She has achieved this while staying original to herself and writing her own music. At a time when popular music is defined by those who have the privileges and imagery necessary to be considered legitimate within the genre, Eilish presents a breath of fresh air for popular music.

Tyler, the Creator, winner of Rap Album of the Year for his project “IGOR,” commented on this stark divide between popular music and other genres. Tyler addressed his conflicting feelings about his award for Best Rap Album of the Year, saying “it sucks that whenever we—and I mean guys that look like me—do anything that’s genre-bending or that’s anything, they always put it in a rap or urban category. I don’t like that ‘urban’ word—it’s just a politically correct way to say the n-word to me.” 

His 2019 album “IGOR” was very progressive for the genre, presenting a diverse array of sounds ranging from soft R&B beats, hard industrial beats, interwoven with samples from artists like, Run-DMC the Ponderosa Twins Plus One song “Bound” famously sampled by Kanye West on his song “Bound 2.” 

All of this culminating in a final Al Green sample on his rock inspired track “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”, lending to a sprawling, yet hard hitting product. Though this album demonstrated the great strides Tyler made within the rap genre, his call for the music industry to recognize Black artists past their expectation that artists of color can only stay within one genre. 
While artists like Billie Eilish are able to bend genres and push limits and take home the most coveted awards of the ceremony: best album, record and song of the year, all of which span past specific genres. 

In his acceptance speech on Feb. 2, Joaquin Phoenix, winner of the 73rd British Academy Film Awards Best Actor award for his lead role in “Joker,” said “I don’t think anybody wants a handout or preferential treatment, people just want to be acknowledged and appreciated and respected for their work.” This comment came after remarks about systematic racism in awards ceremonies, and a rallying cry of established white actors to be advocates for artists of color. 

While Billie Eilish’s talent and originality has awarded her great acclaim by The Academy, the same cannot be said for other genre-pushing artists like Tyler, the Creator, who has made similar strides as the teenaged star, but was only recognized under the “rap” label.